Jeremiah Stanley and Jason Grant

Jeramiah Stanley ponders for a moment about adult life…and then says quite determinedly, “I’m worried, I think it’s going to slap me in the face.”  The adults in the room chuckle but not him. Meanwhile, Jason Grant sits next to him nodding right along.

For high schoolers, these two actually have a pretty good assessment of what becoming an adult can feel like and I have to give them a lot of credit. It’s a bit a refreshing not to hear a young person shrug and assume that “3 Bugattis” in the garage at age 30 is going to be the norm they should plan for.  And really, it’s these two boys’ grasp on reality and honesty that has me responding- “Well, Jay (Jeramiah,) you’re probably right. But for my money, after working with the both of you for months, I think you’re going to be just fine and in fact, I’d be pretty happy if you guys end up running the world one day.”

That brings a smile to Jason’s face- Jeramiah is still hesitant. “I just worry that none of the adults or parents can tell you what to do or will want to help you anymore when you’re older,” he says.  Again, chuckles in the room from both ladies sitting by their sides.  Jeramiah and Jason both brought their grandmothers-the two women responsible for getting the boys into my class in the first place.  I laugh this time as well and look to the grandmothers, “Let you in on a secret, guys?  Adults loveto help and tell you what to do…no matter how old you get.  These ladies will welcome it.”  At this I finally get a smile from Jeramiah.

Both of these young men really do give me hope- it’s not just lip service while their families watch.  Jeramiah is a junior at Green Run High School and he thinks he’d like to get into computer programming in the future.  He’s got a math class looming over him that feels unsurmountable and yet, he really wants to just pass so he can take it a little easy during senior year and “chill out.” Once the chilling is done however, he worries he’ll still feel a little overwhelmed.  Right now, college just feels like more studying and more stressing. The back and forth in his mind between wanting to take it easy and wanting to pass classes and do well is often the pendulum swing high schoolers are used to.  It can easily feel like going back and forth between two extremes. But as we talk, I see in him much more drive than he’d like to let on. It’s not even a necessity for his field but he’d really like to earn an advanced diploma just to show that he could achieve it.  He figures, why not?

Jason is in 10thgrade at Bayside.  And even though we all do it to every younger generation, I still think it’s amusing to watch Jeramiah somberly tell Jason what he’s in for once he reaches junior year.  Yet I’m as confident about Jason’s future as I was Jeramiah’s.  Jason was at a yard sale when his grandmother ran into Jeramiah’s and before they knew it, both gents got signed up for the portfolio class. Jason describes being nervous at first, but after the first class he got on board completely.  He tells me that he found himself looking forward to class each day and even told fellow classmates what they could learn if they did some career research on  For his part, he took what I said to heart.  He looked further into becoming a U.S. Marshal and at this writing, was still very much committed to the plan.  He also managed to secure a job on weekends just by being friendly and having someone tell him how strong he looked- now he helps a moving company with occasional bookings.

What I like so much about my time spent with both of these young men is how honest and real they are. During our many class discussions, mock interviews, and even just casual conversation, neither one acts like they have it all “figured out.”  In fact, when I suggest that they will be adults at 18 they both scoff a bit and reply that they don’t imagine they’re going to feel like adults. Jason is proud to be a bit goofy and hates the idea of having to act like an adult.  Again, age and experience cause us “old” gals in the room to chuckle.  I assure him that he can still be goofy, and he absolutely will not magically figure it all out when the age of 18 drops. That said, I’m also careful to point out that both men will need to be aware that once they turn 18, any dumb “kid” decisions could cost them dearly in the legal system.  They both nod and suddenly I feel like we’re back to them feeling slapped in the face by adulthood.

Ultimately, I know that with our work there are only so many assurances we can give.  We know the stats and we know how easily one little sidestep can derail you good intentions. But I come back to the terrified young men who sit politely with their grandmothers and give them props for taking them to my class-  Jason tells me that he’s been trying to take my advice about networking and he’s already working to circle back to old teachers to keep fresh in their mind;   while Jeramiah mentions again how happy he is to have his portfolio just in case he has a “brain fart” in an interview and now can be assured to have tangible back-up in hand just in case.

I look at them both being so worried about adulthood and yet open and willing to use the resources they’re being presented to better prepare for it and I firmly believe that that becomes the magic mix of success. If we can instill just enough good, clean, healthy fear into the mind of youth that they actually yearn to learn more and possess the tools overcome the challenges they worry about; and, if we then present ourselves as resources and let them know that at no point will we just assume they should have it all in focus because after all, do we? Well then maybe, just maybe will we deserve the praise and the heartfelt thanks they give us.

Harvest Bellante, Program Director