Would you know your high school yearbook self?: Phillip Morris

September 30, 2018

Would you know your high school yearbook self?: Phillip Morris

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- My Columbus Marion-Franklin High School career was fairly innocuous. I was an afterthought in the Red Devil yearbook. Other than being a decent track and cross-country runner, I did little to stand out from my peers.

I was not an academic powerhouse, had no interest in school parties, and was too shy to act on any romantic pursuits. I was the kid who attracted some comedic attention by routinely carrying a bible to study hall. At least, that’s how I recall my teenage self. That’s my truth.

What would my peers and classmates from the graduating class of 1983 recall? What could they possibly say and remember about me? How would they judge my adolescent character? How would I remember them?

I thought about these questions as America witnessed the bruising confirmation spectacle of Judge Brett Kavanaugh this past week. The Supreme Court nominee was confronted with an allegation of a high school sexual assault, as well as a misogynistic profile in his school yearbook. The raw emotional tenor of his Senate hearings showcased an America that is severely splintered.

Two believable and highly accomplished Americans were force-fed into a polarized Judiciary Committee and millions of viewers could do little but cringe. We watched as the accused and the accuser morphed back into their adolescent selves.

Whether Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, he will never be the same. The same goes for Christine Blasey Ford, who testified that she is 100 percent certain that Kavanaugh was the boy who sexually assaulted her at a Maryland house party in 1982. Kavanaugh adamantly denied the allegations. 

The ground is rapidly shifting under our feet and not just in regard to gender relations. The country feels like it has changed in ways that we have yet to fully grasp. It appears that we are in the midst of an unnerving continental drift that is making strangers out of neighbors.

In this chaotic climate I worry most about our children and emerging young adults. Who are their role models? Where will they turn to learn conflict resolution skills?

The popularity of high school yearbooks has declined steeply since the time Kavanaugh was a high school kid. Students now turn to social media platforms to record their lasting memories, friends, and their folly. These electronic memories will lie in wait to ensnare the unsuspecting and unwitting if they are not exceedingly careful.

Ambitious and emerging leaders must understand that protecting their future identity, brand, and success starts long before they become recognized leaders. America is watching that essential truth play out on its highest stage. One can only wonder how many more future Brett Kavanaughs are now flowing through the nation’s pipelines.

The young are talking. Many of them are attempting to become part of something bigger than themselves. That is encouraging. Tuesday, I will participate in a free speech symposium hosted by Andrews Osborne Academy and the City Club of Cleveland. The goal of the symposium is to encourage high school students to examine the role of free speech in the 21st century.

Larry Goodman, Head of School at Andrews Osborne, recently gave a speech to his student body entitled “Change your Mind.” He challenged the students to hone their listening skills and to be willing to change their minds on something significant at least once a year.

“There is no functional difference between a political system in which there is no free speech and a system in which there is free speech – but no one listens to each other,” said Goodman.

The current corrosive strains of American monologue must become an American dialogue or the dangerous division will continue, making the nation vulnerable. Perhaps the young will lead the way. Perhaps they will reinvent the art of a conversation.

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