I had been looking forward to getting my license for so long, because you need to be able to drive yourself in Los Angeles, right? Isn't it necessary to show off your car to your friends, to finally give your parents a break from chauffeuring you everywhere, to get from Point A to Point B? Isn't that what driving is all about? As I thought about this milestone, I realized that driving is symbolic of something much greater.
In Los Angeles and at my school, Harvard-Westlake, driving has become a deplorable status symbol, and I fell into the trap. I used to gaze in admiration at the juniors and seniors rolling onto campus in their shiny cars. They all noticed the mesmerized faces of the underclassmen, but they always maintained an air of nonchalant coolness. I could practically read their minds: "I am so awesome because I drove to school. I even picked up a latte on the way here." Those people were my heroes. I used to think that when I turned 16, my moment in the spotlight of the school driveway would arrive, and I was going to milk it for everything it was worth. I, too, wanted to be awesome and put lattes in my cupholders.
When I finally got behind the wheel of a car myself, conceit and self-importance set in. If ever I saw someone with that familiar awe-struck gape staring at my car during one of my innumerable driving lessons, I would think, with a shameful amount of pride, "I am cooler than you because I am operating a motor vehicle right now."
Now that I actually am 16 and will soon be taking my driving test, I realize how arrogant I was as I pondered the significance of getting my license. Driving isn't about showing off or feeling cool. To me, driving represents the freedom I have been given to choose how I want to live my life.
Spider-Man's Uncle Ben once said that with great power comes great responsibility. I say that great responsibility comes with great freedom. Driving, in a way, is my platform to make an impact on my own in the world. I now choose what to do with my time, but too much independence too soon can be overwhelming. The laminated card entrusted to me by the Department of Motor Vehicles gives me the opportunity to pick a side in the epic battle of right and wrong. Like the aforementioned web-slinger, I want to use my newfound powers for good.
Before I turned 16, I would often use my inability to drive as an excuse for laziness. If I was sitting at home watching television on a Saturday morning instead of feeding the homeless, I could justify it. "My parents don't have the time to drive me there," I told myself. "I don't want to inconvenience them." At 16, my inactivity is no longer defensible. I now have the option of either driving to the mall to have fun or driving to an animal shelter or a food bank to volunteer my time and have a rewarding experience. It seems obvious, but I'm not a saint, so I plan to find a balance between serving myself and serving the community. I expect the choices I will have to make about where I will drive to be a source of some serious angst -- I've never had to make these kind of decisions for myself before, but I'm ready to take the wheel.
I used to wonder why you had to wait until you were 16 to get a driver's license. I now realize that an incredible amount of responsibility is involved in being in the front seat because of what driving means. Driving shouldn't be a method of flaunting yourself, but it shouldn't just be about reaching your destination either. For me, driving means having a choice about what to do and where to go and, at 16, I'm ready to choose for myself.
Derek Schlom will be a junior at Harvard-Westlake this fall. He is interning at The Jewish Journal this summer.
Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the August issue is July 15; Deadline for the September issue is Aug. 15. Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.