By Grace Scheidler
Veni, Vidi, Vici? (archived from The Forest Scout, October 1937)
You came? You came from different backgrounds, different environments, different families. You came with different hopes, desires, expectations, goals, and interests. No two of you are alike in any respect save one: you all came to school.
You saw! You all saw a beautiful building with trees and green grass around it, but perhaps some of you saw it as a prison, not as a place in which your whole character, your whole life, might be changed. You freshmen saw, maybe for the first time, our beautiful pool and modern gym, our cafeteria, the place where our athletic field is being made and where our new tennis courts will be. You saw new faces and old ones; and while you rated the new ones in your mind, you never stopped to think that they might be rating you also. You freshmen saw sophomores trying to act like seniors and failing rather woefully; juniors, cocky and wise in the ways of the world; and seniors, some of them so sure in their standing that they acted like freshmen, while others, not so soure, went about with their serious, preoccupied airs.
You conquered? Time alone will tell. Whether you conquer your toughest subjects, the air that everyone gets sometimes, or maybe that dangerous headiness that comes after some hard-won success, or even that girl across the aisle, or whether they conquer you instead, will all be determined in the next few months.
But why shouldn’t you conquer? You have one of the most beautiful schools in the United States, a fine faculty, and the most modern equipment. You have been provided with everything necessary for complete success except one thing that you yourself will have to supply. You must want success enough to work or it. Whatever you make of your school year is up to you now, but we hope that we can say “You conquered!” at the end of the year, with an exclamation point instead of a question mark.
Could you tell?
I’m asking you, could you tell? Tell that this was written over 80 years ago, by a student who was in your shoes at a time when they’d wake up to a world radically different from the one you live in today?
A world where knowledge was found and earned, when the entirety of information known to man didn’t fit in their back pocket? A time where you couldn’t just passively swipe through your phone for headlines, catch up on your local news with a few lazy taps. When, at best, you’d walk out to your driveway to pick up the paper tossed next to a Model 48 Ford, which probably ran you for about $760 and cost 10 cents a gallon. You’d then open up the paper and read headlines recalling the explosion of the Hindenburg blimp (Oh, the humanity! The humanity!) and the mysterious disappearance of Amelia Earhart (although you couldn’t predict the conspiracy theories that would arise over the course of the next few decades).
While you flipped through the paper, your mother would make you breakfast, possibly with a box of Quaker oats endorsed by Ruth Harkness, the famed American Explorer who was the first ever to capture a giant panda–before that, they were the stuff of myths. You’d then pack up your school bag, though classics such as Of Mice and Men or The Hobbit wouldn’t have made it on your required reading lists because they’d only been published earlier that year.
Overheard conversations between your teachers and parents would contain hushed whispers of Hitler or Mussolini, not ISIS , and maybe Stalin in the Soviet Union, not Putin and whether or not Trump endorses him. They might talk of Uncle Bob in Kansas, forced west by the relentless Dust Storms, not how your grandma jokes of moving to Canada if the 2016 Presidential Election doesn’t yield a better candidate; or how Aunt Connie and her kids would be moving in with you because they’d lost their house when the market crashed. After school you might go to the movie theater to see Snow White in theaters, the first movie by some little-known company called Disney. Could you tell that this was written in a world before Frozen or The Little Mermaid? I’m asking, could you tell?
I’m asking, but I’m pretty sure I know the answer. The answer is you couldn’t tell, because in spite of all the differences between now and then, how radically the world has changed in less than a century, all of that fails to matter when it comes to high school. High school (LFHS in particular) has stood the test of time as an impermeable, immutable, and inevitable part of growing up–in 1937 or 2017.
