Once a ___, Always a ___

13 February 2005

Today's post involves some "fill-in-the-blank" work for you. I know, I know, I usually don't give assignments other than occasionally asking you to taste some food for thought. But this one is easy. The word that goes in the blank is the name of your high school mascot. For me, it's a "buck" (as in "male deer").

Anyway, now that you're thinking of your alma mater, perhaps you'd also like to think about how long you wish to be identified as a ___. Whenever graduates of the high school I work at do something of note---good or bad---they are always tagged as "Chris So-and-So, an (insert year) graduate of High School X, was found..." I never quite understand this. Wasn't Chris So-and-so also a Methodist/Catholic/Jew? Or a boy/girl scout? Or a son/daughter of someone? Or a member of Rotary? Or an employee somewhere? But that is rarely given, no matter how many years may have elapsed after the student's graduation. The student is always assigned to us. Sometimes, this can be nice...other times it's embarrassing or horrifying.

A former colleague (Jane) came over to visit this morning. She has not worked in my building for 6 years. Recently, two former students were murdered by another of our former students (who subsequently committed suicide). They all attended school during my tenure there, but I didn't know any of them. My friend did know the two who were murdered and she knew them well. By they time she heard the news, however, it was too late to attend the memorial service or participate in other public ways of grieving. She needed to reach out and find some answers for herself.

Jane was surprised to find that this event has not been a topic of conversation at school---for staff or students. How could we not respond to this tragedy as an institution? Jane had had the kids on her journalism staff. Jane is hoping to write an article for the school paper where those students attended and perhaps even visit with current newspaper staff to talk about the kids who died and what their vision had been for the paper.

I understand the need for Jane to do something. I can see why her proposed course of action would be healing for her---and I want her pain to ease. But I'm not sure that I get why it needs to be tied back to our school. She has moved on in her life---and so did the kids who died. They didn't self-identify with our school...they never came back to visit or volunteer or contribute. There were other things that filled their young lives.

I really think that's okay. At some point, it is time to let our kids go out into the great wide world. It doesn't mean that we don't care for them, worry about them, or grieve them. But an adult is (thankfully) a lot more than just the high school they moved through. We all need to understand this. For school staff (and newspapers), we should spend more time looking at kids as humans---not just as students. And for you kids (and former kids) out there, remember that like it or not, your high school is always going to claim you.

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