Monday, August 20, 2007

My High School Motto


I received an email the other day from an old high school teacher. Attached to the message were images of renovation work recently completed at the school. (Our school was built when the “bomb shelter” look was all the rage, so ANY renovation work is a welcome change.) As I marveled at the drastic changes to the ol’ alma mater, I came across a photo that, rather unexpectedly, caught my eye.

It was an image of the auditorium…though it barely resembled the auditorium I remember. Gone were the vast array of wooden seats and the now bare concrete floor sloped down to a mound of debris at the foot of the stage. A makeshift plywood desk was setup center-stage and surrounded by piles of building material. The acoustical ceiling tiles were completely ripped out, exposing a tangle of ductwork and lighting high above. What really drew me into the picture, though, were the colossal, art deco, words still mounted high above the stage, “ENTER TO LEARN; GO FORTH TO SERVE”.

Our school motto was like a classic mission statement in any post WWII industrialized city school. It’s a bold proclamation that implies the school’s sole purpose is to systematically convert pliable young minds into loyal civil servants. I wondered then, as I do now, just how applicable that motto is.

Like many of my classmates, I emerged from the public school production line with all the bravado of a typical high school graduate. (In other words, blissfully ignorant I was an idiot.) This inflated sense of self-worth was bolstered by the spiffy graduation gown and hypnotizing tassel. I was, as far as I knew, ready to “go forth and serve”. But, did my stint in the public school system really teach me anything?

Obviously, public schools can only do so much; it’s hardly a shortcut to a higher standard of living – like those mightier-than-thou parochial schools. Those kids were far ahead of us “public” school types. Their school parking lots were filled with new cars. They had trust funds. They watched financial investment commercials…with interest. They had legacy admissions awaiting them. Their coeds wore tartan skirts…everyday. They had it made.

By comparison, we were still amused by simple shapes and bright colors. (I’m sure those standardized Iowa Tests confirmed this, but the results were never posted.) Our futures were uncertain. We were confused.

Sure, I crunched formulas in Algebra, trudged through "The Grapes of Wrath", spilled my Fortran cards, and mumbled my way through a foreign language, but did this prepare me for the real world?


Instead, much of the knowledge I’ve acquired has been through a series of botched life lessons. Many of which could have been avoided if our public schools offered some “real life” classes too, such as:

  • Relationships (some settling may occur)
  • Mortgages (know where your money is really going)
  • Time Management (easily overlooked)
  • Parenting (which could also be considered a “scared straight” and/or “preventive” class too – with a strong emphasis on the benefits of a cold shower)
  • Leadership Skills (when to take charge)
  • Partying

That’s right, partying. After all, this is a skill that can be put to immediate use, because the majority of our “party” days occurred during our late teens and early twenties. Just imagine how many “unfortunate” circumstances you could have avoided if only you had been properly instructed. Why, there’s a myriad of topics a party class could cover, such as:

  • How to properly tap a keg
  • When is Kool-Aid a viable mixer
  • How to recognize when your friend has had too much
  • Proper etiquette for holding your girlfriend’s hair while she’s reviewing the contents of her stomach
  • How to be a good listener…even when the room is spinning
  • Slurring…like you meant to
  • Driving a car from the passenger seat
  • How to know if it’s oregano
  • When is malt liquor the right choice
  • How to make Jell-O shooters
  • How to “act cool” when the police arrive
  • When is urinating in public okay
  • The perils of generic beer

The topics are endless. I’m certain they’d have no problem filling this class. Heck, I would’ve skipped lunch just to attend.

Perhaps courses like this were available down at the vocational school and I just wasn’t paying attention during our sophomore-year promotional tour. (Maybe that explains why some of the vocational kids seemed to possess a bloodshot, bleary-eyed, wisdom beyond their years.)

Anyway, back to the subject. So, the knowledge I gained in high school was just enough to make me competitive on Wheel of Fortune and a dumbstruck moron on Jeopardy. But, was this limited knowledge enough to permit me to go forth and serve?

Yeah, I guess. I mean, I didn’t wither and die after graduation and I’m not standing on a street corner holding a sign that says, ”I’m not gonna lie. I need money for beer.” So, I guess you could say the public educational system provided me the wherewithal to go forth and serve (and contribute to the government tax coffers). I just think, though, that if you could somehow reunite the collective minds who originally penned my high school motto, they’d be hard pressed to agree that I represent the civil servant they had in mind.

So, in hindsight, perhaps a more appropriate motto might have been, "Enter to learn; go forth somewhat prepared for life’s uncertain journey", or maybe something a little more succinct like, "Enter sober; PARTY ON".

Okay, now let’s discuss that mascot…


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