Posting has been light for the past week because my family reached another milestone — our youngest, Alex, is now in college. A.B. Theater. It’s been hectic as hell, complicated by a virus that brought us down with colds accompanied by fever. We managed though.
We found a bigger condo that’s within a five-minute walking distance to the school for Alex and Sam, and Sam’s best friend, Joan, who has been her roommate during the previous year. We split the rent and utilities three-way and that’s about the most practical arrangement we can manage. Sam and Alex moved to the new condo last Sunday; Joan will follow within the week.
Remember A Taste of the Empty Nest Syndrome that I wrote last year? Well, Speedy and I feel it very much these days. When Alex has settled in more comfortably, Speedy and I can go on short trips during weekdays (the girls will be home on weekends). And we can take photos and I’ll have lots to write about. Why spend the days sighing over how much we miss the girls, right? That won’t do us any good. And that won’t do the girls any good either — it’s their opportunity for a little independence and that’s something we should encourage.
If you’ve been a reader for the past year, you’d know that Sam is doing very well in college. She adjusted wonderfully, she loves college life, she’s made new friends and things are swell. Quite a slap on the face of her fourth year high school class adviser and the directress of the high school she went to who told us that Sam would never survive college.
Yes, they said that. To her face and to my face. I don’t know why but in that school, putting students down seemed to be a way of life. Most teachers would repeat day in and day out how difficult college is, instilling fear and anxiety in the students. Well, maybe college was difficult for them — it sure as hell was a wonderful adventure for me and a lot of my friends so making sweeping generalizations is simply being too short-sighted. Some would justify it as
reserve reverse psychology; I call it dumb and mean.
Okay, so Sam is doing well. Is Alex ready to make the leap? Let me tell you about a series of incidents that happened in the high school that she has finally left.
The week before Alex enrolled in college, she went to that high school to complete the requirements and have her clearances signed. In a one-on-one conversation, her class adviser told her that she would fail in college. Alex came home in tears that day, I tried my best to explain to her that the class adviser was not really talking about her but was projecting his own failures.
It’s no secret as this story is something that the teacher has been proudly repeating to every class to which he had served as adviser. This man wanted to be a doctor. Then, he flunked the entrance exam to UP-PGH and decided that unless he could study there, then, he’d rather be a teacher. So, he gave up his dream of becoming a doctor. Why he glorifies that twisted pride, I’ll never understand.
I know a lot of people who go to “prestigious” schools not so much because they believe that they could get the best education there but, rather, for the stature of being an alumnus. But this man has more than enough brains to ignore that kind of thing. Yet, he didn’t. So he lives with his angst. And he likes to make his students feel small just like when he told Alex that she would fail.
I felt murderous when Alex told me what he said. And I was ready to confront the teacher and give him a piece of my mind. Then, an incredible thing happened. I saw Alex grow up from a child to an adult. Why, she asked in tears, do people think that the only way to succeed is to go to college and get good grades? And I told her it’s both a systemic and institutional flaw. It’s a term she’d understand because of The Matrix. And I told her about Sir Ken Robinson and his assessment that the flaw in the education system is a worldwide phenomenon, a by-product of the Industrial Age (read his account of the life of choreographer Gillian Lynn for better context).
Alex stared at me for a few seconds, unblinking, then she wiped her eyes and, in an even voice, she sort of rephrased Sir Ken Robinson in the language of her generation. She talked about “Dream On”, an episode of Glee, where a once-upon-a-time star of the Glee Club who failed to make it on Broadway had become a member of the school board. Played by Neil Patrick Harris, the character Bryan Ryan delivered a speech telling the students, basically, that they would fail to achieve their dreams and that 91% of them will stay in their home county doing boring jobs.
A few days later, Alex went back to the school to get her documents, including the report card. Speedy and I waited in the car. If there was going to be a repeat of what happened, if there was going to be another speech about failure, I was going in. But Alex had other plans.
The moment her clearances were complete and the report card was in her hand, she went to her former class adviser and told him that it was improper for him to tell her that she would fail because he didn’t know what would happen and he didn’t know her. She told him that he was a teacher and he shouldn’t degrade his students but, rather, inspire an encourage them.
I would have given an arm and a leg to be there when she told him off, to see his face and to see the humiliation there. But I guess I’d have to satisfy myself knowing that he apologized to Alex, telling her that if that was how he came across, then, he apologizes.
I don’t know if Alex will feel motivated enough to finish college. She is more interested in her art than acquiring formal education. If she finds the opportunity to have both, at least for the next couple of years, then swell. If she decides that she doesn’t need a college degree to live and breathe her art, then that’s swell too. She won’t be the first to turn her back on college to grab a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — AND SUCCEED.
It’s enough for me that she already realizes that no one — NO ONE — can predict her success or failure. Whether she succeeds or fails is up to her — how she handles opportunities that come her way and how she brushes aside things that won’t make her a better person and a better artist.
When Sam graduated from high school, I wrote a column with a special message for her. I want to give the same message to Alex now. Dare to be different, celebrate your uniqueness, revel in your dreams and know that there are many paths that lead to the stars. No matter what anyone says.