June 15, 2000
To the Graduates
I can't remember a word spoken by Ira Goldstein, the Plainview (NY) High School valedictorian, Class of 1965, but I'm sure his graduation address was brilliant. Ira, who apparently was in the Philosophy Club with me for three now-forgotten years, was the most brilliant boy in a class of brilliant boys. Girls were "smart" or "sweet" in those days; boys were "brilliant."
"The difficult he does quickly; the impossible takes a little longer" was written under Ira's school photo. He was destined for greatness, but I never heard about him again. I used to follow him home from school, padding along behind him since he lived around the corner from me. I can't remember a word he said.Still, I miss him terribly. I know this sounds insane, but 35 years later I think I'm finally ready for high school. Having worked on my self-esteem for three decades, I'd finally be capable of talking to Ira about things that matter. Leslie Wiletzky, who had been a god to us girls as sophomore class president the year after I moved from the city to the suburbs, would no longer intimidate me either. I'm even ready for Bob Dickman (Fencing, Honor Society, Russian Magazine) now. And what about Allen Kranz, sports editor? I can still fake interest in football, if that's how the game is played.
Yes, now I'm ready for high school. I'm confident I can enter the girls' room on my own now, without a bodyguard. I'm not afraid of those "Leader of the Pack" gang girls with their teased hair and stiletto nails, though I still dream about them and break into a sweat.
The first time around, none of my outfits were good enough, and the fashion police in the sorority crowd had real fun snickering at my plaid skirts. I didn't own a single Orlon sweater, let alone a twin set! These days, I'm an adult and wear jeans. But just in case I relapse into self-doubt, it's good to know that I can have all the sweater sets I want - and in Lycra - since my mother no longer co-signs my charge card! I can afford my own Kate Spade bag, too, if I want one. You can't be too well-armed against peer pressure.What a wuss I was. I hated lunch hour, spent writing morose poetry and trying on shades of lipstick, even though my best friend at the time, Diane Cobert, swore in my yearbook that we had endless fun. "I can still remember that first day in Caf 2A eating spaghetti," she wrote in my yearbook. "Ever since it's been a ball."
What an actor I must have been. Everyone, it seems, admired my sense of humor. I burned my hair during the National Honor Society candle lighting ceremony. What a joke! David Don, however, took me seriously.
"Despite your liberal tendencies, you're still OK," he said. See, it began early.No matter what they say in the Plainview Gull, I was totally unhappy, and I mean every single day. Paul Kornreich (Chess, German Club) had the right idea. "Whenever you're feeling gay," he wrote, "just remember the miserable times we had in history; that will cure you."
I made it look good, I guess, as did we all. I don't remember my public speaking class, but Barry Aaronoff insists I alone made it endurable for him. "The only good spot of the period was you." He never said a word to me, I swear it.
It's no wonder that it took so long for the pain to ebb. We were just kids, hurting each other mercilessly in preparation for the real world, which has been kind in comparison. That's why I'd like once again to look into Barry Aaronoff's eyes.
"You wrote 'I'll never forget,'" I'd tell him, pointing to his own handwriting. "Did you?"
Since I'm on the topic of high school graduation, it's not too early to address the college road ahead. Inspired by Maria Shriver's best-selling "Ten Things I Wish I'd Known - Before I Went Out Into the Real World," here are the first "Four Things I Wish I'd Known - Before I Went to That Hare Krishna Meeting" (with more to follow soon):
1) Learn who you are: Many people think college is the time to experience alienation, to respect other cultures more than your own and to bust the rules. Fine, but rebellion gets tiresome. Plan to take a Jewish studies course. There's more to our tradition than your Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Your non-Jewish roommate may know more about religion than you do. 2) Get a support system: You may think Hillel is square, but come the High Holidays, you'll be glad it's there. Keep the number posted. Use It. 3) Watch out for loneliness. Suicidal thoughts and depression are too common among freshmen. Don't be macho. Call home. Light candles. Keep your spiritual life alive. Get a subscription to your hometown Jewish newspaper. 4) Satisfy your curiosity, but don't forget to come home. Of course you may want to date non-Jews.
But then get smart and see Rule 1): Learn who you are.Meanwhile, has anyone seen Ira Goldstein?
Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of The Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org