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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of June 26 - July 2, 2002

Opinion Columns

Before life hits ó positive expectations

Commentary by JoELLEN COLLINS

I always cry at graduations, and this last one at The Community School was no exception. I knew the class well, had watched many of the students grow up, and had also taught them briefly for 10th Grade English. They are an outstanding group of scholars, athletes and, most importantly, decent and caring individuals who will contribute to society. I share a pride in their accomplishments. So, why should I cry?

I am a sap for all ceremonies of passage: weddings do me in, and funerals are beyond my control. I hate to say goodbye. I know part of it is my sentimental, emotional nature. But, in the case of graduations, I think it is more. Like the audiences for "Romeo and Juliet," we observers know more about lifeís perils they will face than do the characters portrayed on the stage. We have knowledge they do not possess.

Any graduation ceremony attendee wishes the very best that life can offer for those still unlined and fresh faces. Unfortunately, our hopes are dimmed by the realization that any of those young graduates who really experience life will also suffer pain and disappointment. And, while we may wish to provide them with the most protection possible, in order to grow successfully, they will have to take the bad with the good.

Perhaps this is why predictions of success at 17 donít always come true. The boy chosen as "Doing the Most for JB" (my high school) was eventually arrested for a heinous crime. Thatís a dramatic exception, of course: most of the rest of my yearbook honorees have lived positive and contributory lives. Then there was short, studious Leo who, in the reunion stories passed on by my fellow teens, got his M.D. from Harvard and married a beautiful and bright woman, putting the rest of us to shame.

I thought about the optimism of a generation that doesnít comprehend what is ahead when I visited the UC Berkeley campus recently to research my family history. I scanned several yearbooks from the late 1930s, noting the saddle shoes, lace "dickey collars," and tight curls of the senior class women, searching for a face of some young woman from Texas who may have been my birth mother. That proved fruitless, but I came across one yearbook that stunned me with its portent. The 1938 yearbook was dedicated to those countries that typified "the turmoil prevalent throughout the world." Germany, with its swastika carefully recreated, was touted for its "glory in the 1936 Olympic Games" and for having a "progressive commercial spirit." Italy was represented by these words: "The Fascist figure on an ambitious poster superimposed upon the Italian shield indicates the intense national spirit of the country." Japan: "The rising sun of Asiatic domination is depicted by the central map and by the radiating red stripes, the only nation in the world with both a first class army and navy."

How ironic these words seem as those graduates set off to a late-depression world soon to be dominated by the events of Pearl Harbor and the Axis coalition of World War II described in those capsule tributes. Many of the handsome graduates in the senior class of 1938 probably fought in that war, and many probably died. But their view of the world and their hopefulness was evident in that yearbook and in the expressions of their faces underneath the mortarboards of the Class of 1938.

Reviewing the film "American Graffiti," I was taken by the ending where the futures of the protagonists are revealed. Throughout the movie covering the summer after graduation, each has been poised on the edge of adult life. The events of that summer change the plans of some. Ron Howardís character chooses to stay in Modesto with his sweetheart instead of going to college. We see, in the postscript, that he became an insurance salesman. Another, we learn, was later to be declared "missing in action" in Vietnam. Only we, the audience, see their futures.

The Class of 2002 may be better equipped than I was to enter the adult world; they are certainly more prepared with knowledge of the devastation that hatred can produce. They are also better educated. I doubt that I could pass some of the difficult classes they have already taken; the knowledge explosion has resulted in a challenging curriculum. And, unhappily for many of them, they have learned to deal with issues I didnít have to confront until I was an adult. Some have survived parental divorces and the lure of drugs and alcohol. Most have experienced the pressures to succeed early. One may look at childhoods perhaps cut short by the exigencies of a society bent on seeing 15-year-olds as sexually active participants in lifestyles portrayed in tempting ways on film and television and over the Internet.

I am thankful that we donít know the outrages that may await us. Otherwise, we all might lose the sense of expectation of beauty that young graduates radiate. And I hope there wonít be any more Pearl Harbors or September 11ís for them. The bittersweet reality of living is that hard fought joy is often attained from traveling through disillusion and pain. In spite of the challenges awaiting them, I hope for the Class of 2002 a strong and productive life, one filled with the rewards they richly deserve.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.