Recently my wife’s best friend came up for a visit from The City. At some point in one of our conversations, the three of us began smugly deriding middle-class college graduates in the 22-25 age bracket. We agreed that, generally speaking, we find them to be tediously indecisive most of the time and exasperatingly poor decision-makers the rest of the time. Many of them seem to have scant information but firm opinions. They want to delay difficult and rewarding commitments (and to continue to have lots of fun all the time) yet they want to be taken seriously. They spend a lot of time and energy comparing themselves to their peers. They daydream of doing something wild and intense, like joining the Peace Corps, becoming a Zen monk, or sailing around the globe in a dinghy, and some of them eventually get around to doing it, too, usually without really knowing why. I ended up taking a plunge like that myself, so you see, I speak of this because I know. Perhaps what middle class youngsters really want is just to be free to explore our world and create our lives on our own terms, but by the time we are released from our schooling many of us are ill equipped to do that in a way that leads to a life we want to call our own. No adult at my high school or college ever talked with me about it; instead I was always advised to “follow my passion,” all the while staying in school, and trusting the system. Now I wish I was advised to take my passion with me into a field where I could make a living. More significant than any explicit advise I received was the atmospheric sense - the social suggestion - that I was securely installed on some sort of track to a successful life, like a passenger riding on an autopilotically flown craft. Well, it wasn’t true; it’s necessary to struggle to gain some self-knowledge, think carefully, make difficult decisions, and work hard to create your own life.
So how does this story about the quarter-life crisis relate to HVSS? First, a disclaimer: this is a theoretical and anecdotal post. As most of you know, I am a new staff member this year, and I don’t know many HVSS graduates personally. The school is still so new there aren’t many graduate anyway. But, I did recently catch up with HVSS’s first graduate, Alex Delia, now 26, to see what he’s up been up to lately, and I wasn’t disappointed, to say the least.
Since graduating, Alex has started a successful recycling business - Mr. e-Waste, based in Hudson. He says, “it was a crash course, really sink or swim kind of thing...and I’m swimming.” When I spoke with Alex he was in Chicago at the airport, preparing to fly home from a business trip he spent working to identify oxidized metals in the waste-stream of a local company. He thinks it could become a lucrative partnership. He’s also trying to get Mr. e-Waste on autopilot so he can explore metal trading and recycling solutions. Alex never attended a traditional school (though he has been inside of a few as a recycling contractor). I asked him how - if at all - his Sudbury education was helping him succeed so impressively. He didn’t mention any content he studied, or projects he worked on, or accolades he earned. He said, “I learned how to be really present with myself, and therefore with others - to be open and receptive. Basically, to communicate well. I had a lot of opportunities to sit down with people, talk things over, and figure out how to work together to make things happen.”
Alex said that things he has struggled with in the past - like reading and spelling, have become strengths as he has built his business over the last several years. Alex didn’t go to college; he felt he had a choice in the matter, that he was independent - a free agent rather than “a slave.” He says, “my own choices have covered me in a lot of paperwork, but that’s been fine, because I’ve chosen this, and I’m passionate about it.” He’s entertaining the idea of going to college sometime soon and pointed out that -having waited - he thinks it will be more beneficial than if he had gone when he was 18. If he does end up going now, he’ll study accounting, chemistry, and maybe engineering - skill sets that will help him continue to develop his business.
Finally, I asked him for his take on the “quarter-life crisis.” He paused, and then said, “well, if there is a quarter-life crisis for me, it’s figuring out how to make my business as beneficial to my community - and particularly the impoverished people within it - as possible.”
One way of thinking about Sudbury that I find helpful is to consider enrolling as beginning now. At this point in history, life is extremely complex. Waiting to plunge in - holding back from beginning until a quarter of life is in the books - can be a massive setback. Allowing kids the responsibility to live their lives is scary, and it can be messy, but that’s why we call it education.