Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Looking Back

I had a sudden and very strong urge to write (something, anything!) just now, so after staring (and glaring) at all my outlines of papers and deciding none of them were worthy of any serious writing (yet), here I am blogging. Do I look busy? That’s the look I was going for.

In my last post I wrote about looking forward and becoming excited about the future. Because I’ve been doing a lot of introspective thinking, I thought I’d do some looking back at where I came from. Therefore, I give you Random Stories: rural south edition!

Story 1:

Last month, we visited the old home place (deep in the rural south) to attend BIL2’s high school graduation. As we were driving into town, the Rascal Flatts song “These Days” was on the radio. (Complete lyrics here.) The pertinent part:

Yeah, life throws you curves

But you learned to swerve

Me, I swung and I missed

And the next thing you know, I’m reminiscing

Dreaming old dreams

Wishing old wishes

Like you would be back again


I wake up in teardrops that fall down like rain

I put on that old song we danced to and then

I head off to my job, guess not much has changed

Punch the clock, head for home, check the phone just in case

Go to bed, dream of you

That’s what I’m doing these days

TM says to me, “Well that’s not depressing at all.”

I replied, “Yeah, it is pretty depressing. It does remind me how happy I am that we got the hell outta here, though.”

Story 2:

The next morning, we woke up bright and early for BIL2’s graduation. This is the third year in a row that we’ve gone to graduation, thanks to BIL1 and Little Bear. It’s always a typical high school graduation, but it never fails that there’s something that deeply disturbs me. This year, that took the form of the principal’s speech.

The principal now was my AP calculus teacher my senior year. He’s one of the best teachers I had, and an engineer by training. (I still don’t know how he ended up in the black hole, but I digress.) His speech was all the usual yea yea rah rah, life’s a journey, this is a beginning, blah blah blah. And then he said, “How many of you will be scientists? Doctors? Lawyers? Teachers?"

I started thinking about that question, considering mostly my classmates. We were a bright group, on the whole. Where are we now? To the best of my knowledge, there are two of us in the life sciences (TM and me), one engineer, one lawyer, one person in a history graduate program and maybe eight or ten teachers. I don’t know of any alumni of that high school that have gone to medical school. Ever.

We call it the black hole for a reason. If you don’t get out as soon as you can, chances are you won’t. Some of that is cultural. Some of it is educational. Kids in this school system simply can’t compete with students from other schools in the state. It makes me sad. Perhaps I should say it still makes me sad. It’s been bothering me since I was one of those kids.

There aren’t a lot of opportunities for these kids, even the very brightest. I wish there were something I could do to fix it, or even help just a little. Through TM’s mom and the teachers that we still keep in contact with, we try to provide encouragement. We share our work when we can. We chat with our siblings’ friends. It just seems so futile sometimes. It’s so hard for me to encourage these kids to go into science when I know what a struggle my (and TM’s) early science classes were in college due to my woefully lacking high school education. It’s hard for me to tell these kids that they can do anything they want to do.

The whole situation just made me very sad because I thought of all the friends I had in high school and where they are now, and I see a whole lot of wasted potential. A whole lot. I had hoped things would improve over time, and some things have. Unfortunately the net outcome seems to be unchanged. They’re still putting up billboards when an athlete gets drafted* and trying to pretend like those of us that got away never really existed.

*My MIL has threatened to buy a billboard when I finish my PhD…the very thought makes me snicker.

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