Here they were, the dead boy’s family, doing some of the same things they did less than a month ago, only in reverse order. An enormous sadness created a shield around them as they carried the contents of his room down the steps and out the door of the old stone fraternity house on the Fenway. A rite of June, conducted on the last day of September.
The clothes, books and pictures belonged to Scott Krueger. He arrived a few weeks ago to begin freshman year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; arrived as bright and attractive as they come, ready and able to take his initial step away from home.
Now, with the academic year still in its infancy, Krueger is gone and his college is flunking common sense. With alcohol identified as the weapon that killed one of its students, MIT’s response is to assemble a team of professors and administrators to study campus drinking and issue university guidelines, as if what occurred last weekend was a laboratory accident.
God knows, it’s impossible to legislate human behavior. And certainly, a school cannot be held legally responsible for whatever its individual students choose to do once they walk out a classroom door.
But MIT and other institutions - academic, media and corporate - do not view a six-pack or a pint of vodka as posing the same threat to life as a cigarette.
On the surface, America currently faces few threats. The Cold War is a relic, something for history books. The economy is booming and crime, supposedly, has been reduced.
So the new communism, our great modern enemy, the largest evil we confront, has become smoking. The Marlboro man has replaced Khrushchev and Stalin. Instead of bomb shelters and air raid drills, we stigmatize anybody with a pack of Salems.
Yet in a normal day, alcohol ruins more American families and destroys more individual lives than a whole warehouse of filter-tips. However, because Jim Beam and Coors Lite employ better marketing experts, we read more editorials about lung cancer than about cirrhosis.
Now, on a pleasant fall weekend, we have an elite set of students, truly gifted people, using binge drinking as a badge of admission to some fraternity. What kind of “education” program do you concoct for people who scored 1,400 on their college boards and got into MIT?
There aren’t enough fingers to point at all who caused the events leading to Scott Krueger’s death: Who sold the booze? Who purchased it? Who moved his body? Who, if anyone, forced him to drink and drink, and then drink some more?
Go to almost any city neighborhood, pause by nearly any corner, or park in the smallest of towns, and you will witness a huge national problem: teenagers thinking they can act beyond their years by sneaking a couple of beers.
Stop at a hundred different taverns and look at all the grocery and rent money lying wet, barside, as wage earners take whatever disappointments they carry and dive right into a shot glass. You can’t tell people they cannot drink, but you sure can tell the people who can’t do it well.
Of course, part of the reason this story is so awful, so penetrating, is the picture of Scott Krueger’s face - his high school graduation picture, handsome, smiling, confident, self-assured, eyes focused on a future open only to a favored few. He was a freshman at one of the world’s most famous schools. The university’s very name - MIT - is an unmatched calling card for potential employers. What could ever happen to such a young man?
In the lineup of dark nightmares any parent thinks possible to befall a child - automobile crashes, robbery victim - death from an overdose of alcohol isn’t even on the list. But as his family packed his things for the long trip back out on the Massachusetts Turnpike to New York state, they drove off with the agonizing knowledge that their son was killed by alcohol, in a culture that glibly assumes smoking is the only lethal social evil around.
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