Monday, April 30, 2007

High school on my minid

High schools and the high school years are on my mind today.

First, I spent four hours this morning at Beaverton's Sunset High School talking with two religious studies classes about Quakers (I'm a Quaker).

The school is wonderfully multi-ethnic, multi-racial and, of course, a cauldron of adolescent energy. Anyone who needs a boost should join the adolescent throngs between classes as they jam high school hallways. Bizarre, I know, but Sunset High's cramped and jammed halls reminded of the human swirl of Tokyo's subways.

Having a religious studies class at a high school is utterly inspired. Adolescents are fascinated by quests of the spirit. In previous weeks, the classes had been visited by a Muslim, a Christian Scientist and a Mormon. Amazing.

I don't know how much of my Quakerism 101 sunk in, but the questions were excellent. "If you have no pastors or priests, who marries you?" a girl asked. (Answer: True to Quaker form, the betrothed couple exchanges its vows unassisted and from the heart, typically after a reflective period of silence.)

This is the second year that a Beaverton high school has invited me to speak about the Religious Society of Friends. I look forward to returning.

I find it particularly interesting to see who stays around in the brief time between classes to ask more questions. After both classes today Muslim students came forward. One, a girl with a telling gauzy scarf over her hair said that my presentation led her to want to visit our Friends meeting as part of her term project.

The other was a boy, whose questions during class led me to assume he was a fundamentalist Christian, but he came up to say that he was a Muslim and that he was struck by the similarities between our beliefs. That had never occurred to me, but together we quickly reviewed the Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality — drawing links to Islam.

One other student, a girl who had a beautifully fixed gaze, came up to say that she was a "meditator" and wondered whether the silence of a Quaker meeting was an opportunity to meditate. Meetings by their nature lack the qualities of solitary meditation, I told her, but they were most certainly meditative.

That was Sunset High School. Closer to home, today I receive in my e-mail in-box one of my favorite epistles—Linda Doyle's Wilson Spotlight newsletter celebrating the achievements of the Wilson High School Community. I am not as in touch with Wilson's students this year as I would like to be. but two names jumped out at me in Linda's accounting of honors.

George Wolff, a gifted classical guitarist, won first prize in the state high school competition. George played beautifully at our Hillsdale Book Sale last year and at the Multnomah Arts Center Auction earlier this year.

The other name of note in the Spotlight was Daniel Ronan's. Daniel was acknowledged with an honorable mention in foreign language achievement.

Be it further known that Daniel is also the first Wilson student to serve on the board of the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association and has been active in the peace movement both at the school and in our community.

Both George and Daniel are gifts to Hillsdale. I will follow their paths closely and with great expectation.

Finally, strange to say, my own high school classmates last week enlisted me to be on a reunion committee for our 50th reunion in 2010. Could it be? I went to an embarrassingly tony New England prep school, which I have largely ignored lo these many years. When my principal recruiter, one Wally Winter of Chicago environs, phoned, I saw his enlistment of me as a sign to others that we can bury past angst about our privileged educations and about the pettiness of adolescence to meet in renewed camaraderie.

It will be good, after 50 years, to reconnect with old friends from a vibrant, turbulent time. They have been too long out of my life.

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