Don't Be Afraid

“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”

Kurt Vonnegut supposedly said that, and once a friend of an aunt of a friend at a family gathering quoted it at me. At the time I laughed, privately decided he was an obnoxious jerk and excused myself to track down another prosciutto-cantaloupe canapé.

But as graduation approaches and the uncertainties of modern adulthood – college finances and possible career paths and the prospect of nonstate actors starting a global nuclear war – loom large, the quote has become stuck in my mind.

Its immediate meaning, and what I think Vonnegut intended, is pure snark. He’s terrified because the idiots he went to high school with have no business running the country. I get it. For someone who loves learning and Harvard-Westlake and all the opportunities that being here has given me, I haven’t always been the biggest fan of high school myself. I was too impatient to enter college and “real life.” I had places to go and things to do. But while I perhaps understand where Vonnegut is coming from, I can’t agree with him.

My fellow students aren’t idiots. They’re intelligent, hardworking, passionate and most important of all, they have heart. Last week during Senior Transition Day, we watched the “The Hunting Grounds,” a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses. When technical difficulties forced us to stop mid-movie, the entire grade gathered for an impromptu, hour-long discussion on how to address the issue. Several girls shared their own stories. It was the most moving moment of my entire school career and reaffirmed my faith in our grade.

That’s not to say Vonnegut’s quote isn’t still terrifying, though for a different reason. If your high school class is old and important enough to be calling the shots, then that means that you are too. It means that our leaders have no secret superpowers enabling them to magically solve the world’s problems. The kids with whom you crammed for physics tests and ate lunch and swapped acne cream are those leaders. It means we are in charge, and it is we who will be responsible if things go wrong.

That’s scary, but also exhilarating. In a few days we will stand together on Ted Slavin field to receive our diplomas, hug and cry, then head off to face our futures. And if I should wake up years from now to see a face familiar from my school days on the morning news, I won’t worry. I trust the friends I’ve made during my time at Harvard-Westlake, and I trust myself.

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