As a reporter, you can be asked to cover both the mundane and the truly magical. Often, you don’t get to choose what becomes news. Going with the flow becomes the norm.
So when an elected official in my town sent me an email requesting that I cover a “town-hall style” meeting about drug use at my former public high school, I was a little intrigued. Even when I was a student during the school’s earliest beginnings, it was nicknamed “Heroine High.”
It’s the type of place where some kids drive BMWs, sport iPhone 5’s as a token accessory, and jet off to St. Lucia for a relaxing spring break. Meanwhile, others proudly wear John Deere baseball caps, take vocational classes centered around agricultural practices, and grew up on sweet tea, dirt biking through the woods, and NASCAR. In short, my alma mater is a mixing ground for the Old South and New South. The one with all the transplants from Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, that is.
Sure, there’s a huge push to take AP classes, become digitally savvy and get into the state’s leading public universities. There’s also an award-winning soccer team, an amazing drama department that’s traveled to Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival to perform, and astounding murals swirling along the white walls.
But these are teenagers.
Naturally, there’s a clique for jocks, band kids, preppies and goths. Students huddle in their groups before the first morning bell sounds, and it’s unthinkable to wander far outside your bubble. Fitting in somewhere is crucial and so is experimentation. God forbid your friends and classmates think you’re not up to speed on the latest sexual practice, social media phenomenon, or way to smuggle alcohol into parties.
The funny thing about listening to this town hall meeting was that my perspective was radically different as a working young adult than it had been as a high school kid. At 16 or 17, I probably would have been nodding along fervently with the adults who said using any drug or drinking was akin to a moral failure and surprisingly – since we were in a public venue – a sin. Most people on the panel were religious and spoke about involving teens in church youth groups to keep them on the straight and narrow. To my ears, it all sounded a little extreme and ridiculous. I felt very caught between two worlds. On one side was the shiny-shoed police man with the crew cut and firm voice speaking fact, sense, reason. On the other lingered every whispered rumor in the hallways, every late night gathering with friends, every party I’d been to and every less-than-pristine choice I’d seen myself and others make.
It wasn’t so easy to be black-and-white now knowing life was filled with gray.
It’s not that I’m advocating for drug use. On the contrary, I’ve never smoked anything, including cigarettes. And, it’s likely that the moment I become a mother, I’ll be all about my child hanging out with the church-going, over-achievers from the involved, loving families. But, as I see it now, there’s something alluring about the entering your teenage and young adult years. There’s a feeling that with every passing birthday, new possibilities are opening up for you to experience, try on, and see if they fit. From driving to voting to drinking, growing up is a step-by-step process. Trying to stamp out every guy with shaggy hair and killer eyes who heads to the sports field after class with his buddies to smoke pot is about as likely as eliminating hazing at college frat houses.
Life’s going to happen to these kids, and they need to be prepared to deal with it. It’s absolutely ok to choose to say no to every single substance. For your health, it’s certainly preferable as every doctor will tell you. From afar, the flannel-wearing, indie-music listening, secret house-party attending kids seem pretty cutting edge. Some of them are fabulous people with blazing futures ahead. Others are masking up a lot of childhood pain, personal suffering or feelings of inadequacy.
But you won’t know until you get up close and find out.