To my dearest and beloved alma mater:
First things first: Thank you. Though I could not even fathom it at the time when I was a student in your hallowed halls (1986-1990), going to St. Joseph’s Preparatory School was one of the greatest, and certainly most defining, experiences of my life. The mandatory three years of Latin, the forced extracurriculars, the exposure to forms of plaid that no longer exist anywhere in the world today (and trust me, I’ve been to the Union League) — all of it felt like torture. But then, a funny thing happened: From graduation day on, I slowly began to realize how well you prepared me for the real world — the very thing that, back when I was 15, I thought you stood as a bulwark against. How little I knew.
As I’ve gotten older, both the Jesuit method of education and the Jesuits themselves have remained a fairly consistent inspiration to me as the ultimate pragmatists — men of principle whose highest goal is to do as much good as one can in a world that has always been completely fucking insane. Especially when it comes to matters of faith. As the Roman Catholic Church has crumbled into itself in recent times due to the festering sore of chronic sexual abuse, even then, the Jesuits have proved the exception that makes the rule in policing themselves. (Even more commendable: Back in the day, some of you guys were the most unabashedly “out” men I’d ever met, setting a great example against the rest of a horribly repressed church.)
Over the last few decades, as the school has both expanded and its alumni have filtered out into the highest echelons of public life and service — some of them taking your “lead by example” advice better than others (looking in your direction, Johnny Doc and Vince Fumo) — collective Prep Pride may well be at an all-time high. Which is why I recoiled in horror this weekend when news broke that the Prep would begin to randomly drug test its own students by hair samples.
I’m appalled, and I’m not the only one. Over the weekend, my inbox began to fill with messages like this one: “I’m working with my class, and [fellow alumni] is working with his to write the stern ‘Don’t bother asking us for money until this is fixed’ letters. Who’s good for class of ’90?”
Why are we so up in arms about this? There’s a ton of reasons, really, but two rise to the top immediately: This policy flies in the face of everything any Jesuit ever said about trust in one’s fellow man, and how important it is to judge not, lest you be judged. We took that shit seriously, Mother Prep. And we regard this policy shift as a craven infraction, to serve what greater good, exactly? For what it’s worth, neither I nor my two fellow alumni mentioned above took a single recreational drug when at the Prep, and this was in the go-go 1980s, so you guys must have been doing something right. First thought/best thought, as they say.
The second big reason this reeks to high heaven (you will pardon the pun) has to do with the nature of how kids are raised these days, and why you guys should just lay off. Unlike my generation, which might have been the last to be told, literally, to go play in traffic and just be kids, these young men, by and large, have lived micromanaged lives since before they could talk. Play dates, extra classes, anything in the service of something that might one day look good on a college application: All of it has conspired to a simple end. These kids already feel like, and indeed are, someone else’s science experiments. And you guys, you men of God, supposedly, just went all Gattaca on them. It is just plain wrong.
So please: Reconsider, for this isn’t just about who these kids are, it’s about who you are, and by extension, who we, the alumni are. If a Prep where no one lived in fear of a random hair chop was good enough for Mayor Michael Nutter, Rob McElhenney and (I humbly submit) myself, I’m sure it’s good enough for the next generation of wiseasses you guys are so ably working on today.