As most of you know, I go to a public school which is mostly aimed at "at risk" teens. I am the only female and the only Caucasian in the high school, and the only college-bound student as well. There are about 13 students in my class.
So anyway, on Friday, my teacher Mr. Linder had an idea. He took us down to the gym right before lunch for what he called a "life skills reality check".
He said, "All right, my class. It's time for a little Life Skills Reality Check. Everybody line up against the wall here." So we did.
"Okay, now, in this little exercise, all of you are forty years old. You've taken the life path you chose as a teenager. Actually, before we start, hold on a second. Could everybody who is currently a gang member step forward?"
Five boys stepped forward. "You were shot before you reached the age of eighteen," Mr. Linder told one of them. "And you," he told another, "died of a heroin overdose in your mid-twenties. You two, sit on the bleachers."
He addressed one of the remaining three gang members and said, "You were stabbed in the stomach by a rival gang member when you were in high school. You survived, but the injuries you sustained prevented you from finishing school." He looked at the other two gang members. "You two were very, very lucky. Step back please." The three "survivors" got back in line with the rest of us.
He pulled a sign from behind the bleachers, a brightly colored poster with the words "SUCCESS AND HAPPINESS" written on it in huge letters in colored markers. He hung it on the basketball goal on the opposite side of the room.
"This goal," he said, "is your goal. Everyone wants to toss a ball into the goal." He handed each boy a basketball (besides the two who sat on the bleachers), and he found the women's size basketball at the bottom of the bin, and handed it to me.
"Every ball is about the same. Some are a little more deflated than others, and Anna's is different because it's gender-appropriate for her. But basically, they're all the same."
He definitely had our attention. Let me tell you, these boys never listen to him (or anybody), but we were all so caught up in the lesson that no one was misbehaving. Everyone was silent, their eyes fixed on our teacher like the crosshairs of a rifle.
Mr. Linder continued, "But you know what's different? Because of your choices, you all have to shoot from different places. Everyone who doesn't plan to graduate from high school, plus Jaquez because your injuries didn't allow you to graduate, stand under this hoop. And Jaquez, you have to sit in a chair, since you're in a wheelchair now." He pulled up a chair and Jaquez sat in it.
"Not only are you dropouts forced to try and make the shot from all the way across the court, I want you to each raise the hand you write with."
He took what appeared to be blindfolds and tied each dropout's dominant arm behind his back. He also blindfolded all three of the surviving gang members. "This," he said, "is how you have to make your shot at your goal."
"Now, can everyone who plans to graduate high school or get a GED, but not go to college, come and stand here." He motioned to half court. "You only have to have the hand you don't write with tied behind your back."
So far, there were two dead, six dropouts, and two diploma/GED grads. And three of us still plastered against the wall, waiting to see how we would have to make our shots.
"Derrick and DiMarkus, you two are going to trade school, right?"
They both nodded. They were told to stand a few feet behind the 3/4 line.
"You went to trade school for three years each and learned to fix cars. While you're certainly better off than your friends who dropped out, you don't have as much money or as much time as you'd like to at age forty. Still, you have good reputations as mechanics and you keep your families fed and, for the most part, content. You don't have to sit down or have anything tied or blindfolded, but it's still not a sure shot from the foul line."
"Um, Mr. Linder," I asked, "what about me?."
"Anna, you went to college for four years, followed by four more years in dental school. You took difficult tests and really had to apply yourself seriously. But you're a successful and happy dentist, and by age forty, you feel extremely fulfilled. You can stand right under the basket here."
I could easily reach up and touch the "SUCCESS AND HAPPINESS" sign from where I stood.
"So, I just have to make a layup?" I asked, using my newly learned vocabulary term for making a shot from right under the basket.
"Anna," he said, "you make seven hundred fifty thousand dollars a year. You get to pay Michael Jordan to come down here and make that layup for you."
Everyone laughed at the joke, but Mr. Linder makes a good point.
I mean, think about it: our future is kinda like that basketball court. You can join a gang and shoot up heroin and not even get to make the shot at all. And you can drop out and have to make it from all the way across the court with your right hand tied and a blindfold over your eyes. Or you can take your chances from half court.
But are you really willing to put that much trust in your basketball abilities? Very rarely in life do we regain possession of that ball fast enough to make a clean rebound.
Or will you make a different choice: you can untie your hands, get out of your chair, take off the blindfold, and make your way across the court, and actually embrace your chance to sink your basketball in the goal of "SUCCESS AND HAPPINESS".
Everyone, especially my fellow high schoolers, please take a moment to think about this: All of our basketballs are similar. Not the same, not quite equal, but similar. The only real choice we can make is how we make that shot, and from where?
So, in a couple of years, when you take your place on the basketball court, where will you be standing?