June 12, 1997
Young and Independent
Notes from a visit with a senior class: After seeing friends and peers smoking marijuana and using other drugs , students at Shalhevet High School didn't wait for their parents or teachers to educate them about the harmful effects of narcotics. Instead, they undertook the challenge themselves. "We were obligated.... Something had to be done," said Brian Orgen, president of this year's graduating class.
Although students at the Orthodox school are "pretty straight," classmate Ariel Belliak quickly added, the student-initiated drug-education program was necessary because "the Orthodox think they are immune to this problem. But really, by not talking about it, they are wide open."
This independent spirit of self-determination was evident as some of the school's 25 graduating seniors spoke about what they perceive as a negative view of people their age by their parents' generation. The message sent was loud and clear: We're ready to take on the world, or at least college.
"People assume that if you're 17, you are disillusioned and stupid," said Zach Gershuni, bound for UC Berkeley this fall. Gershuni is already paying his college bills with money he earned working at his uncle's store. Because of his youth, customers there "often walk right past you without saying hello," he said.
As a member of a fencing team, Maytal Dahan is used to being around people older than her who are "naïve" about her age group. "They underestimate kids. They think that you're not sure what you want to do and where you're going," the incoming UC San Diego student said.
Not all young people are looking for trouble, said Belliak, also bound for Berkeley. "Sure, people run amok, and they should suffer the consequences," he said. But overall, "we have more initiative than they give us credit for."
"Sure, there are negatives -- a lot of them -- but positives outweigh them," Orgen said.
Gershuni offered advice for parents who want their adolescent offspring to develop into well-adjusted young adults.
"There's a widening gap between graduates who are capable to function intellectually, emotionally and economically, and those who aren't," he said. Therefore, "if you want a successful kid, put him or her in a school where they can develop not only intellectually but morally, culturally and socially."