Features

The Graduates

Once They Were My Students Now They Are

The Graduates
Photo By Todd V. Wolfson


Michael

On the first day of school, I asked students to write their response to this old standard: "If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would it be?" All day I read the same names: Cindy Crawford and Mariah Carey; Leonardo DiCaprio, God, and Gandhi.

Michael's read: T. Leary, B. Hansen, A. Burgess.

"I know Timothy Leary and Anthony Burgess," I said, "but who's B. Hansen?"

"Beck," he said.

The Graduates

We got along fine.

Michael was a skater, whose head was shaved except for a thin, bleached streak that ran like a spine down his scalp. "A wannabe mohawk," he calls it now. In the summer, away from the vigilant gaze of the faculty, he dyed it -- "blue, yellow, hot pink, and a slew of other colors." Sophomore year, his hair prompted an assistant principal to quip, "Look, it's the last of the Mohicans."

Michael proved a gifted creative writer, whose first paper was a fun, plot-heavy story about a trio of reckless kids hanging around suburban warehouses and convenience stores. He preferred the skate park to school and books like Irvine Welsh's The Acid House to required freshman reading, keeping high school and all its pep at arm's length ("I think I get that from my mom," he says). He was a respectful kid, who rarely indulged in the dramatic fuss of fellow students -- the whine, the heavy sighs, the under-the-breath sarcasm. Still, when I asked the class to write down their opinions of The Odyssey, he scrawled on a piece of notebook paper, "This is the boring-est stuff ever!!!""

"I used to be a little punk," he says now. "Like especially in middle school. In ninth grade, I was still bad, but I wasn't as bad."

His sophomore year, he worked 25 hours a week administering surveys over the phone. "Sad to say, I had to give up skating," he says. But with the money he earned, he bought a cell phone and new tires and rims for his car. In his junior year, he began dating Stephyne, who is two years older. "To me, school isn't that bad," he says. "If I skipped school, I'd just be at home watching TV all day." Which isn't to say his opinions of required reading have changed. When I ask him about Silas Marner, the last thing he read in senior English, he says, "I hate that book so much!" (In his junior English class, the teacher allowed students to choose from a list of banned books. He chose One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and liked it. "If I have a choice about what I read, the possibilities are so much greater that I'll enjoy it," he says.)

Like most kids, he can't really articulate how he's changed, or why he changed. He just knows that he has. "I've learned to accept myself for who I am," he says. "Like in middle school, I was so confused. I didn't know what the hell I was gonna do or who I was or anything." Next year, Michael will attend ACC, where he plans to study child psychology. "I was never a big talker," he says. "I was always more of a listener, taking in what was around me. Plus," he says, "I like little kids. They make me smile." These days, his hair is back to its natural brown. His appearance is utterly unobjectionable -- except for one small thing. On the day we meet, he has just gotten his tongue pierced.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More by Sarah Hepola
Raiders!
Raiders!
What if you remade a Hollywood blockbuster in your mom's basement?

March 13, 2015

Hollywood Is Calling
Hollywood Is Calling
Celebrities on Your Cell

Aug. 15, 2003

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle