High School Cynicism

So, if you're a high schooler who is constitutionally bored and thinks that it's all downhill from here, I weep for you. Truly.

How on God's green earth can 16- to 18-year-olds be world-weary enough to be truly cynical? I recently heard a high school graduation speech in which the speaker (and the top of her class) assumed the audience would be relieved to hear a laundry list of all the things her speech would not include (and therefore waste our time?), such as Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken." I think she wanted us to know that she wouldn't bore us with a speech about making choices, reaching crossroads, moving forward, etc. I suppose that to many teenagers today, those seem like useless activities. Not "random" enough? And to drag Mr. Frost and his magnificently misunderstood poem into the mix? He doesn't deserve that! You want dark? You want murky? You want "postmodern" (another term faux intellectuals and dilletantes are quick to bandy about)? Consider a few things: Mr. Frost did not live the pastoral life his casual readers attribute to him. Talk about emo . . . talk about angst . . . look it up. Also, carefully read the poem:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

What's wrong with taking your time when making momentous decisions?

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

So the roads are "really about the same"? It's not just "the straight and narrow" vs. "the wide path to destruction"? Axiomatic choices would be boring, but Mr. Frost isn't making it that easy, is he?

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

Now, THAT really characterizes this generation, doesn't it? Giving lip service to what shouldbe done.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I don't know about you, but my sighs are usually negative reactions (regret, exasperation) with only the occasional positive connotation (happiness, contentment). And can we assume that because something we do makes "all the difference" that it was a positive difference? Could it be that the poet is filled with regret looking back on a life affected by a wrong decision?

Arguably, a poem about wrong decisions might not be the best choice for a high school graduation, but we cannot automatically assume Mr. Frost's poem is so cloying and melodramatic that it should be dismissed willy nilly.

So, if you're a high schooler who is constitutionally bored and thinks that it's all downhill from here, I weep for you. Truly. The dark flip side of the Pollyanna coin is a know-it-all attitude where people value sarcasim over true wit and slack-jawed wonder is trumped by the attention span of a mayfly.

It isn't too late. As those keen social anthopologists, Karen and Richard Carpenter, so sagely observed, "We've only just begun" . . .


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