Saturday, January 01, 2000

Class of '00 is aglow with knowing




BY KRISTA RAMSEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        I have stumbled upon a new truth: No matter how quickly your own children grow up, other people's children grow up faster.

        It had been six years since I'd seen Wyoming High School's Class of 2000. Recently, I sat down with them to catch up, and write a closing to a long-opened story.

        Our paths first crossed in 1988. They were first-graders heading toward their destiny as the last class to graduate in the 20th century. The Enquirer planned to follow their journey, and I was the reporter then assigned to the story.

        Then as now, they were an unforgettable group, set apart by their energy and confidence.

        They were young, but never unaware of themselves. They lived in a small place, but had a world view. They were regular kids, but with one eye on something bigger.

        And they were always the perfect interview: They could come up with an answer for everything.

Grateful in "The Bubble'
        As they form a circle around me in Wyoming High School's media center, I am struck, not by how much or little they had grown up as I thought they would, but how inevitable the process. More than anything else, they have lived out what was always inside them. They have become what they were meant to be.

        And, typically, they have their own thoughts on how it happened.

        “There have been teachers along the way who strove to pull out the best that was in you,” says Alex Kessel. Adds Shira Jackson: “There are some who make sure you don't walk away until you know what they know.”

        “We have high standards of ourselves and our peers,” says Meghan Keswick. “And Wyoming has high standards of us,” says Christin Reckman.

        Across the country, some of their peers have grown up with absent parents, disinterested families, indifferent communities, unresponsive schools. Wyoming's Class of 2000 is fully aware they have gotten their share of concern and attention. And, to a degree that is touching, they are grateful.

        “In the future, one thing I'd like to remember is how nice it was here,” Edward Shelleby says simply. “I don't think that life as we know it for young people can be better.”

        They talk a lot about the place in which they've grown up, a town so small and life so idyllic that it both amuses and gratifies them. They call Wyoming “The Bubble.”

        To a degree, it has kept real life out, they say. Perhaps, off at college, there will be some harsh new realities. But, says David Payne — in an insight we would wish for every child — “It's good to know how it feels to be protected.”

"Completely ready to go'
        Today, they have finally gotten to their year. In five months, they will leave this small pack and start down separate paths. Jen Drake already knows she is off to Trinity University in San Antonio. Sierra Sapunar will live out a lifelong dream and try out for the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.

        There are few Y2K fears here. The class that floated into first grade on a bubble of energy and optimism is leaving, for the most part, the same way.

        “It's a great thing to be young and entering the world,” says George Lewis, a potential political science major who, when pushed, admits he wouldn't mind one day being president. “I'm so excited to see what I can be involved in, and how everything works out — to prove that I can duplicate the good life I've had here.”

        Taking in the circle of healthy, glowing faces, hearing their insight and intelligence, I feel the way I did when I interviewed them in first grade. Inspired by their enthusiasm. Astounded by their energy. Encouraged for them, and for the world.

        A job, if not completely finished, then certainly well started, Wyoming parents and staff.

        And, lest anyone get teary-eyed — “I'm completely ready to go,” says Abbey Wiggins, with trademark confidence. “It's what we've been prepared for all our lives.”

        Krista Ramsey's column appears on Saturdays. Write her at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202, or e-mail her at krista_ramsey@hotmail.com.