Stuck in High School

Twelve days ago, I returned to the New Hampshire campus of my old prep school to attend the annual “Leadership Weekend.” I went because I’d been pressured, at our last reunion, into a five-year term as class Vice President, with the explicit understanding that I wouldn’t have to actually do anything until the time came to plan our next reunion, a.k.a. now. (Yes, we continue to elect new class officers at regular intervals long after graduation. I assure you, I’m as surprised as anyone reasonably normal would be to find myself in this position, especially given that it comes two decades too late to serve as we used to refer to as “college suck.”)

I don’t have to tell you that spring 2014, when this agreement was made, was a very different time. Like everyone, I’ve changed a lot, and my centuries old alma mater has changed too: Several absurdly fancy new buildings, including a 63,000-square-foot Center for Theater and Dance, have been erected, even as certain less tangible structures have, perhaps, begun to crumble.

In 2016, the Academy admitted in a letter to alumni that a certain very long-standing former faculty member had, in fact, been “required to retire” and then “permanently barred from campus” a few years prior, after two separate women reported having had sexual relationships with him, as students, in the 1970s and 1980s. This admission—apparently motivated by a need to get out ahead of a then-forthcoming investigation into sexual abuse at New England boarding schools by the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team—prompted several more disclosures of the same kind; in August, the school released a pair of reports which accused eleven former staffers of abusing teenagers who’d been, one way or another, in their care.

Largely unaddressed were the many student-on-student assaults which (I think we can safely assume) have occurred on campus over the years. Although nobody has said as much, I think the school may feel that their responsibility for these more quotidian violations is… not as great? Perhaps rightly so: The teacher I mentioned above, in addition to having been vetted by the school, had more or less unfettered access to his victims—from what I’ve heard he lived in the same dorm as them and may have even been their advisor, meaning that he was the adult who was acting in loco parentis for those girls—whereas teen-on-teen assault is the kind of thing that can, and does, happen everywhere.

Anyway, I’m sure it’s perfectly obvious why this has been on my mind! The violent sexual behavior of overprivileged teenaged boys has been on pretty much everyone’s mind lately, to some degree, thanks to the fact that an apparently horrible example of the type is only a few votes away from getting to literally rule over all of us for the next several decades. As I am very far from being the first to point out, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that whoever takes that Supreme Court spot is probably going to be decisive in loads of bad judgements, so the fact that the GOP is going balls-out to ensure that the person who gets to deny a generation of women their right to bodily autonomy is someone who is widely believed to have real-world experience doing same is just… well, it’s putting it mildly to say that they’re adding insult to injury.

But there was something else that I was a bit more surprised to find myself thinking about during my visit to New Hampshire, even though I’m sure that it, too, is directly related to the current news and just to everything that’s been going on in this country over the last few years. As I walked around the campus, my beloved former home and the setting for, embarrassingly I suppose, some of the best years of my life, and as I sat through the Leadership Weekend Assembly and listened to speakers who described a variety of frankly amazing-sounding new classes and, of course, detailed the school’s copious fundraising needs, I thought: Is any of this really conscionable?

My particular prep school now charges boarders more than $50,000 a year, up (way up) from around $20,000 a year in the 1990s. Even if roughly half the students are receiving some kind of financial aid—and even if those whose parents make less than $75,000 annually are getting a full ride—is it in any way ethical to concentrate so many resources in the hands of so few?

Perhaps to combat this, the Academy prides itself on turning out good citizens; the school’s official motto is “Non Sibi,” or “not for oneself.” But when I think about what I’ve done with my life, and, frankly, what my classmates have done with theirs, I’m not sure it’s enough to justify all that we were given, when so many others go without. I’m not sure anything could be.

Anyway, my apologies, this edition is both a)not exactly related to the stated topic of this newsletter and b)kind of half-baked. But if any of you are thinking and working 100% efficiently in the midst of this slow-motion shit-show, this horrible period in which we are, all of us, to some degree stuck in high school, well, congratulations. Feel free to write back and tell me how.

P.S. In other news: I’m doing a reading next week! Please come to Wonders of Nature at 131 Grand Avenue in Brooklyn at 7 PM on October 10th to see me, Hossannah Asuncion, Yoojin Grace Wuertz, and musician Alice Danger at the season opener of the beloved Mixer Reading Series. I will probably read from my novel, so there will be more boarding school content, although ideally it will be better than this and also more fun!

P.P.S. I haven’t confirmed but I think my interview with Tarana Burke, the founder of the Me Too Movement, might be in the November issue of Elle UK. I loved talking to her so much, so if you are in England or thereabouts definitely pick it up (and send me a copy haha).