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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one
 

This ‘prank’ no laughing matter

By Sara Foss
Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My high school class didn’t have the best reputation.
“I won’t shed a tear when this class graduates,” my friend Amy overheard one of our teachers remark just days before graduation.
But after attending my 20th high school reunion in New Hampshire over the weekend, I’m happy to report that my classmates have become decent and functional human beings. Everyone was so nice and friendly that I found myself wondering whether an unlikely transformation had taken place, or whether we had been unfairly maligned. Had such fine, upstanding adults really been such awful teenagers? Looking back, our youthful hijinks — most of which involved underage drinking — seem fairly typical.
For instance, I don’t recall anyone taking a chain saw to school property, as two Gloversville High School students allegedly did last week.
According to police, Kurtis Callen, 18, and Vincent Scott, 18, were involved in cutting down the 17 trees that ringed the school property, with Scott acting as a “lookout” while Callen worked the saw. The trees had been planted as gifts from graduating classes or in tribute to deceased classmates.
In some quarters, this act of mindless idiocy has been described as a senior prank.
And maybe it was intended as such.
But I would caution against using that terminology, because it minimizes the damage the students allegedly caused.
A prank is a joke or a stunt that is essentially harmless.
The time my friend Ben filled my locker with styrofoam balls and they spilled all over the floor when I opened the door? That was a prank. It was annoying, and caused me to be a little late for class because I had to sweep styrofoam balls off the floor, but didn’t cause any lasting damage. And I enjoyed reading about a senior prank this year in Santa Barbara, California, where students hired a four-piece mariachi band to follow their principal around. That sounds hilarious. And I’m impressed with the ingenuity of the seniors in Illinois who built a Slip ’n Slide inside their high school.
In general, I’m in favor of giving teenagers leeway to do silly things.
But vandalism crosses the line.
The Gloversville tree vandalism reminds me a bit of the infamous Kegs & Eggs riot of 2011, when hundreds of drunken college students gathered in Albany’s Pine Hills neighborhood for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration that turned violent, with revelers smashing cars, throwing furniture out windows and throwing beer bottles at police officers.
I expect a certain amount of raucous partying from college students.
And it’s possible I engaged in a certain amount of raucous partying when I was in college.
But the Kegs & Eggs riot clearly went too far.
I couldn’t relate to the students who participated in it, and I found their actions impossible to defend or excuse. Smashing cars? Throwing furniture out windows? Throwing bottles? I had never done anything remotely like that in college. The whole thing made me wonder why it’s so hard for people to distinguish between good harmless fun and wanton destruction.
My sense is that teenage vandals can redeem themselves in adulthood — that they’re young enough to understand that vandalism is wrong and learn from the error of their ways.
But some people never outgrow their youthful stupidity.
The Gloversville tree vandalism brought to mind a vicious act of tree vandalism that occurred in Alabama several years ago, when a University of Alabama football fan was sentenced to prison for poisoning and killing the beloved oak trees at rival Auburn University. The perpetrator, Harvey Updyke, was 64 at the time of sentencing.
The teens accused of cutting down the trees in Gloversville have their whole lives ahead of them. Will they show up at their 20th reunion and impress everyone with how decent and functional they seem? Or will they take a different path?
Only time will tell.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net or 395-3193. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.

 
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