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Commentary: Same school, different school

Welcome, once more, to summer. That special time of year when young, ambitious students go out into the world and make copies for little-to-no pay. At least, I wish I were making copies for little-to-no pay. Instead I'm stuck back home in New Jersey earning... you guessed it... little-to-no pay.

   

  To be honest, that's actually not true. I'm making decent money in an unsteady job, picking up work as a substitute teacher in my old high school. That's right: all it takes in Jersey is 60 credits (or their equivalent if you're on a funky, non-standard system like Duke's) and you too can corrupt the minds of America's youth. With a substitute's certificate in hand, I went back to the halls of ol' Voorhees High to see if the Thomas Wolfe adage, "You can't go home again," would hold true.

   

  Going back to school for the first time since graduation, I wasn't shocked to see that most of the same people were there. I still pick on the same teachers for their poor fashion sense, only now I can do it in the faculty lounge. (Mr. Mohan, if you're reading this, I hope it's from the comfort of a barber's chair while you're getting a real haircut.)

   

  The little things don't change from high school to college. For example, you'd think that making out in the hallways is something that would get outgrown. I had to separate a pair of young lovebirds for the sanity of myself and those around me the other day, informing them that unless one of them is going off to or coming back from war, that sort of PDA was unacceptable. (They didn't get the joke.) And yet I still see these examples of shameful behavior on the quad! If you're of legal age and you're still making out in public, you had better be plastered and you had better be embarrassed about it the next day.

   

  Still, though, signs are everywhere that this isn't the high school I went to years ago. When I arrived at the district office on the first day, I was assigned an ID card. This in itself wasn't particularly surprising: it's used for taking out library books, getting discounts to football games (our team, so I've heard, is still about as mediocre as it was back in the day) and so forth. What was different was the next instruction: that I was going to have to wear the ID on a lanyard around my neck so that it was visible at all times. I suppose this wasn't particularly an odd request and that many of you probably have had the same requirement for years. But for a school in a sleepy, backwoods area of the country like ours (shockingly, not all of New Jersey is the Turnpike), this was a little stunning and a visible reminder that our high schools, like the rest of the world, are in the post-Sept. 11 age.

   

  I remember being in school when the Columbine tragedy occurred and hearing that metal detectors were being installed in more schools, not just ones in high-crime areas like downtown Newark. At the time I laughed it off; now it doesn't seem so far-off. I still don't worry about terrorists sneaking a dirty bomb into gym class, but I do worry about the kids. Will we look back on our generation and think "how could we have done that?" like students who took part in atomic-bomb drills in the schools of the '50s? Or will my kids eventually go off to school and worry that they're not safe, even in a district with some of the lowest crime rates in the state? I want my kids to be worried about the color of their varsity letter, not the color of the terrorist alert.

   

  The thing that struck me the most about being in my old high school was simply how much everything can sneak up on you. Three years ago I was walking out of there in a class of 300, heading to a summer where I knew everybody. In one year I'm going to be walking out of Duke in a class of 1,600 to a summer where I'm going to know nobody.

   

  We've seen plenty of changes at Duke in the last few years and are about to see plenty more: a new president, a new student center, a new Perkins and a national championship football team (dream the dream, baby). In a few years when we get back here, will we have a legitimate connection with the school beyond the calls and letters from the Annual Fund? Can you go home again? I was a little shell-shocked heading back to high school, but then, high school was never a home for me to begin with. Duke is, which makes me wonder if Mr. Wolfe had it right after all.

   

  Matt DeTura is a Trinity senior.

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