THEY ARE not dreaming of saving the galaxy, changing the world or overturning the state. They don't even plan to leave Washington. Their dreams of greatness are shaped by eyes open wide to reality.
"How much money I make in the future is important because I know money will allow me to do more things," says Jack Kidd, 18, one of this year's Coolidge graduates. "Eventually I want to teach or be a lawyer. But I know I will have to work my way into college and then a career. Next year I am just going to work."
Jack Kidd, wearing old-fashioned, plain white tennis shoes, an orange Virginia Cavalier T-shirt and sailor hat, with the smile and the eyes of the Gary Coleman school of quizzical looks, is about to finish Coolidge. Like four other members of the graduating class of Coolidge, who were interviewed recently, Kidd has nuts-and-bolts expectations but is enthusiastic for the future.
Products of the strange intertwining of harsh reality and vaporous social trends that have made the last decade so slippery, this particular quartet of graduates has a stark grip on what's in store for them. "I'm going to a school for cosmetology, rather than college," says Katrina Morris, 17. "I want to get that license license right away. Then I want to go to word processing training. That's what I really want to do, be a legal secretary or word processor, but I want the beautician's license to fall back on."
In this year's senior class, there are 415 students who will graduate tomorrow night at the Kennedy Center. The racial composition of Coolidge High today is 99 percent black, and the class of 1980 has no white students.
Unlike their Coolidge counterparts of 20 years ago, they don't have a political movement or person to hitch their hopes and ideology to, their neighborhoods and schools are racially stable, their home lives are warm, strict, partly religious and financially struggling. tTheir futures are not store-bought patterns. Upward mobility is wanted but not guaranteed.
Though they have been exposed to the Me Decade's trends, from the fantasies of disco, the searching of meditation and the self-indulgence of bicycles, roller skates and suitcase-size radios, they have also been exposed to the realities of inflation, joblessness and affirmative action. While they haven't responded outwardly to those issues, they have absorbed a self-confidence from watching other blacks in the spotlight. They are unencumbered by the pressure of being the first in their race to break barriers. And though the footsteps are there to follow, they know the rules are in flux.
"I do have a sense of myself as a black women. If there is something I want to do, I feel I can achieve," says Jackie Kennedy, 18, who is enrolling at the University of Virginia in Charlottsville this fall for business administration courses. "There are racial barriers. They exist, that's a fact, and I have to be prepared."
Kennedy, the youngest of 11 children who grew up in the Riggs Park section of Northeast Washington, is the senior class president. For her the highlights of her last four years have been the senior class trip to the Bahamas, which was her first plane ride, and watching her aunt, a lawyer, in the court room. "Just the ability to be so confident and stand up before a judge impressed me and taught me a lot," says Kennedy, a tall, slim girl dressed in purple slacks and top. She had already had a taste of college through an eight-week math and science program at Georgetown University and accelerated courses at George Washington University.
Glendon Pearson, an 18-year-old born in Kingston, Jamaica, has had a motivation based on intuition and the media. "My mother named me after John Glenn, the astronaut," he says. "Then I just set my mind on dealing with the aeronautics field, probably from watching 'Star Trek,' and I have just mapped out the science and math courses I need." He's headed for American University.
His schoolmates have also absorbed the career examples of the media. "First I wanted to be a teacher, because my mother teaches. Then a news commentator, then a lawyer, then an actress and then a lawyer, again," says Melva Covington, 16. "The art of arguing fascinates me, that's why I want to try law. But I was turned on by Perry Mason. He never loses."
Covington spent her first two years of high school at Madeira School and plans to attend Catholic University as a pre-law student. Both Covington and Pearson feel participation in their church-activities has aided their early confidence. "My church, the Shiloh Church of God, Seventh Day, gave me Leadership positions and taught me about responsibility," says Pearson. Covington, a Penecostal, says, "God is an extremely important part of my life. Without Him I would be nothing. Twice a day I meditate because I love to be involved with Melva. I want to know what she's like."
Outside of school, church and family, their interests are fairly typical. Morris loves live concerts, going with her older brother to Constitution Hall or Baltimore for the rhythm 'n' blues concerts of Jean Carn, Patti LaBelle and Phyllis Hyman. Kennedy plays tennis, bike-rides, bowls and goes to most of the black theater productions that come to Washington. Pearson plays the bass but his church forbids attending concerts. "My reading habits? Well my counsler has told me to read Time Magazine and I read all I can on aerospace, real and fantasy," says Pearson. Kidd reads sports magazines and "books, if they have been movies, like Amityville Horror.
Though most of today's teen-agers are depicted as blase, these five can still show excitement and enthusiasm. Pearson recently took a flight with a friend in a four-seat Cessna to Springfield, Mass. Covington still remembers her seventh grade trip to London, Paris, Montreaux and Rome. "Montreaux was so peaceful and it was the first time in my life I ever went ice skating," says Covington.
On the bulletin board of the conference room at Coolidge there's a poster with a scene from "Roots" and cut-outs of pyramids, black celebrities and everyday black people and there is an inscription: "We are a sun people. Seek your roots." In addition to family members, the people these students admire are all very visible, but not necessarily black. Kidd: "Muhammad Ali. When I was small, he was beating everybody. And Elvis Presley, now I know that sounds weird, but he had all the girls." Kennedy: "My aunt, the lawyer. And most to the people on the tennis circuit, Chris Evert Lloyd and Tracey Austin." Morris: "My mother and brother. My mother is just a good person and she just raised us alone since my father died in 1974." Kennedy and Pearson feel money isn't an important goal. But Kidd and Morris do. "Ever since I can remeber I have wanted to be a beautician," says Morris. "But I have a cousin who has a shop on Georgia Avenue and she has a Mercedes. And that's waht I want too."
Only Covington responds directly to an issue of the 1970s -- the women's movement. "I believe women do not compare physically with men, but they do mentally. I don't believe in women construction workers, but I do believe in women doctors." Both Covington and Pearson have had direct experiences with racism that they feel have prepared them for any future encounters with bias. "Once at Madeira, I overheard a conversation. A senior was talking to a group and someone said, 'I can't stand being in the room with a black person.' That didn't hurt me personally. What hurts me more is seeing black people beat up on black people," says Covington. Pearson worked last year at Sears and Roebuck. "In the stockroom where I worked everyone was black, the bosses were white. And I felt they were over-working us because we were black and young.
Leaving Coolidge doesn't seem to be breaking their hearts. Kidd has a quick answer when asked what he enjoyed about senior high school. "Just seeing people grow," he says, "and learning we could deal with our freedom."