When assessing the situation at Flathead High after the board of trustees announced that 20 students would be barred from participating in graduation for vandalizing the school in prank gone awry, Kalispell Superintendent Mark Flatau said, “These aren’t bad kids. They’re good kids who made a bad decision.”
He said it best.
It’s hard to imagine these students don’t think the decision they made was one of their worst. After entering the school through a broken window in the early morning hours of May 10, what began as throwing water and sawdust escalated into broken fountains and vending machines and thousands of dollars in damage.
Along with being prevented from attending the graduation ceremony (although they will receive certificates), the students still face potential trespassing and criminal mischief charges.
Lesson learned, and perhaps one they can use down the road.
Many students enter high school thinking they know everything. And when they leave four years later, many still don’t understand the consequences of their actions. There is also the desire to enter adulthood with a bang, with something memorable.
For years, the week before graduation at my Spokane high school, the seniors gathered for an all-nighter on school grounds. This was years ago and, yes, times have changed. Back then the administration mostly turned a blind eye as long as seniors were well behaved.
Unfortunately, my class wasn’t.
Dozens of students arrived on campus, and what began as a large social gathering quickly escalated into a large party. A bonfire lit in one of the school’s garbage cans reached several feet in the air and eventually several police cars showed up. And when they did, the scene was one of chaos.
Roughly a quarter of my senior class was on campus and nearly all of them scattered. They ran in every direction and a few climbed the walls to hide on the school roof. Police began running license plates of all the vehicles in the parking lot, most of which were registered to the students’ parents.
One by one those parents arrived to the scene of a bonfire, running teenagers, cops chasing them with flashlights and a blazing garbage can on school grounds. My father was there, and his first question was familiar, “What were you thinking?”
In truth, there was little thinking going on and even less after the group of seniors attending the all-nighter grew. Common sense had short-circuited and a virus had spread among us.
This is not to downplay the actions of the seniors at Flathead or those at my high school. It is, however, a reminder that we were all 18 once; just kids ignoring or naïve to consequences.
A reminder to all graduates who walk across the stage this week — the consequences are far greater now. If you fail to show up to work, you get fired. If you flunk out of school, you’re in debt regardless. And if you vandalize or nearly burn down a building, you’re likely to face more serious charges.
And you’ll be on your own, with no high school administrator defending your overall character and no parents around to ask, “What were you thinking?”