THE LAST YEAR of high school is a big deal. It's the final time beween childhood and adulthood right before leaving home, going out into the world to be independent. Patrick Walgren agreed to blog us through his Senior year at Service High School as he navigated living on the edge between boy and man.
I'VE BEEN ON the East Coast for the last few days, surprising my Grandma for her 80th birthday with my family. It was nice to see all of my cousins again, and since I’m attending Lehigh University in the fall, get a taste of what my East Coast life might be like.
First off, I realized that living in Alaska has spoiled me. In the Lower 48, pretty much every long distance trip has the potential of being a road trip. Up here, the only places you can go are Fairbanks, the Kenai, and maybe Valdez. If it’s not in the state, you’re going to be travelling by airplane. But that’s not the case down there. I like road trips, but after 10 hours in a car, even a coach airline seat between two babies sounds inviting for the sheer purpose of getting there in a third of the time.
Second, unless your whole extended family is Alaskan, it’s likely that your nuclear family are the only ones up here. That means that weekend family reunions are nonexistent. But my family on the east coast is very close, while we’re the outcasts from up North. It’ll be different living close to them, because as a raised Alaskan, I’m used to thinking of relatives as people you see every third wedding.
Third, humidity sucks. If it’s 95 and overcast at ten in the morning, there’s something wrong. Alaska is great because you can always rely on wind to keep you cool, but down south (anything lower than Juneau) there is no escape - well, besides air conditioning or a pool. That’s one thing I liked about the heat: it made the pool feel so much better, and actually made me like it (only for a second).
I’m going to have a drastic change of lifestyle in August, going from the 61st parallel to the 41st. I’m going to have to learn to deal with public transportation, high population density, and most of all, being 4,000 miles away from home. I already miss it, and I haven’t even left yet.
LAST NIGHT I did something that I hadn’t done in more than three years. I rode a bike! Shocking, isn’t it, that I, an athletic advocate of climbing mountains and playing sports, would forget about the beautiful rigors of cycling?! I think my story is the same with a lot of kids my age - get a driver's license, ditch the bike. Freshman year, I rode my bike almost everywhere, getting fit and getting where I wanted to go without the help of a parent. That all changed when I got my license. Why would I ride my bike somewhere when I could leave later, be more comfortable and, most importantly, arrive in style, thanks to the Subaru’s massive amount of street cred.
Awesomeness on four wheels
So my two-wheeled friend was relegated to the garage... until yesterday. After hearing so much great publicity about the new Kincaid single tracks, I figured now was the perfect time to break out the bike again. [Read more : 9 miles of singletrack bike trail going into Kincaid Park, ADN.com)
A couple of cyclists ride the new single tracks last fall at Kincaid Park in Anchorage (via EngineRoomAK /YouTube)
I let my friend go first (I needed to get used to my bike again, plus he had helped build them. I wasn’t using him as a potential human shield, no way!) The trails are perfect in my opinion, well, as perfect as they can be. There are some places where the roots to make the trail a bit too extreme, the bugs are very quick to find you if you stop, and you’re always a bit worried about meeting a moose, or a biker going the other way. But these things all fall by the wayside as you race through the banked hairpin turns. The trails are really well designed and it never feels like you’re going up as much as you’re going down. I’m sure I’d have the same thought if I did my run again, just backwards.
As I rolled over the humps and around the bends, I found myself having a great time. There’s something great about having to dodge devil’s club or low hanging trees. It makes you feel like you’re an offroad racer. After last night, I feel bad I’ve neglected my bike for so long and I’m definitely going to ride on the single tracks again. I just hope I don’t get hit by a moose (or vice versa)!
WE EMERGED OVER the canyon rim, looking like we hadn't been in society for weeks. We were out of place among the day hikers, our 30-pound packs dwarfing their backpacks clearly separating us from them. Our legs were blotched red from the knee down, not because of sunburn, but because of caked-on dirt mixing with the sweat and sunscreen. We had been hiking for almost seven hours straight, but spying the top I felt an extra boost of adrenaline. We had just finished overnighting in the Grand Canyon.
