Most of them were born in 1965, and are now juniors in Prince George's County High Schools. Time to get serious, to start thinking about the future.
The annual career-college fair, sponsored for the last six years by the counselors and the Career Education Division of the public schools, gives the students such a chance. Last week, busloads of juniors from 19 area schools -- about 10,000 of them -- poured into Prince George's Community College in Lanham for the two-day fair.
The milling crowd of students, savoring a day off from school, picking fights, picking each other up, even moving to the disco tunes blaring from radios they carted around, had a choice of 135 booths to look at.
Those who took advantage of the mock job interviews given by counselors discovered a few strengths not previously recognized. Those who managed to bulldoze their way through Bladen Hall were deluged with reams of material from recruiters from colleges, trade and technical schools, businesses and the military.
What about these juniors in Prince George's County schools in 1981? What are thier dreams, hopes, fear and aspirations? How do they differ from those who came before?
"High school (is) high school. Students will be the same now as they always was." The words come from Dyrone Johnson, 17, a junior at Bladensburg Senior High School, who looks forward to becoming an accountant or an electrician. "It's about time to plan my future," he says. "Get into the world. Be on my own."
A high school counselor tells someone who graduated in the early 1970s that things cetainly have changed since then. "With Reagan cutting back on financial aid," he says, "money is on the bottom line. Parents who thought they saved up for a four-year college education are finding that it only stretches for two years. The question I used to hear from kids heading toward college about 10 years ago -- when everyone went -- was, 'Does this school have the program I want? Now, the question is, 'What's it going to cost me?'"
We see people hiring those who are trained for the job," continues Bill Graves, a counselor at Friendly Senior High School in Oxon Hill and the chairman of last week's fair. "College isn't necessarily the route many people are taking. Kids are accepting the demand for special skills.
"Trades (such as an electrician's apprentice) are paying from $10 to $14 an hour." Still, Graves says he reminds his students that further education is important, that money should not be the overriding factor in making a career choice.
"Sixteen years from now they're going to have to get up and face Monday mornings . . . It's hard to blend in being happy with today's reality," says Graves.
"Kids are more traditional," he added. His example: "After five years of not hearing this, last spring, I had a young lady tell me that she was going to college to find a husband. That's traditional."
"Not me," says 16-year-old Jennie Butler, when asked whether catching a man was one reason she is bound for college. "I don't want to get married until I'm 55," Still, the striking blond junior, who attends the private Elizabeth Seton Senior High School in Bladensburg and plans to study engineering in college, admits to sentiments that many her age wouldn't have voice aloud a few years earlier.
"I'm thinking about going into the military," she says earnestly. It affords opportunities for travel and meeting people, and besides, she adds, "I like supporting my country. I think it's the best country in the world."
Butler says " a lot of people are frightened nowadays. I am, kind of. You hear all the time that no one can buy a house any more. Everything is geared toward the future. You get into high school, and as a freshman, you're asked what you're planning on being when you graduate. If I go into the military, everything will be provided for." What's one thing she'd like to accomplish in life?" "Make it to the moon."
Trish LaFemina, a 16-year-old junior at Bowie Senior High School, has no qualms about admitting, "I'm money-minded. I like luxuries. I like the freedom you get with money and the easy life." She is academically inclined and expects to do well in engineering: "I hear you can make some bucks with it, get ahead." Most of her friends, she says, "seem to think that teen-agehood and high school are going to go on a little longer than it is. They're not thinking about college and don't seem to realize that 'slinging harsh' (in fastfood restaurants) is not going to improve your brain."
Her choice of college will be dictated primarily by location, maybe North Carolina ("I like warm weather ") or the Northeast ("secluded mountains surrounded by trees"). "I saw a sign (advertising a college) that said skydiving and thought 'Wow! I've got to check into this.'" LaFemina echoes Butler when she says, "Being a teen-ager in a suburban area is depressing. There's nothing to do. It's boring, and everyone ends up getting high or drunk."
Mike Demesme, a junior from Central High School in Seat Pleasant, expects to be a military officer once he leaves high school. He'll already have had three years experience in a ROTC high school class, his favorite, which he takes everyday. On Wednesdays students in the program wear uniforms to school. They study aircraft, rank and structure, obedience and responsibility. He wants to go into the Air Force because, "You can pick where you want to go." Demesme wants to go to California.
As Mike Leadbeter, a 16-year-old from DuVal High School in Lanham, shares his reason for wanting to become a cop ("Little kids getting high bothers me"), a girl calls out to a friend, "Wanna have sex tonight?" Leadbetter and friend, George O'Connor, smirk and say sex and drugs and rock 'n roll are very much alive in today's high school scene. They identify themselves are jocks as opposed to burn-outs, the drug clique at school, and admit the day at the fair was a pleasant way to skip school.