Miss Nopee Goes To Washington

I will skip over the scandalous fact that I have not written over the summer with the silence it deserves. Now that’s out of the way.

End of May, I received a call from a friend from church…which I have not attended in two years. I hear from Gail on occasion — she’s amazing — so, when she called, I was eager to oblige her request. Her ask was if I would help a girl who has been a member of the choir for the last nine years. The young lady is in high school and needs help in preparing for the arduous task of applying to colleges, essays, and the rest. Since it was Gail asking, and she told me that Ana was a “sweetheart,” I was happy to help.

The last three months working with Ana have been a delight. She’s super-smart, always prepared, passionate, committed…all good things. The antithesis of the usual characterization of a teenager. I liked her immediately and my affection for her has grown exponentially. Particularly when I discovered she has a sense of humor, and best of all, a sense of humor about herself.

Perhaps here would be a good place to explain the moniker (what dat?) of “Miss Nopee.” Of course, that isn’t Ana’s last name, I am certain she would bristle at the “Miss” for “Ms,” but this is my story and I’m sticking to it. While texting back and forth with Ana to ascertain her whereabouts – she had gone to Massachusetts to look at colleges — I asked, “Are you home?” “Nope” “Have you left MA?” “Nopee” I thought it was cute, started calling her that, and it stuck.

Ana LOVES politics, wants to go into politics, and the law. All brave ambitions at the best of times, and we aren’t in those presently. No moss grows under Ana, she’s active in her school government and clubs, in politics on the local level, state, etc. Her hero is Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez. She drafts referendums for the banishment of plastics, founded the young democrats club, is in honors classes, and works as a waitress at a local restaurant. Her parents are from South America; she is invested in her roots, and in the democracy that we are all hoping to hold onto in her country of birth. Here.

Along with all that (the short version of the list) she has a serious boyfriend who is also super-smart – more in the area of STEM, so I imagine that they complement each other well. Ana is uber feminist, definitely her own woman, independent and on her way. The boyfriend – who is handsome and dreamy – comes from a strict Hindu family. This poor kid does not enjoy the freedom of movement that Ana does, and if his parents found out that he and Ana were seeing each other – that would be terrible. It really would. His dad checks his phone, his texts, calculates how long it takes to drive to school and home, it would be easier to put an ankle monitor on the kid. Since the father works from home there is no respite from the rigid gatekeeper. This is a secret romance, secret in the sense that the parents don’t know, but the whole school, or a good part of it, does.

The lengths to which these two sweet young people in love must go in order to conduct their love affair are both baroque and ingenious. If they “happen” to meet at the dog park…and there’s code phrases (and fake guys’ names — e.g. “Shane”!), like: “Hey bro, where we meet up for the study group?” Once there, they can’t walk the lovely paths and be normal, they have to hover in the back alley — probably where the dumpsters are — to have a minute alone. Ana must have noticed my quizzical gaze, so she explained. In this white bread suburb in which we inhabit the Indian community is not in the majority and is tightly knit – everyone knows everyone. No, and I mean no, Indian person can spot them or it will be reported back to his dad in a New York second.

At the same time Ana is also in competition with her beau. They are applying to the same blue ribbon/IV League schools. We’ll see who wins. I recently made two literary references in a row in a sentence (one of them was Dante), and Ana looked at me and said, “I have no idea who/what that is.” After recovering from my near heart attack and chiding her for not knowing these references, I sent her a list. A list that used to be on Columbia’s first page – but nonetheless the list for top schools of the books one should have read before entering their ivied walls. To Ana’s credit, she admitted she hadn’t read any of them, and true to form, I received a text from her: “I’m on it!” 👍

Bismark said (who he?) …and I’m paraphrasing: “People who are fond of sausages and the law should never watch them being made.” I haven’t shared this sentiment with Ana, nor my reservations of going into a field of endeavor which in theory is noble and in reality, ignoble. Who am I to drop her dreams all over the floor? Her optimism and insouciance may very well transport her magically to the highest office in the land. I have a vision of her skipping/floating with backpack and books in hand, her beautiful mane of hair blowing in the wake of her acceleration, and settling in behind the large desk situated in the Oval Office.

