Emoblog/2014/05/25/Camelot Academy graduation

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If the graduation had been some mass assembly-line affair, I could have just dismissed it as empty ceremony – another hurdle jumped for another year of kids. Good for them, in a way, but also helping to perpetuate the school-to-wage-slavery pipeline.

This wasn't like that, however. Despite this being the largest (12 kids) senior class Camelot has graduated during the 5 or so years I've been attending them (parent attendance is mandatory) the ceremony followed the same general formula it has every year, in which each of the graduates receive a lot of very personal recognition. (It was supposed to end at 11, but we didn't get out until 12:20. I think they need to revise their scheduling methodology, just a bit...)

This involves (a) a multi-part skit in which each senior is played by a non-senior (the parts are interleaved between other parts of the ceremony, including graduation certificates for lower grades), (b) the reading of "parent wishes" (a piece written by the senior's parents about the senior) by faculty, and a speech by each senior. Both the parent wishes and the senior speeches are often touching and/or funny; the skits are written by the director of admissions, who seems to have a talent for it. Not high comedy, but enjoyable.

Of the twelve seniors, four were exchange students from China and Korea, and therefore kind of outside my cultural parameters for comparing life-experiences.

The remaining eight, however, all seemed to have formed very intense bonds of friendship with their peers, their teachers, and their parents. At least 2 or 3 of them spoke specifically about how one or both parents were role-models, how the senior always wanted to be more like their mom or dad.

...and that's (mostly) the part that stirred things up for me.

First, they all seemed to have done so much with themselves -- and been recognized for it.

What have I done? So many aborted projects, so much wasted effort, so many wasted resources.

And yet at the same time, I'm looking at all the effort these kids put out, and thinking how I never could have done that kind of stuff, at their age or now. One girl did all this work with the National Honor Society, got volunteers and donations organized for community service to help the poor locally and abroad...

(My cynical side was saying: Right... help the victims, but don't do anything to solve the problem. This contradiction was actually alluded to, between the lines, in the sketch: the girl's character was asking for suggestions for what the school's Honor Society club/chapter could do. One faction wanted to help a local pet shelter; another wanted to advocate for minimum wage – which prompted the usual claims of "that costs jobs", which others refuted with "that's a myth" – a parent who is an old friend of mine confirms that this reflects some actual arguments among the students involved – and it was ultimately decided that the pet shelter was a better project because nobody would argue about it.)

... which seems to be kind of a prep school Thing. Getting a summer job isn't just for spending money; it's for your academic record, to help you get into a better college. If you can't get a job, volunteer – or maybe just volunteer, if you think that will look better.

...which brings me back to "mini-sessions" at my high school, where we were supposed to do some kind of apprenticeship or project for a couple of weeks. Here are the two I can remember:

  1. I helped with electronics work at the Duke Hyperbaric Chamber (my parents were friends with the then-director). Although I don't think this actually happened, I have this mental image of myself sitting in the lap of one of the DHC staff as I laboriously did some soldering work that he probably could have knocked out in five seconds. I felt like I was being babysat – and was only there because of privilege (though I didn't have a word for it at the time).
  2. This one's just kind of sad, and conveys just how socially clueless I could be sometimes. A kid in my neighborhood was in a band with other kids at the school (a pretty good one) and I knew I wanted to work on some recordings, so I asked if maybe they would drop by during the mini-session and we could do some recording together. He said "maybe" or words to that effect. I remember spending the first couple of days not really seriously trying to get anything else done because I thought he might be showing up at any minute with the band.
    At some point I realized they probably weren't coming over, and came up with a couple of half-assed things to record (well... okay, one was almost funny: a talk-show host interviews a guy who presents proof that the soundtrack of the movie Grease is actually an accelerated recording of the San Francisco earthquake of 1908, with Mister Rogers providing commentary), and recorded them. When I brought that back to school as the fruits of my two weeks' work, my advisor just sort of... not quite "slowly backed away", but he clearly didn't know what to make of it. It was never spoken of again.

In retrospect, both of those events are solidly plastered with #fail hashtags.

Summer jobs? One summer I worked for another one of my dad's friends at the Duke Eye Center, which involved mostly (a) going to the library to photocopy scientific papers (I remember worrying at the time if this was legal, and being rather relieved later on when I found out about Fair Use), and (b) cutting up stacks of used 8.5" x 11" paper into 3x5 index cards. I'm sure that was completely a cost-effective use of his budget. Yup.

Short version: got all the privileges, produced all the fails.

These kids obviously had some privilege too, else their parents wouldn't be able to afford a private school, but for the most part they at least seem to have made their accomplishments largely without leaning on it.

(Perhaps that's just an illusion caused by viewing their lives from the outside; I don't know – but in my head, all of their accomplishments are legitimate, and very few of mine are – especially if you subtract penalties for the ones where I was basically handed a free pass and fumbled it.) (No, I don't normally make sports metaphors; I always hated sports. It just seemed appropriate.)

As much detail as I've gone into about all this, I think maybe all this is really just kind of setting the scene for what's going on in my head: the resurrection, the reminder, of this vast sense of failure that I've been dealing with for decades. Most of the time I try to ignore it or work around it or compensate for it with smaller accomplishments on a semi-regular basis – but it's like trying not to pick at an itchy scab.

This whole event just made the scab itch worse and remind me that it's there.

(And that's probably enough for one hugely self-indulgent post. I'll have more self-indulgence and first-world-problem ruminations for you later. Don't get too excited.)