I’ve spent some time today reading and thinking about two of my former students at Highland High school. Both have been in the news. Both passed through my classroom at about the same time seven or eight years ago. One went on to graduate and one did not . Both made choices that led them to be on my mind and to write about them today.
One student was just sentenced to eight years in prison for a series of home burglaries in Pocatello. He was finally subdued by a victim who woke up to find this young man in a ski mask, holding a gun. I remember this young felon as charming and likeable, but totally self-absorbed. He had a learning disability, but also lacked any desire to do anything but what he found enjoyable. He was spoiled. Work wasn’t on his agenda. He later was sent to New Horizon High School and , since I had transferred to that school, I found him in my classroom again. He spent most of his time trying to get out of NHHS. He didn’t think he belonged there, with “those” students. That was precisely where he belonged and while he was there he actually started to improve. Soon he was gone and I later heard he had dropped out. He became a meth-head according to news reports. The crimes were committed to pay off drug debts. This fits with what I remember of him, his self-absorption. Much was made of his learning disability at his trial, but dozens of kids go through our high schools each year with learning disabilities and they do not become violent criminals or drug addicts. You reap what you sow, and he may be where he belongs. Whether he comes out better or worse will be determined by his own decisions.
I don’t remember the second young man as well. Many teachers will tell you that the students who stand out in their memories are the very best and the very worst. He was neither of these, although I do recall him being quiet and polite. He may have actually been in the same class with the first student, but I’m not sure. He went on to graduate from Highland High School and, like many working class, and minority kids trying to make a better life for themselves, he enlisted in the military–he chose the Marines. A few days ago this quiet, polite former student of mine, of ours, had both of his legs blown off in Afghanistan and suffered other severe injuries while in service to his country. He did not get what he deserved and he is not where he belongs. He belongs at home with his family and friends, enjoying life, getting married, raising quiet and polite kids in his own image. Instead he faces the ordeal of recovery and return. He will make it. He obviously has the courage.
Now, many will argue that these two tales are both tragedies and I would certainly agree, but I know for whom we should weep.