Wednesday, June 10, 2009
An Emotional Graduation Day for this High School Senior
I had just started reading an article in Newsweek about America's top public high schools when Nick strolled into my office, plunked down his backpack, and settled into a chair.
"What are you reading?" he asked, grabbing a handful of M&Ms as he moved his chair next to mine and stared into my computer screen.
This is one of the many reasons I love working at The Forum. Every afternoon, like clockwork, a varied group of teenagers wanders into our office and treats it like a second home - a special, safe place where they can relax, eat snacks, mingle with staff and each other, and work on office computers. Most of these kids are members of our YOUTH Forum who live or go to school near our office in downtown Hartford, though not always. Sometimes they bring friends, and soon these friends bring friends of friends, and one by one, one conversation at a time, we get to know them all.
And just as these kids may benefit from spending time in our office and feeling their worlds expand, I know for a fact that we benefit more.
"So they just came out with a list of the top high schools in America," I tell Nick, trying to subdue any hints of my own skepticism about Newsweek's ranking system. "Can you guess what high schools made the list in Connecticut?"
Nick, a graduating senior at East Hartford High School and a proud member of their award-winning ballroom dancing team, was quiet for a moment, and then said, "No place around here."
In many ways, he was right. Though Connecticut's "top public high school" was located just a few miles away from his own - and, incidentally, right in my own town - for Nick and many others like him, it seemed miles away and completely out of reach.
"How did you get started on the ballroom dancing team?" I asked, decidedly changing the subject but curious, too.
"Well," Nick responded, smiling, "I had been fooling around in Spanish class and my teacher gave me detention. She said I could either show up at detention after school, or meet her at the ballroom dance team practice. I went to the practice and they told me I had good posture, good frame. I've been dancing ever since. We just won the inter-district championship."
"What's your graduation day going to look like?" I continued, eager to learn more about Nick, clearly a shining star in a high school that never even came close to making Newsweek's list of the top 1,500 high schools in America. "What will that day be like for you?"
Nick didn't hesitate. "It'll be emotional," he said, pausing, then adding, "I'll be the first one in my family to graduate high school on time, and the first one in my family to go to college."
He'll do even more than that. Nick will participate in a rigorous 6-week academic summer program designed to help him prepare for college classes. He will live in a dorm during the week and go home on weekends.
"But what about laundry?" I asked, genuinely curious. "And what about ballroom dancing? Will you keep at it?"
Nick just smiled in a way that only Nick can: full of joyful exuberance and youthful charm.
"I'm not sure about the laundry," he said, "but I may just have to start my own ballroom dancing team at college."
You may have to do that, Nick. And Nick? When you do, it'll be music to my ears.