In a way, LFHS becomes our life. It dictates our schedule, our priorities, our social life, what we do in our free time, however indirect it may be, and becomes an integral part of our identity for these four years and beyond. It was true then and it’s true now. Calculus doesn’t care who’s president or who’s crossing the Atlantic ocean, and a research paper is a research paper no matter how you spin it of what “current event” you chronicle. Geometry will be hard for every class who takes it (I know from experience), and French students in 1937 were just as confused by the subjunctive tense (or mood? I can never remember) as students now. No matter how different we are from the next person, we all go to this high school. Everyone walks through those vaulted white-paneled front doors for the first time with a different expectation for what LFHS will come to mean and where they will be on the other end of it.
Teachers and students and classes may change, but the heart of what this high school is has always been special. LFHS brings our community together, more so than in most towns; we don’t really have a choice in the matter, given it’s the only public high school in town. Every home game is packed with past, present, and future students, united by their shared experience with this beautiful school.
In 1935 when the school first opened its doors, it struck awe into the hearts of a (much smaller) Lake Forest, and the ivy-covered facade and immaculate lawn have kept it in the running for most beautiful school in the country to this day. There might not have been smart boards or Chromebooks back then, but everyone was and still is proud of this school. Students complain all the time of the pressure they feel (of which there is a lot, I won’t deny), but how could there not be? We are lucky enough to be surrounded with the absolute best of everything there is to offer, so we are told we need to strive for the absolute best. And while there are times when it feels more like a prison than a privilege, we know deep down that faculty, staff, and students alike want nothing but the best for each and every one of us.
Even with that said, how could anyone possibly understand what it’s like to be a high school student in 2017, other than the students themselves? How could they know what it’s like to see our lives through the lens of a five-inch screen, filtered and scrutinized and captioned beyond recognition? They didn’t have the ACT in 1937, or Snapchat, or a coffee bar where we can get Oreo frappes whenever they so pleased. Back then, the only kind of mail was snail mail, there’d only been one World War, and Alaska wasn’t even a state yet. How could anyone hope to comprehend the modern high school experience when things are so different now?
Are they really?
Sure, all the little things matter now, how many “likes” we got on our last post, the score on our SAT, what the number one song on Spotify is. But five, ten, twenty years down the road, are those the things we’ll remember? Will we define some of the most important years of our life by the score we got on an AP Bio test, or whether or not we had the latest iPhone? Again, I’m asking, but I think I know the answer.
We won’t. And they didn’t, either.
What makes this school so special is that it’s not the details that make it worthwhile. It’s the timelessness of this high school that makes it possible to relate to someone who stood in our shoes eighty years ago. Yes, back then the world was a completely different place, but we are not talking about the world. We are talking about Lake Forest High School, and the fact that in 1937 the Scouts got creamed by the Warren football team but managed to pull off a W against Libertyville for homecoming is perhaps not so ironic (Lake Forest lost to Warren 46-10 and beat Libertyville on homecoming weekend 28-14 in 2017).
Students back then had their own “winter style show”, something very similar to what the Fashion Merchandising Class puts on every January. The fact that the Walgreens we go to now on 296 Deerpath Road was the very same one the class of 1937 went to. The fact that The Lake Forester has been around forever–when the very first issue of TFS was published, it congratulated the high school on its endeavor into the world of journalism (at that time, it had already been around for 42 years). Market Square has been around for over 150 years, and it doesn’t look like it’s changing any time soon. Neither does Lake Forest, and neither does this high school or the people that walk its halls.
There’s a special dream that’s been a part of the LFHS experience since day one, an exceptionalism that comes with knowing we have the world at our feet on graduation day. And that’s not to say that seniors have it all figured out–I’m less than a year out from being one myself and I couldn’t be more unsure of what my life will look like by next year, much less the next five. It’s more about being confident in where we have been and who we are right now, how we got here, and knowing that wherever we end up, we’ll be OK.
Perhaps the all-too-common “places we’ll go” reference finds its humble derivation from the place that we all have been.
Grace Scheidler is a junior at Lake Forest High School and co-editor-in-chief of The Forest Scout, where this article first was published.