The kids are all right: Column
Oh Ripley High Class of 2021, y’all done gone and done it now.
For my readers, if you haven’t heard, or seen on the viral video, the graduating seniors decided to revive a long-forgotten tradition at Ripley High: the Senior Prank. I certainly don’t remember there being one in my senior class; we partook in Senior Skip Day, Senior Prom and Senior-Itis, but no Senior Prank comes to mind, and if there has been one in the last two decades, then I either wasn’t informed, or it wasn’t anything to note.
Frankly, I’m not sure Saran-wrapping the entrance to the main building of the high school, putting a folding table and elliptical machine on the roof of the gym locker room (seriously, what was up with the elliptical machine? Is that a metaphor for how y’all feel about life right now, just endless stairs to nowhere?) and your class year spelled out in Solo cups is all that “epic.” It feels like a lot of pranks mashed together, and as someone who believes strongly in editing, y’all needed someone to give you a clear theme.
But what was really epic was that you managed to get 30-plus people on board, and I want you to cherish that, because as you get older, and especially after you start having families and real jobs, you’ll think you’re an organizational wizard if you can get four friends together for a quick dinner on a Thursday night with no less than two weeks worth of back and forth text messages about date, time and place. I love, love that you came together as a group for a common goal, that goal being what felt like harmless fun.
And now you have to pay the piper for it. By the time this column runs, you’ll have served out your day of In-School Suspension (ISS, for all us goody-two shoes who never had it), so that you could walk in your graduation ceremony and attend Project Graduation. A small price to pay, I’m sure, for a night you’ll never forget — and even if you wanted to forget it, it's immortalized on the internet forevermore.
Now, there is a consensus amongst the Facebook people of the world that ISS for a senior prank is just too harsh. After all, what harm was there? Was there any real damage done? Was there really a need to punish the children any more than just making them clean up their mess? Did the RHS administration really need to toss the folding table and elliptical off the roof (which, side note: did you know the principal was that strong? I mean, that was impressive. When we have a future event that may or may not involve the tossing of kegs for charity, I want him on my team.)?
Well the answer is: uh, yeah. Yeah, the punishment fits the crime exactly, and there wasn’t one kid in that group who didn’t think there was a chance that detention or ISS wouldn’t be the outcome.
Look, it gets very easy to let up on rules and regulations under the guise of “school’s almost out” and “it's their last year.” I know, because I never skipped a day of school in my life (my dad would skip them for me — the man was a champion of the “you need a break today” philosophy.), but I Senior-Skipped, and I don’t think I even turned in an absence note (and if I did, I’m sure I signed Dad’s name to it for him, because when he intentionally taught me his signature, it was for just such purposes). But if I’d been caught and had to spent the day in ISS or detention? Then that was just the price I had to pay to getting to say I skipped school.
But while it might be the last days for 200+ RHS seniors, it's not the last days for the 700+ other students and the 100+ faculty and staff. And while I’m sure all the adults involved were all sorely tempted to just let it go (because if anyone knows how these kids have powered through two years of COVID, it’s the staff of RHS), you can’t just let trespassing on school grounds (among other unruly activities) after hours for a prank go. And anyone who ever pulled a Senior Prank will tell you that — they all got caught, they all served their time and they all went on to be decent adults. Decent adults who had a great story to tell.
And one of the best parts of any good prank story is what happened when you got caught. For these kids, it’s a day spent in the dungeons under the theatre (or wherever they hold it now. That’s where it was when I was at RHS, and its dungeon-y feel always seemed appropriate for people getting seriously punished), together. An appropriate, and nay, hilarious, ending to a night they’ll never forget. Thirty-plus Class of 2021 graduates, who after graduation, might never see each other again, but will always remember that one night when everyone not only felt cool, but were really cool with each other. It’s the kind of thing you re-tell over a class reunion bonfire, arguing over the finer details, but ultimately agreeing that for that moment, you were queens and kings of the school. And everyone who didn’t participate still feels really lame that they didn’t.
Parents, I know a lot of you are upset. You think thought the punishment was too harsh, that it was just a prank, and everyone needs to lighten up. But you forget that holding kids accountable when they misbehave is what we ask of our educators. Of course, we want the punishment to fit the crime, but there has to be punishment all the same. Whether it's too far or too much, well that’s not really up to us outsiders, is it? Schools have rules, and kids have to learn that breaking rules have consequences, or else they turn into the kinds of adults that other adults HATE with a passion. You know the ones: the adults who think rules don’t apply to them. You know how they picked up that habit? They didn’t suffer consequences, even mild ones, when they were kids and might have learned from it.
So Class of 2021, I hope you took your day of ISS with your head held high. You did something that decades of classes before you haven’t done: pulled off a prank, and even better, you get to add something to your Instagram profile besides “COVID graduate” (insert cryptic emoji here). You can add “ISS Crew ’21: Did the Crime, and Served The Time.” Which makes you sound way more bad than you are, but hey, how many others can type that and know they really lived it? Only 30-plus of you, that’s who.
And the Class of 2022, who I’m sure are already planning an epic follow-up to these, might I impart some wisdom that comes with age? Number one: please pick a consistent theme for your prank, if only because I love a theme. Number two, try and pull it after school has officially let out — the less days available for ISS, the less chance you’ll get ISS. If you’re truly bold, try and pull something at graduation, somewhere between the handing out of the diplomas and the singing of the alma mater; that’s your best window to avoid punishment. Small, I know, but I believe in your ability to pull it off. Number three: make sure whatever you do can be cleaned up quickly and easily, and by you and you alone; that’s just good manners, and a small thanks to the janitorial staff who did not sign up to be a part of your prank.
And number four? If you’re going to document yourself, but you REALLY don’t want to get caught, then maybe don’t post the video. First rule of Senior Pranking is that you can’t punish who you can’t identify, which leads to the second rule:
Snitches don’t get invited to the reunions.