High School Doesn’t End at Graduation by Provost Bill Bussey
Last June, I attended my 40th high school reunion with some hopes that I might be able to duplicate the cathartic joy that I experienced when I last showed up a decade ago. It wasn’t meant to be this time around. Unlike most of my peers, I was briefly captivated by the unbridled confidence of the Elvis impersonator, a current boyfriend of a classmate, whom at the request of no one, took over the evening. To be fair, there were some pleasant surprises, some conversations that were heartfelt and others that were uncomfortable. Yet, by nine o’clock conversations were drowned out by a D.J. who refused to turn down the volume, leaving most folks staring into space and grouped safely with the same people that they would have sat with 40 years ago. A classmate sitting next to me surveyed the room and sized up the situation: “For some, high school doesn’t end at graduation.”
No, it doesn’t.
Let’s face it. None of us over 40 looks at our yearbook portrait and gushes, “Gosh, I was so adorable.” It’s not just the bad hair that makes us cringe but also the onslaught of adolescent memories that accompany it. Mixed with those memories are other memories that provide mixed emotions. While many might refuse to admit it, those years, those parties, those good times that all-too-often came at the expense of others were some of the best times of their lives. Few gained a criminal record for partying back then, few partiers had their college acceptance placed in jeopardy let alone revoked, and few had to answer for their actions in the days and weeks that followed. The college process has changed, as has the willingness of law enforcement to act, and now many, including parents who hold parties, are answering for their actions in a courtroom. The overwhelming majority of Nobles parents, I’m happy to say, wisely respect not only the law but also the Nobles community principle of “respecting self and others.”
Over the years our shifting culture and approach to parenting have allowed us to gain some worldly-wise perspective regarding our own lives, but when it comes to our own children, we sometimes lean too hard on them and other times not hard enough. Finding that balance is a parent’s greatest challenge; maintaining it yields the greatest rewards.
By the time our children have been accepted into college, many parents, like their children, understandably feel like their child has earned the right in their final three months or so at Nobles to celebrate. But here is what even the kindest, most supportive, and most well-intentioned parents don’t fully understand: When Nobles parents decide that the celebration means creating a setting at which parents can consume alcohol with their children and their children’s friends, often with other students whose parents are not present, whether it be in a foreign country or at someone’s home following the prom, they are in effect suggesting that what the school stands for in this regard does not really apply to them anymore. That’s certainly how most of the kids take it.
So here are only two observations as how this plays out for us on our end.
• The faculty work morning, noon and night seven days a week in one capacity or another to ensure that above all else your children are safe. Recently we brought in Katie Koestner, one of the nation’s leading experts on student safety and teen relationship culture. Koestner and her colleague led Class I students through a series of interactive exercises related to drugs and alcohol, sexual misconduct, harassment and college disciplinary systems. Every single student bought in to what she had to say. When parents choose to serve alcohol or hold parties where alcohol is served, they undermine the important messages that we work overtime to give to Class I students, and all students for that matter, before they leave Nobles for good.
• Partying with your child’s friends might create a short-term bond with those kids, but it also creates a wedge between all of us at Nobles who have built a meaningful relationship with your children over the past four to six years. Many students who have something to hide usually lay low or avoid conversations with those adults who would be disappointed in their actions. Others just feel resentment that we would involve ourselves in what goes down off campus, knowing full well that we don’t stop caring about them at the end of Friday. Some students struggle with the idea of leaving Nobles and seize on any issue that will allow them to circumvent their true sadness. Anything that hinders the school from connecting with students at this crucial juncture simply robs all involved. Parents need to understand what’s at stake here and take full responsibility. It’s time for all of us to ensure that our children can safely enjoy not only the rest of their time here but the rest of their lives as well.