My family and I had started our trek at five in the morning the day before. As we descended down the trail past thousands of years of history with every step, the sun was just about to peek out over the horizon. Even after hiking in Alaska, I couldn't get over how picturesque the scene was. To the east, a fine mist blanketed the rocks, partially obscuring the countless crevasses and canyon spurs jutting out from the mighty Colorado River. As the sun started to rise, the west became sharper and when we reached "Ooh-Ah Point" less than an hour into the hike, the canyon opened up for our viewing pleasure. The beauty of the canyon filled my vision, from one peripheral to the other. The morning sky was a light blue, it reminded me of Alaska, also how it was only 50 degrees in the sun. But I knew that would soon change, only I had no idea how drastic that change would be when it did.
The Walgren clan about to descend into the Canyon...
The hours ticked by, and with each step down, the temperature rose. We encountered a frustrating paradox while hiking. We wanted to look around at the scenery, but as soon as we'd lift our heads up off the trail ahead, our foot would hit a rock and our heartbeats would soar from 80 to 180 in the span of a second as we envisioned how one more misstep could speed up our descent drastically.
Sadly, as the hike dragged on and the temperature climbed faster than the sun, the Grand Canyon started to lose its charm. I was still trying to appreciate it, but that was now a secondary goal. The primary one was simple - get to the bottom of this hole.
We accomplished that after around eight hours of hiking when we reached the base of the canyon where we set up camp. It was the early afternoon so for the rest of the day our only itinerary was to avoid the heat. The temperature topped out at 115 that day, but conveniently there was a creek next to the campground. Water had never felt so refreshing.
We woke up the next morning around 4:30, and I was surprised to see that we were among the last to get going. Everyone had the same idea - get out of this pit as early as possible to beat the heat. The ascent wasn't as bad, heat-wise because the higher we climbed, the lower the temperature became. By the time we saw the lodges on the rim, the temperature was in the 80's, a stark contrast to riverside.
And, back to the top again...
I'm really glad I got to hike the canyon as a kid. Now I'll always have fond memories of it, even though at times, going down into it, it felt like a deathmarch. But I can say now that, "I know what it's REALLY like," to be down inside the Grand Canyon, something those who never leave the rim get to experience.
OVER THE PAST 18 years, I've been told (and have told myself) that I have the strictest parents out of anyone I know. Of course now I have that wonderful thing called perspective, I know they were acting in my best interests. I may not have been able to do everything my friends did, but now I know that most of those things weren't as cool as they seemed.
The discipline started from as early as I could remember. In elementary school, we didn't have an "English Tele" (my and my brother's word for cable TV). All of my friends had cable, but my parents, acting like a very good PSA for standing up to peer pressure, didn't cave. Looking back, I kind of wish they hadn't ever relented, because 95% of the things I watch now are a waste of time.
Strangely enough, I was only ever really grounded once - but that lasted for the better part of four whole months. What'd I do? Well, I was caught not five minutes after I snuck out of the house in August, and I didn't get my privileges back until after Christmas. That swift and unyielding response showed me that the four hours I was planning to spend out of my house wasn't worth the treat that was waiting for me when I got home. My parents didn't mess around.
I remember my mom telling me the importance of structure in a kid's life, and I'm exhibit A. I can't remember a time where I was punished for something I didn't know was wrong. Everything was always clear punishment wise - this is why you're being punished - I just did it anyway.
From what I've thought about parenting, it seems to me that their main job (besides letting us live another day) is not letting us kids get ahead of ourselves. We want to stay up later, drink before it's legal, and do countless other things before common sense and science says we're ready. It's the parents' job to keep them from trying to act like an adult in 7th grade, because that wouldn't be pretty. I'm really glad to say my parents did a good job, even though at the time I wished they wouldn't be such good parents.
I STARTED "DATING" in the 7th grade. A few people had started earlier, but the onset of middle school brought with it an increased interest of the opposite gender. But it wasn't really dating. For the most part, "going out with" someone (as was the slang for the time) consisted of holding hands at school, awkwardly trying to make conversation on the phone occasionally, and most importantly, changing your Myspace to "in a relationship". I'm sickened when somebody says "It's not official until it's Facebook Official," but the almighty Facebook status is taken as law within my generation, whether I like it or not.
