I’ve been a little blue lately, which is why I’m so glad May has rolled around – not for the weather or the longer and sunnier days, but for the high school kids I get to meet.
Every June The Spokesman-Review puts out a special graduation issue – coming June 1 this year – in which a graduating senior from each high school in the paper’s general circulation area is profiled. We always ask that the student nominated by his or her school be one with an interesting story, not necessarily just the valedictorian (though valedictorians are welcome, too).
I am one of the writers who has the happy pleasure of writing about these kids. There’s nothing like some face time with a teenager, especially with those who are forward looking and see good things ahead, even if everything in their lives haven’t always been so great.
This year I’ve been writing about a lot of students from North Idaho and a few from the Spokane area. And they’re terrific – just what a grumpy old lady needs to renew her spirit. I am always impressed by some of the maturity I see, especially those students who know themselves and have a vision for their lives, something I lacked upon my own graduation back in the Paleolithic Era. My goal was vague: college and then, who knows.
I met one young man who spent time telling me about all the things he enjoyed about the North Idaho woods, hunting and fishing, exploring to see what’s out there and working with his family on their farm. He’s taking classes at North Idaho College already, with a clear plan for what he’s going to do – work which will keep him in the area.
I asked if he had traveled much. Not really, he said, very content with where he was. “Why would I want to go anywhere when I’ve got all of North Idaho?” he asked. I kind of loved that.
Another young man has done some international travel, especially to China, with a robotics program. He talked about his observations of Chinese life and customs and what he learned about them. And he told me a story about a group of Chinese middle school students he worked with at a summer outdoors adventure camp in the U.S., a place with a leave-no-trace philosophy.
At first he noted that the kids littered a lot, even though trash cans were available. It was frustrating to see, but he didn’t jump to conclusions. He thought about it and asked some questions. The students came from a large city in China where no garbage cans were provided in public areas. It was the custom there to leave trash on the street because others were employed to come by daily to pick it up.
It was a cultural thing. He learned something, and so did they. What was so interesting to me about this story and others he told is that he is a young man sensitive to cultural differences, that he looks behind the obvious action and takes away important lessons. He actually reminds me of my oldest son, and I wanted to hug him – not a professional thing to do, and so, I didn’t.
A young woman, the youngest of six children and the only girl, comes from a conservative religious family that home-schooled all their children. But she wanted to go to a public high school because she missed the socialization. It was a tough battle, but she prevailed, agreeing to abide by a set of rules and learning in the process that caring parents and a code of behavior, freedom and choices can all be worked out if there is love and compromise. Not a bad lesson for life. And, by the way, she has thrived in high school and is off to the University of Idaho this fall.
One young man has overcome a hearing loss to go on to perform brilliantly on piano, with a goal of music education. Another young woman, an enrolled tribal member, is a stellar golfer who started taking classes at NIC at age 15 and will earn both her A.A. and high school degrees next month, all at the tender age of 17. She has a college plan that will allow her to return to her reservation to help Native American communities, either in business or as an attorney.
OK, one more – a young woman who has spent time overseas, including one year in which she was the only student from America in her class at an international school. She will be going to college this fall, funded in part by scholarships and the work she’s done throughout high school. College is an important family tradition, and she’s focused on it, though she has already set time aside to teach English at an orphanage in Thailand in the summer of 2018.
Oh, and she is one of the valedictorians at her high school.
How could I not feel hope and joy after meeting these kids?
Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.