Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lucky me

"You know," I say to one of my advisees, "you guys are really lucky I'm not in charge this year."

"I know!" he says. "We were just talking about that."

We're walking up to my classroom from the library. I've pulled him out of study hall because I'm too curious, I need him to give me some details. Now. And he has just complimented me. He doesn't know it, but it's the nicest thing he's said to me all year.

"What do you think will happen?" he asks.

"I have no idea," I say, "but I know what I would do in this situation – suspend you. All 30 of you!"

He gulps. Last year, I tried my hand at administration, and one of my goals was a get-tough-on-crime approach. And I think it worked. Sure, we had a few disciplinary cases, but not a single alcohol or drugs offense. Kids either didn't party or (more likely) they hid it well.

But this past weekend 30 students were discovered to have been partying in a hotel. Six of them from my advisor group. Which means that I have, quite by accident, the cool kids in my advisor group. Their biggest crime, as far as I'm concerned, is that some of them were mixing vodka with Coke. No wonder one girl had to go to the hospital to get her stomach pumped! Their other crime, more serious, was drinking enough to get caught. When one person goes to the hospital, everyone else signed out of dorms for that event gets called in and busted.

Funny, sad, true story about the girl taken to the hospital:

The staff member who went with the girl informed the doctor that the girl had drunk a lot of vodka.

The very Indian doctor asked, "Oh. Is there alcohol in vodka?"

"Can you please help her? She's been throwing up a lot!"

And he asked, "What has she been throwing?"

I had to laugh when I heard that. And I couldn't restrain myself, I had to laugh in class.

"What's the matter with you guys?" I asked one of my classes. "I know it's Monday and all, but you all look absolutely hung over today!" This didn't get the laughter or applause it deserved. Later, some girls accused me of being mean, of bullying the poor wretches.

In another class, my advisee asked me to repeat something. "I'm sorry," I said, "I know you killed some brain cells yesterday. So ... do ... you ... need ... me ... to ... speak ... more ... slowly?" His friend laughed; nobody else did.

But my philosophy this year is different from last year. I don't need to worry about the safety of all the students and the reputation of the school anymore. I can laugh. And, really, these guys will laugh about this someday, too. Maybe when they return from their one-month suspension. (Well, that's what I would've pushed for.) Maybe at graduation. Or five years from now. Who knows when, but they will see the humor eventually.

"It's not like you guys killed somebody," I tell my lucky group of six. "So relax, you'll be OK."

But they're worried about their parents' reactions. About missing school. About losing leadership positions. About a blemish on their transcript.

"Well, you should have thought about all that when that booze came into the room. And anyway," I say, "you want to know what a college admissions counselor will say if he sees you were suspended for partying? Probably: 'Oh, he's guilty of being a teenager.'"

I don't really know if this is true, but it makes sense to me. Every university official knows teenagers drink. And maybe it's better that kids get the partying and trouble out of the way during high school. If a high school junior gets in trouble in the first quarter, and then is clean after that, well, that's a sign of growth! Of learning! Maybe he or she won't drink to excess during the first week of college life. Maybe. I don't really know anything about that (although maybe I should remind my advisees that two years ago, a group of juniors was busted drinking and they were suspended. Today, they're all in college). And anyway, I do know that I drank less after the age of 21 than before. I also know that I wasn't ever stupid about drinking, that I slowly built up my tolerance before getting completely smashed.

Well, that's not entirely true.  But the only people who really know about my first drunken experience aren't around anymore. No, they're not dead. I just don't know them anymore.

These kids today, they don't want to snitch on their friends – there's a code of some sort – so they won't reveal who provided the alcohol, and so they will probably all face the same consequences. When I tell them that their friendship rules are stupid, they are horrified. "So, what's your definition of friendship?" one of them asks.

"I don't know about definitions," I say, "but I'll tell you this: Out of my very best friends from high school, the guys I thought would be around forever, well, I don't keep in touch with them anymore." And it's true. On facebook, I'm friends with four or five people from high school, and I keep in somewhat regular contact with two. "You'll go to college, make new friends," I continue. I'm on lecture mode now. "Then you'll get a job, move, meet new people, forget about old ones. And the people you're protecting today, you'll forget all about them. Probably."

High school life, I guess, is so immediate. So eternal. With so little perspective. So everything seems like such a big deal. But they'll all survive this. They'll laugh about it. I just wouldn't want them laughing at the school, which is why I think they should get strong consequences. They need to laugh at themselves, at their stupidity, their own foolishness and naivety. But we'll see who laughs last. I'm just lucky I'm not in charge.

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