I felt happy. A little distracted but happy nonetheless as I sat with my mentee during a senior send-off event earlier this week in East Harlem.
I never doubted her abilities to graduate from high school or to get accepted into college. No, it was something else that made me happy as I sat on the dust-smeared, plastic chair in the blue-draped room, the school’s primary color washed under the bright white fluorescents.
Whatever challenges my mentee will face in college this fall, I was happy because she got the mentoring that her more socio-economically better counterparts receive without a second thought. I was happy because I guided another human being through the college application process, gave advice and feedback on essays, and will be checking in with her once a month during her freshman year of college.
She reminds me of me, except I never had a college mentor. It wasn’t even clear that I was even going to college when I graduated high school. It was a cursory footnote, mentioned in passing at school and at home. There was no manual, no map, no guiding person to lean to for advice. It was just expected.
There might have been a one-on-one meeting with the school counselor, who everyone thought was airheaded and out of her depth. No one liked her and I don’t remember a useful meeting with her as a high school student. In fact, I recall dreading any meetings with her because of her daftness and blasé attitude towards my future.
I vaguely remember a school-wide assembly my sophomore and junior years. Gathered at the movie theater that served as the school’s event space, we all sat in the dark room, chatting in hushed tones as the principal, vice principal, and school counselor spoke about college and life after high school. There was college but most of all there was talk about honor, duty, and… shit. Whatever else that was part and parcel of a DoDEA school where military codes of honor and etiquette reigned supreme.
It was a confusing time. Actually, a better description would be to call it a “lost” time.
I remember only the 4.0 GPA and high-performing JROTC students seemed to sail through without issue. Everyone seemed to know, or have some idea, of what was coming next. We didn’t really talk about it. College, and leaving our friends and being scattered across the globe. As military kids this was just an inevitable part of life.
That’s what it looked like, anyway.
As I sat in the bluish gymnasium in East Harlem, and listened to a read-aloud of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” I wondered how different things could’ve been. There are a lot of would’ves and could’ves: Would I have ended up a different university, right after high school instead of having an unproductive gap year? Could I have had a better idea of what to pursue instead of blundering through community college and transferring and everything that followed thereafter? Or, how different would my life outcome have been had my family lived in a “normal,: American life, away from the military apparatus, in some nondescript location in the continental U.S.?
Of course, this pondering does me no good. What’s happened happened. The only thing I can do now is to try to direct my life in the trajectory I want it to go in spite of the challenges and barriers that are up.