Old School Throwdown

rant alert

A couple of years from now, none of this will matter– homecoming court, sports heroes, class superlatives, and even the top honors students. I graduated from Miramar High School in 1997, and upon reading about the student-on-student violence today, I was extremely disappointed. Seeing in black-and-white at the Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinal, really hit home for me, even here in New York. Fifteen years have passed, but the same issues plague the student body, with additional contributors such as cyber-bullying. As if physical violence wasn’t enough the current student drama tends to be escalated and propagated by psychological warfare via social media. MySpace, Twitter, Facebook– their convenience is their benefit, but also their downfall. It’s fantastic to connect (or reconnect) with old friends, but things said are grossly open to individual misinterpretation. When did jungle warfare become an acceptable means of daily high school life?

{“You should just kill yourself”}

When I taught in Japan, the students were eager to learn about social culture outside of Japan, and music and movies, were a large means of cultural education for them. One day, I walked into class and saw something scrawled on the white board in bright red marker. “Nobody loves you. You should just kill yourself.” No name. No distinct handwriting features. Simply written in perfect English. This was the one and only time, I ever got angry at a class. I surprised the students and the teacher, by completely derailing the focus of the class, demanding to know what the meaning and intention of the comment. This class, in particular, had an issue of bullying in which the majority of the girls were ganging up on one student, so it struck the wrong nerve with me. The teacher I was with was responsible for the class, but didn’t seem to realize the magnitude of the situation.

I asked him to translate. My voice rose. My eyes watered. I demanded to know who and why. Why would anyone in a class that seemingly got along so well, would be so criminally cold? Why would someone go so far as to write such a thing, not be brave enough to sign their name? I told them of my experiences when I was their age, and how it can make or break someone at their age. I asked them, point blank, how they would feel if it was said to them, or in this case, displayed for any passerby to see. I told them I was disappointed, and that they were better than this. I asked them how they would feel if that comment caused one of their classmates to disappear forever; if it affected me, and I never came back. I asked them if suicide was truly an acceptable way of dealing with unimportant interpersonal conflict. Would they accept responsibility? When the funeral came would they be able to send their condolences without any regret?

blackboard

After class, one student came to my desk in the teachers’ room, crying. They apologized. They had found the words in a song and wanted to know the meaning, but did not realize the true impact of the words or the message they were sending as a result of their anonymous inquiry. They begged for forgiveness, and we talked it out. They were unaware of the complex issues in the background among their classmates. Later in their journal, they wrote me a letter, apologizing again. “I never want to be a person that hurts others. I want to be a person who loves people. Like you.” We never talked about the situation after that, but the students were more aware of what they said and how they conveyed their emotions and questions.

{“You go to school where?!”}

“I would never let my child go there!” was the resounding cry of my middle school friends’ parent. “Send her to a private school. How about an International Baccalaureate Program? Ever think about a boarding school? Anywhere but there!” The roughneck image displeased many parents of my friends, resulting in many severing ties after the summer of eighth grade. The gross misinterpretation of the school’s image could be best personified as the crossroads of Dangerous Minds, Lean On Me, The Freedom Writers, and Sister Act (minus the revolutionary risk-taking faculty or showgirl disguised as a nun)— a place no one wanted to send their children, unless they had to. I would be lying if I did not admit I was terrified when I first walked the halls of my new high school. Every single bad image swirled in my head, and as many of my middle school friends ‘found ways out’ of attending MHS, I was doing to opposite– diving in head first, of course. I found my way eventually, with my fair share of high school drama. My preconceptions were merely that, and I was surprised to peel away the negative facade.

When I attended MHS, the school was by no means perfect. Though many tended “to stay with their own kind” (as it was often said, sadly), some ventured to push the envelope and make diverse circles of friends. Through the honors program and student activities, I was fortunate enough to see beyond the colors dividing us. I learned about reverse racism, made friends of multiple ethnic backgrounds for the first time in my life, and every trying experience I had– as miserable and frustrating as they were at the time– made me the person I am today. Too often the celebration of diversity at our school overshadowed a more critical issue: what we had in common.

bring it on

We were discriminated against because of the negative school image other schools had of us. We were taunted because or student parking lot was full of ancient hand-me-downs, previously-ran-into-the-grounds, and Honda Civics instead of Mommy & Daddy’s BMW or those brand new Sweet 16 Presents. We were thought of as not smart enough, talented enough, strong enough, or creative enough to make it in other schools, and the expectation was that if we pursued higher education, it would be community college at most. Other teams would laugh at our old uniforms, broken equipment, and lack of conformity and laugh. Many schools did not see at us as equals, meaning we always had something to prove. It was hard to have that Patriot Pride when society constantly glared in our direction, and the only time we ever made the local news was when tragedy or calamity struck.

It’s been nearly 15 years since I graduated high school. Admittedly, I check up on the current events of my school from time to time, but it was one of my closest gals from that time who informed me of the stabbing. She previously worked there, so she was the finger on the pulse of our Alma Mater. Without a movement within the student body to make a concerted effort, the image and environment will never change. New coats of paint do not cover up the cracks, the structural damage needs to be repaired from the inside by the student body, faculty, parents, and community.

{Bottom Line}

I am throwing down and issuing a challenge. I dare you– previous, current, and future classes– of Miramar High School, to make a change. Prove to everyone in Broward County, south Florida, and around the state, that we are better than these ridiculous crimes. When you participate in such needless acts of cruelty and violence, you are only giving others justification in their prejudice against you. You also give them carte blanche to make assumptions about former graduates, like myself (and we have worked way to hard toward our careers and lives for you to take that away from us). Keep yourselves and your school from being a lump of coal. Amp up the pressure and turn it into a diamond. Learn to shine, and care more about the bigger picture. The world is bigger than high school, much bigger than you can ever possibly imagine. If you want to know what matters in the future, is the person you were– not the labels or titles you use to define yourself.

Think before you act. Is the situation truly worth destroying a family, ruining your future, and going to jail? Is acting according to the stereotyped image of your school truly the way to sculpt your life? Do you honestly feel that perpetuating the cycles of ignorance and hate are any means to live a healthy lifestyle? Is hurting someone, taking their life, or pushing them over the edge, what you truly want to be remembered for? Everyone talks about running away, seeing the world, and finding their happiness, but should it come at the expense of others? Violent behavior certainly does not make you the better person by any means.

old school house rockDon’t tell me I don’t understand what it’s like to be you. Don’t tell me I’m too old to remember. I haven’t forgotten what it was like to sit in those desks, to walk to halls, to graze in the cafeteria, or to haul it across campus from the portables. Don’t tell me that life is too hard and there’s “no way out for people like us” because that’s a blatant lie and nothing more than a sad excuse. If you want it bad enough, you need to grow up and own it. You want to be an adult and taken seriously? Then stop acting like a child, and people will stop treating you like one. You can’t have it both ways, and once you realize that, life will start making sense. If you need help, ask for it. Don’t suffer in silence or wait until you have passed your breaking point.

Note: I would like to thank my friends who twenty years later, mean the world to me. We navigated MHS together, and I am grateful we carry on our friendship today.

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