Small-minded administrators and authority figures like to speak in clich?s. All my life I heard the same trite line: “ You can tell a lot about a person by the friends they keep.” The black sheep of the honors program, I hung out with the so-called “ losers.” During my freshman year, not a day went by when a teacher or family member did not deride my closest friends and warn me that by hanging out with “ bad seeds” I would fall into a downward spiral, never graduate college, and have a miserable life. They thought that they had me figured out.
One day, while my ninth grade math teacher, Mr. Pedersen, was reviewing some math concepts with me, my friend Mariam ran by the classroom, stuck her head in the doorway, called out: “ Hi Yassee, ” and then ran away. Mr. Pedersen looked at me coldly and said with a scowl: “ How can you call yourself an Honors student? A real honors student doesn’t associate with people like that!” I wanted to ask him how he could call himself a teacher; after all, a real teacher is supposed to want to help everyone. Instead, I sat silent, stunned by his ignorance and cruelty. He wanted me to drop my childhood friends simply because they didn’t place the same importance on schoolwork that I do. If he had thought before speaking, he would have realized that people like him, rather than people like my friends, are better able to turn good students into poor ones by discouraging them with ridiculous comments.
I would never slight Mariam. One of my closest friends in freshman year, she was also a below average, non-college bound student. Many of the adults in my life, especially my parents and teachers, would look at those closest to me: Mariam, Alisa, Zena, Lianne, and Marvin, and ask how I could call these “ low-life losers” my friends. But such questions show a lack of understanding of the nature of friendship. Friendship is unconditional and uncritical, based only on mutual respect and the ability to enjoy each other’ s company. These authority figures never saw the way one of us could do something outrageous, and the rest of us would joke about it for days. We could have fun doing absolutely nothing at all – because the company we provided each other with was enough. Rather than discussing operas, Lewinsky, or the weather, we enjoyed just hanging around each other without any one of us trying to outsmart the others.
Still, I realize that these adults had a point to be concerned about the direction my friends were heading; I also was concerned for them, but I wasn’t about to leave them. Many times I would advise my friends that some activity may be dangerous or to think things through before doing something, but I would never claim to hold the moral high ground and to condescend to them. When Marvin would begin rolling joints, when Alisa would tell me she skipped school because of a hangover, or when Mariam would tell me that her new boyfriend was in a street gang, I expressed my discomfort with their actions. However, I never blackmailed them with the threat of taking my friendship away. Contrary to the commercials on television, you can have friends who use drugs. In fact, probably everyone does without realizing it.
In my junior year, AP U.S. History class, the teacher, Mr. Jacobsen, addressed the class saying: “ I bet none of you have ever seen a drug deal!” With a look of absolute certainty and an odd smile on his face he scanned the room. “ I’ve seen a drug deal before, ” I answered. Everyone in the room turned to look at me, either gasping or in disbelief. I realized that maybe my experiences thus far were a typical of most of my honor student friends. Despite our varying experiences, I still maintained many friends who were excellent students. Yogita, Nitin, Hans, Vishal, Saurabh, Anuj, Nick, and I have had almost every class together since eighth grade. Nitin and I both love to shop and eat. What is different about shopping with Nitin, however, is that we argue about the necessity of a high sales tax or discuss the effectiveness of the acting welfare system. Yogita and I always go to the library together and “ pull all nighters” at her house. While I do enjoy accomplishing my academic goals and working with this highly motivated group of friends, I also enjoy “ the losers, ” who to me seem much more sincere and loyal.
In retrospect, I wouldn’t change my ninth grade experience, because I learned many of life’ s important lessons from my friends and the ignorance of teachers and administrators. It’ s sad to say, but in many of my friends’ dangerous actions, I saw what I never wanted to become. In the future, I’ d like to continue helping adolescents, in addition to my studies. I have been fortunate thus far in being able to reach out to them through programs like C.H.A.N.G.E. For my efforts, I have been recognized and was honored to receive the 1998 Operation Pride Youth Award for my dedication to helping other kids live a substance free lifestyle. My familiarity with teenagers from all walks of life greatly enhances my ability to both identify with and influence others. I will be a successful adult in the future because I am willing to work with everyone and to give everyone a chance. Hopefully, I will also have the chance to change other kids’ lives for the better.