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Monday, Oct 20, 2014
Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Latch on, freshmen; these four years will fly

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Last week, roughly 243,500 Florida adolescents began an adventure that is at once among the most rewarding and the most debilitating life can offer. We know these polar opposites coexist not only from the adventure’s depictions in the popular arts, but also in the decennial reunions attended by its survivors.

Yes, we’re talking about high school, the place dreams go for serious reevaluation.

Last week, a newbie population nearly the size of St. Petersburg surged into Florida’s high schools, the heir apparent’s dirty blond head among those bobbing in that sea roiling with expectation and dread.

Also worth noting, as long as we’re on the subject of statistics: Unless post-recession trends shift dramatically — who can guess what the siege over Common Core will yield? — the events and experiences of the coming quadrennial will winnow the Class of 2017 by about 17 percent, which is about like the entire population of Wesley Chapel vanishing, minus Lexington Oaks.

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The 14-year-old in the Jackson household is under no illusions: Barring an apocalyptic event — and it had better be a good one, not just some “Independence Day” alien invasion — he will be among the 83 percent who cross the graduation finish line, and within the traditional four years, if I have to write his senior thesis myself.

No. Scratch that. I will not write his senior thesis. That will be up to him. This does not mean it won’t be subject to some heavy dad editing. If that’s cheating, then all those parents who were college athletes can just hush when Junior develops a hitch in his baseball swing.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Back here in the ninth grade it’s all clean slates and fresh opportunities. They’ve climbed out of the oozing pool of hormonal change that is middle school, emerging perceptibly calmer and, as we shall see, more self-aware.

Thus armed, they’ve also had a summer to reflect (when not distracted by reruns of “Full House,” shoot-’em-up video games and sleep-overs) on the challenges ahead, among them sorting out how not to become Biggest Geek. Or — or! — how to cope if the tag sticks.

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About that. The heir apparent is still seeing an orthodontist, and a couple of weeks ago the ophthalmologist detected an irregularity that requires glasses to correct. So, when his mother — a debutante dancerette who ran with the Very Coolest Kids in a high school near Temple Terrace at the dawn of the disco era — attempted to warn him against exhibiting evidence of lameness, he cut her off.

“Mom, I’m starting high school wearing braces and glasses,” he said, adding in a tone that was edgy and ironic, not glum, “How can I not look like a loser?” Even a less biased observer would have caught a glimpse of the imperturbable David Lightman (“WarGames”) on his way to becoming Ferris Bueller. (Not that I’m holding up the perpetually truant Bueller as some sort of ideal, just that how we start might not be how we finish.)

Moreover, braces are temporary and therapy may correct his eye schism. If not, there are contacts.

What will endure is the blessing of his mom’s bone structure: high cheekbones, maybe from some one of Elizabeth Warren’s long lost Cherokee ancestors, and, behind the new lenses, eyes like hot chocolate on a snowy morning. And then there’s that previously undetected sense of self-deprecation.

So we have a launch, combined with early signs of a successful liftoff. So far, so good.

One week down, about 159 weeks to go. Hang in there, Class of 2017; beat the odds. After all, it’ll be over before you know it. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who’s ever been to a high school reunion.

tjackson@tampatrib.com

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