The High School Bubbleby Sharon Rosen Leib July 27, 2017
“People consider us the rich kids’ school. And yes, we drive Land Rovers and wear Rolex watches – but we’re still really genuine,” Ms. Senior Class President said during her commencement address at Youngest Daughter’s high school graduation. My husband and I exchanged horrified glances. How did that tone-deaf remark make it past the powers that be?
Do I fault Ms. Class President? Not so much. She inhabits the upper-middle-class bubble of pretty, popular and well-heeled (think lots of pricey designer platform shoes) high school kids. Her remarks reflected her experience.
She seemed unaware that some of her classmates don’t share her family’s economic bounty. Yet a wealth divide exists in this school where privileged 16 to 18-year-olds drive $42,000 Land Rovers and wear $2,000 Rolexes. The school also has an academic support program (called AVID) that attempts to level the playing field for minority and low-income students who will be the first in their families to attend college. I would’ve preferred Ms. President to boast about this rather than vehicles and timepieces. However, she may never have socialized with any AVID students or have even heard of the program.
After the ceremony, we walked across the school football field through a sea of remarkably beautiful people. The girls looked tall and willowy (those platform shoes at work), impeccably made up and stunning with their long, straight (mostly blonde) hair and tastefully sexy sun dresses (just enough skin revealed). They could’ve been heading to a cattle-call audition for “America’s Next Top Model.” Many of the guys matched the Gentlemens’ Quarterly ideal of the preppy jock – clean cut, tall, lean and handsome. These students wore the easy, confident, sparkling-white smiles born of privilege and first-class orthodontia.
But how do they feel on the inside? I wondered. Does the bubble’s rarified air pressurize them into feeling they must constantly strive to be popular, pretty, smart, athletic and academically successful enough to make it into “good” colleges? Probably yes. But somehow these kids survived the impossible quest for perfection and are heading out of the Land of the Beautiful into a more diverse reality.
With these thoughts and impressions in mind, I wrote Youngest Daughter some post-high school advice. Who knows if she’ll pay any mind to it but perhaps, dear readers, your offspring will. Here’s my ten-point manifesto for succeeding in college:
1. Ask for help when you need it – from friends, professors, your parents and mental health professionals;
2. Stay curious and keep asking questions;
3. Speak up when you feel wronged. Challenge authority as needed (especially necessary for young women on campuses with rampant sexual harassment);
4. Remember with great privilege comes great responsibility. You’ve been endowed with many privileges: brains, beauty, wealth and educational opportunities most people only dream of. We hope you harness your gifts to bring more peace, harmony and compassion into the world;
5. Judge less, love more and strive to be kind;
6. If you play hard, study harder;
7. Respect your parents and honor all that we’ve done to help get you to this place;
8. Try to eat healthy. Your body is sacred. Avoid excessive drinking and drug use;
9. You will make mistakes. Learn from them;
10. Remember there is no such thing as personal perfection. We are all flawed works in progress until we breathe our last breaths.
Congratulations, graduates! May you live long, prosper and save the world! P.S. You don’t need Land Rovers or Rolex watches to accomplish any of this.