Well why not? Realistically she’s more prepared than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. No experience necessary! At least Ana has read The Federalist Papers. And, she has heart, compassion, courage and brains.

I see her as a modern version of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with James Stewart giving his impassioned and moving speech to the U.S. Congress. I see her pointing her finger at those smug well-fed old white guys, who don’t give a shit about anyone or anything, and who are wondering when they can discreetly exit the building in order to get to their restricted clubs in time for the cocktail hour.

There’s more, oh so much more, to Miss Nopee, but I must tie this up for now. Let’s say regarding the further adventures of the indefatigable (huh?) Miss Nopee….to be continued.

“Esteemed” Gentleman of the Congress, start your engines, and brace yourself. The times are a-changin’…for the better, I hope. I truly do. 

Clare Irwin

*Supreme Court image courtesy of Ana. Taken during her attendance of the ACLU’s summer advocacy institute: “Best week of my life yet.”

Plastics!

As I wrap up my graduation tour, I’ve had time to ponder the current state of affairs for those who are about to enter the job field. While I was listening to one commencement speech – which I was called upon to “script doctor” – my mind wandered away to my undergraduate commencement speech and speaker. It wasn’t that long ago, at least not by my reckoning, yet it seems that even in the last five to seven years “life” has changed drastically.

The speech I was not listening to, because I knew what was coming, was somewhat cliché and self-congratulatory. I did my best to eliminate the “reach-for-the-stars- follow-your-dreams-you-can-do-anything!” triteness, with marginal success. At the same time, it would not have worked if I turned my hand to it more, which would have resulted in the speech sounding like Evelyn Waugh and T.S. Eliot ghostwrote it.

Back to my graduation speaker. In my case the speaker was an alum of distinction. She came from a prominent American family of long pedigree, but she did not rest on those laurels. She has written seminal and acclaimed books on politics and history and has ventured into dangerous war zones to do so. Her words to us were powerful – they were only slightly congratulatory. This was a college that actually required hard work. All the more reason, in this woman’s estimation, that the privilege we had just been afforded required a greater responsibly. It was a rousing exhortation to all gathered that we had social, moral and ethical obligations to try in our way, large or small, to contribute in a worthwhile manner to the betterment of humanity and the earth. It was and is a tall order – a life-long duty and I applaud it.

Back to the present day where every “accomplishment,” however inconsequential, is celebrated. To be sure, there were many grads who did extraordinary work and overcame truly horrendous obstacles. Most are “dreamers” which is the only new word in the American lexicon that I like – amid all the ugly horrid ones. I’d like to think we are all dreamers. The word makes me think of the John Lennon song “Imagine.”

Of this current group of grads, as well as the teens I spoke to, their preeminent concern is getting a job after graduation. Teens are worried and they haven’t gotten there yet.  One reason, surely, is that college is so costly – even an organ donation won’t cover it – that the expectation must needs that employment immediately follow. This, sadly, turns college – in my view – into a technical school. Going to college to become educated, to have a “gentleman’s [or woman’s] education” is a luxury that is beyond most. When I talk about it people look at me like I’ve lost my mind.

Those grads who I know were fortunate to land jobs straightaway – all in STEM fields. Commendable to be sure, and I have no doubt they will do great things. But where, oh where, are our new crop of artists, poets, writers, dancers, musicians, sculptors, et al.? Will they be forced to forgo their creative bent and work for a Fortune 500 company that guarantees you some financial stability but kills your soul? Okay, that might be a bit much, but I’m campaigning for the “B-word” – Balance!!!

I had a professor, at this same college, who posited that the greatest ages were those where the sciences and the humanities were equal – e.g., the Renaissance, the 19th century. I suspect the 21st century will not be included on this list. The scale is tipped to science.

So, to recall a line from the enduring film The Graduate, plastics was the future. Fast forward 51(!) years, and we have this: 

Now the wave of the future is: Science, Technology, Engineering Math – STEM: the siren’s call to lucre, upward mobility, keeping up with the Jones’s, mortgages, 401Ks, debt. The American way.

Welcome to the machine.

 

 

 

 

Clare Irwin