Thirty-three years ago this spring, I sat on the OPRFHS football field as the Class of ’77 graduated. We were one of the last of the huge graduating classes; our number was just a few under 1,000. On that evening, I could’ve counted the number of sober students on one hand.
Indeed, in my row, there was so much booze and pot being passed around that it felt more like a Grateful Dead concert than an educational ceremony.
And ya know what? It was no big deal. There was no hand wringing or commissions assembled to investigate anything. There were kegger parties all over both towns afterward, some with cops standing outside to regulate the crowd in case anybody got too rowdy. Peter Frampton Live! blared all over town as we did what high school students have done forever: hugging and kissing and saying tearful goodbyes to our soon to be lost youth. We were overwrought with emotion, hopeful and terrified of the next stage of our lives, and then we went on to college or the military or jobs that most likely don’t even exist anymore.
As a writer and editor of Tabula 1976 and 1977, I had occasion to talk to nearly every one of the 4,000 students at OPRFHS at least once. My friends and I did the cover artwork, all the sports reporting, and some other editorial work. If you look through those books, the sneaky wisecracks were more than likely written and/or inserted by one of us.
Allowing for different times and heightened awareness, I’m not advocating a return to those days. We knew at the time we were getting away with stuff that none of the kids who followed us would ever get away with. Indeed, many of us have high school and college aged kids, and I doubt any of us would be grooming them to be like us. We lived in a distinct moment in time where our parents had no idea what we were up to, and very few grownups even knew what marijuana was.
They were all too busy drinking their Manhattans and smoking Chesterfields to be able to detect the smell of pot on us.
If you were Irish, beer was looked upon as nearly harmless. Beer wasn’t even drinking! Beer was bread to be had with every meal. If you were Italian, wine was in the fruit section of the four food groups. Things were different then.
The problem high school students face nowadays isn’t booze or weed; the main problem these kids face is overly intrusive adults and angst ridden parents. The same social Darwinism that sorted us out in ’77 will be the same that sorts these kids out as they grow into adulthood.
Some of them will become huge successes against all odds. My five brothers and sisters are in that category. Some of them will become working stiffs. Some of them will attain stardom and be the voice of Homer Simpson. Some of them will wander around for most of their lives trying to find their niche until the day they die.
This is called “life.”
It’s ironic that after all these years that we’re on the brink of seeing marijuana becoming legal. This legality is long overdue.
What’s also overdue is for all the sniveling hand wringers to stop trembling and begin trusting our kids. The best lesson the adult generation can learn is to let go and trust that they were listening when you were teaching them. You remember when they were young enough to still think you knew what you were talking about, right? Trust that those lessons stuck. Or pray they did. Whatever works.
Draconian measures and overwrought panel discussions rarely produce positive results. If ever.
Back off a little bit and trust your kids. Allow them to sort things out for themselves. We’re sending them out into a meat grinder world that we were supposed to make better for them by the time they got this far.
Give ’em a break and stop making up more rules they’re not gonna follow anyway.
John M. McCarthy graduated from OPRF in 1977. He lives in Berwyn.