In high school, things started to change. With more freedom, couples could go out to lunch (if one of their friends had a car), or even go to movies if their parents let them. The parents are the ultimate arbiter in their kids' dating experience. With my parents, they barely let me do anything until high school. I thought this was the cruelest thing ever, since some of my friends practically had chauffeurs as parents. But in the end it didn't really matter because I realized it wasn't all that great to have free reign.
The tipping point where dating goes from immature to mature is when kids start getting cars, and more importantly the ability to drive other people in those cars. Then, high school dating becomes changes to like real dating-dating - you know, lunch/dinner and a movie, or mini-golf or even skydiving.
Moving forward into college, I can't see it changing that much. Of course I won't have a car to drive my princess around in, but maybe I could pay off a strapping young man to give us rickshaw rides for the night. Now I'm glad my parents limited me when I was younger, because there's more important things to do when you're 14 than spend 5 days a week at Skateland "dating".
I CAN REMEMBER every teacher I've had since kindergarten, with a bit of brain-prodding. A few of them really stick out to me. My second grade teacher Mrs. Carpenter, my fifth grade teacher Mr. Hedrick and my Physics teacher Mr. Lechtenberger. I remember each of them differently, because they all gave me unique things to take with me, and I am still impacted by what they did. Before a few years ago, I didn't know why my parents cared what teachers I got. I only cared that I would be with my friends, the person at the head of the class could be a giant squid for all I cared. Now I realize why my parents cared so much, my education is a really major thing to rely on a total stranger to provide.
When I was told that I would be in Mrs. Carpenter's class, I didn't know what to expect since it was to be with both first and second graders. Although I don't remember much, I take that as a good thing because I don't remember anytime when there was a conflict of attention between the two grades. I think that is a testament to Mrs. Carpenter's devotion - she taught two classes in the time of one. Although I bet she was really glad when her double-duty year was over, I'm happy I had her, even if I had to share.
In fifth Grade, I was taught by who I think of as the cool uncle of the teaching world. Mr. Hedrick was a young, athletic guy who tried everything to make his class enthusiastic about learning. He played guitar, and made up songs (some of which were irrelevant to the lesson, but they sure were catchy). He always seemed to have a smile on his face, unless you were in trouble, but then instead of yelling or punishment, he loved playing the "disappointment and responsibility" card (you know the one, "I'm not mad at you, I'm just disappointed. I thought you were more responsible than that.") Much to my displeasure, it worked. Mr. Hedrick made me find the better person inside the rebellious young one that seems to turn up in most fourth-ninth graders. Also, just a few weeks ago I was surprised by a letter from him, along with a time capsule letter I had written when I was in his class. My parents thought some of the things I had envisioned for my future were hilarious ("I am a goalie for the Squirt C Ice Pirates. It's a dream come true!"). It was a really nice touch because he had since moved to Scottsdale, and he still tracked me down (and I can imagine the same with the rest of my classmates).
My freshman year, I walked into Mr. Lechtenberger's Algebra II class and I felt like I had walked right through a wormhole onto a 90's sitcom. It was the stereotypical classroom. Goths and Jocks in the back, Bimbos in the front, and quiet kids in the middle, practically just taking up space. Being the only freshman, I tried to just blend in, so I took a seat right in the middle. Mr. Lechtenberger started pushing me to do my best. I was an unenlightened freshman though, I thought girls, not grades should be my priority. He impacted me, but not enough to get an A. I finished with a flat B both semesters. Then, my junior year, I came back to his class to take physics. I was a different student this time, confident, and more importantly, motivated. I worked my hardest to get an A, and that was what it took. I learned the most from that class, even though there wasn't that much material to cover. I learned how to study, and how to work. That's much more important than any of Newton's Laws.
LAST TUESDAY I graduated from high school. I think it's sunk in by now...
I've had to come into the school in the last few days for AP tests and AP classes, but I feel different about walking those halls now. My friend summed it up the day after our last when he turned to me while frolfing and said, with a humorous indifference while gesturing towards the school, "I used to go there." It was a joke, but it was funnier because it was true. We both knew that we were done with high school, whether we liked it or not.
The ceremony itself felt like a dream. I sat on the front corner, due to luck and my nerd status (summa cum laude). Because of this, I led half of the graduates out.
