While I “enthusiastically” welcome the dawning of my fifth decade (no, that doesn’t mean I’m turning 50), I occasionally look back on my earlier years to relive the glory days from my past. I take myself back to the hallowed halls of Bellaire High School where I was considered somewhat of a Big Man on Campus. (That should not come as much of a surprise to anyone.) I feel badly about all the cheerleaders and other young hotties whose hearts I so callously broke back then; I remember cutting up and proudly wearing that “class clown” label among the other studs in my major works Hebrew class. What I wouldn’t give to be able to go back in time for just a fleeting moment and experience high school again.
A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to do just that. As a member of the Houston Texas Exes (alumni group) Scholarship Committee, I interviewed a group of high school seniors who were hoping to be awarded some academic scholarship money to attend The University of Texas at Austin. Yes, my allegiance to my Alma Mater is not limited to athletes wearing Burnt Orange uniforms helping UT compete for National Championships (not very effectively, I might add). While I may seem most interested in my Saturday treks to Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium and the teams’ standings in the Big 12 Conference and NCAA polls, I also want to make sure that The University is ranked high in academics as well. Such scholarships allow us to attract the “best and brightest” from the local high school ranks.
The kids I met that day can’t run a 4.3 40, dunk a basketball, or go yard on a hanging curve. Instead, they spend their free time solving calculus equations at Math tournaments (brings back fond memories), playing cello, writing valedictorian speeches, and working part time to help support their families. The one cheerleader in the bunch was also President of the student council (quite an impressive combination). Some came to this country unable to speak a word of English; others represent the first member of their families to attend college. Many scored over 1400 on their SATs (no memories of that here); virtually all had GPAs over 4.0 and were in the top 10% of their graduating classes. These kids were not worried about going through Greek Rush or trying to decide between a side or corner suite at University Towers. In some cases, receiving this scholarship money will be the deciding factor in their just being able to attend college. Undoubtedly, that knowledge made our decisions so much more difficult.
From what I’ve seen on MTV (while channel surfing only), I was expecting our nation’s youth to be sporting tattoos, multiple ear piercings, belly button rings (actually, I like belly button rings), spiked hairs, blue/green/rainbow hair, nose rings, or worse. These kids showed up in coats and ties and dresses. Some were accompanied by parents who often appeared more nervous than the students. They brought in Toni Morrison books to read (for pleasure) while waiting to be interviewed. One even had a family wedding to attend an hour after his scheduled time, but was too concerned that mentioning it would impact his chances. (Hopefully his cousin understood.)
HIGH SCHOOL MEMORIES
Not being so far removed from high school myself, I quickly tried to put these kids at ease by speaking their lingo and relating with their current situations. I asked them about the upcoming prom and the year-end “partying” that accompanies the end of high school. I played it quite cool by referring to Ja Rule and Brittany Spears as “tight” and “phat;” (Unfortunately I also referred to Billy Joel and the Beatles as “hip” and “groovy.”) I relayed stories about my wild high school days (as beau of a BBYO chapter), though very few were able to relate. (Perhaps, I’m just a bit cooler than these kids.) I bored them by pointing out all of Austin’s hot spots, past and present (none had heard of Mad Dogs) and lectured them to “enjoy every moment because it goes by so quickly.” (One day they will understand.) They responded with very polite “yes-sirs” and “no-sirs” that made me feel far older than I really am. (Actually it made me feel exactly my age.) Sadly, I am old enough to be their much older brothers.
In reality, their high school experiences were nothing remotely similar to my own. These kids work much harder than we did in high school; they actually work harder than most business people I know today. Between studying for their IB classes (we called them major works) and their advanced placement exams, staying involved in extracurricular activities inside and outside of school, performing countless hours of volunteer work, holding down real jobs (that are not mere résumé builders), these kids have no time at all to simply be kids. They rarely head home after school for that afternoon snack, a few hours of Leave it to Beaver or Star Trek, or even that well-deserved power-nap. They don’t play pick-up basketball games at the local park or get in a few hours of shopping at the neighborhood mall. There is simply no time.
And yet, they are required to maintain their hectic schedules if they plan to get into the college of their choice. We interviewed about 40 seniors that day after weeding out a few hundred applications of others who were almost equally as qualified. Yet, perhaps they had a 3.9 GPA instead of a 4.0+ or served as Vice President of the Honor Society instead of President or only worked two days a week after school instead of five. Most of those kids who didn’t “quite make the cut” were still far more impressive than me or any of my friends (no offense) were at that stage of our lives. The competition for college is far tougher these days and they are facing incredible pressures to perform both inside and outside the classrooms.
MY FINAL ANALYSIS
I left the interview session that day with some pretty mixed emotions. Firstly, I was incredibly pleased because the future of our University (and the country, for that matter) appears to be in very good hands. These kids will be the future business and community leaders; they are the innovators and entrepreneurs of tomorrow who will bring us the next Internet, cell phones, Palm Pilots, and necessary technological advancements that we can’t imagine ever living without. They will discover cures for dreaded diseases and “boldly go where no man has gone before” by exploring new dimensions in space. (Now, you know more about my high school afternoons in front of the TV). They will write the next great American musicals and novels that will entertain the generations to follow. (They will also invent the next Slinky, Pet Rock, and Beany Babies.)
And yet, I was a tad bit sad when I left the interviews as well. These kids have years ahead of them to work hard and face all the pressures that the business world (and life itself) has to offer. High school was supposed to represent those carefree fun days when teenagers had to keep their grades up, but had few other worries in the world. Instead, they now seem to be facing pressures they weren’t suppose to experience for years. Perhaps, they will be better prepared for tomorrow by working so much harder today. Perhaps, they are having as much fun as we did in high school, but not wasting so much time in the process. One thing I know for certain, while I may not be crazy about getting older, I’m sure glad I’m not back in high school (no matter how “hip” and “groovy” I once was).