Even though we were now adults in the eyes of society, we were still kids. During a stunning farewell performance of "We are the World," one of my friends stood up, looked at the camera, and said "Hi Mom!" Four months ago, I probably wouldn't have found that funny. But now I laughed – no need to act more mature than I feel. I know that I have a limited time left to be a kid, so I'm going to embrace that.
In my opinion, the best part of graduations is the aftermath - all the graduates on the floor celebrating together. I gave hugs to practically everyone I knew, because that might have been the last time I'd ever see them. That's the saddest part of graduation - to get to where you're going next, you have to leave everything else behind. But I'm not sad enough to try to stay in high school, along with the rest of my class.
If these last four years were fun, I can't wait to see what I do with the next four.
IT'S MY LAST week of high school. That's my crazy reality. I don't think it's quite hit me yet, but it's started to slink closer and closer. I can't begin to fathom my feelings the morning after graduation. Of course I'll be excited for what's next and relieved that I'm moving on to bigger and better things, but I think that the one emotion prevalent under all these others will be fear. My fear of what's next. Sure, I'm excited to see what I can do in life, but my parents' house is so safe and cozy! Am I positive that what's waiting for me after the jump will be better?
I don't know. I have one summer of safety left before I get thrown out into the real world. But I'll really worry about that in August.
I came to Service High School as a Freshman in 2008 and I thought I was hot stuff. I played varsity teenis, was smart, and most of all, I thought I was extremely good looking. My ego was so big I'm surprised one of my teachers didn't take pity on me and deflate it a bit. I even had the cocky walk to match the attitude. I can't help but realize now that if 9th grade me and 12th grade me had shared a class, 12th grade me would've "enlightened" this young one.
Pictured: Hot stuff
Four years later, I KNOW I'm hot stuff, but the difference is, I don't try to project that persona. In 9th grade I had to project cockiness because I was actually petrified of the massive seniors, who probably tripled my weight. Now, I know that their barks are worse than their bites, and actually most of them are pretty chill. Oh what 4 years can do to someone.
For the next 4 years, I expect somewhat of the same changes. I'll go from being Top Dog at Service to being a feeder fish at college. It's going to be humbling for sure, but I know it'll be good for me. After all, I don't wish to be the 9th grade version of me again.
Patrick blogged us through his entire senior year of high school - the ups and downs, challenges and victories, fun times and tough times - giving us all a glimpse into the mind of a modern Alaskan teen. He graduates from Service High School in Anchorage and will attend Lehigh University in the fall. Con-grad-ulations, Patrick!
TWO SUMMERS AGO I worked as a cashier/candy salesman for Alaska Wildberry Products. It was my first real job, as in one where I had to apply and was subject to regulations. I applied to work there because my best friend worked there, not because I’m especially into jam.
My first interview was bizarre to say the least. I had the good fortune of catching the hiring manager while she was in office, so I was taken into an interview right away. It went as I had imagined for the first few minutes, but then the owner stopped by and, weirdly, asked me a question along the lines of: "Was Jimmy Carter a good president?" Not having been alive during his presidency, I said all that came to mind - a snippet about the Iranian Hostage Crisis and espoused my voting philosophy that I shouldn't vote until I'm independent - both mentally and economically. I guess they were impressed with what they heard, because I was trained that day. Later, my friend told me that the owner had talked about "the kid who lectured me on politics" in the days following.
Helping teens get summer jobs since 1977
The job itself wasn't too interesting and I soon found myself wishing that it could be more like the interview - and I could still get paid to have conversations with people. My job entailed cashier duty, restocking the floor and serving candy. Soon after I began working, the novelty wore off and I started to feel like an Epsilon from Brave New World. Those 8-hour shifts felt like they lasted 16-hours and it seemed like I was getting paid half-time. I welcomed the onset of school because it meant I didn't have to walk into a building that smelled of chocolate every morning.
Even so, I learned a lot during those three months. I learned that I never wanted to work a job like that again, because my mind goes stir crazy. But more importantly, I learned that nobody will care as much about your business as you do. The owner dealt with this every day. People stole from the store, while some employees even stole from the register. They thought they were stealing from a faceless, multi-million dollar enterprise, but in reality they were stealing from one man. That summer I learned that you can only put faith in yourself when it comes to business, and that Jimmy Carter still has the ability to impact the unemployment rate.