Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On a High-School Classmate

I wasn't much of a student in high school. I didn't apply myself to anything, really, beyond the advanced study of box scores and high-level analysis of rudimentary fantasy baseball statistics and Van Halen albums. I was in the advanced track, but just barely, and the only reason I bothered to keep up the facade is because most of my friends were in the advanced-track classes, and it was either drown in calculus or snooze through remedial algebra. I chose the former.  This explains why I have state-school education. This explains why I did not make a fortune on complex derivatives.This explains why I am a writer.

Anyway, junior year, or senior year (I can't remember which anymore), I enrolled in an AP history course, because that's what everyone else did. It was a large class, with more than a hundred students, and it was held in an auditorium-sized hall. The idea was that AP History would be taught like a college course, which meant attendance was optional, which meant that we would show up once or twice a week and spend the other days at the nearby shopping plaza, devouring cheesesteaks and discussing the finer points of the girls who would never deign to speak to us. And were able to get away this because two of our classmates--two of the smartest dudes in a room full of pretty sharp people, the sons and daughters of college professors and scholars--transformed the AP History experience into an entrepreneurial boon. Every few weeks, before an exam, they would compile a study guide based entirely on their own copious note-taking, make several dozen photocopies, and sell them for a minimal amount. The study guides were, of course, a brilliant idea, and their creators became Heroes, Kings, Lords of our little corner of Nerdland. They were destined for something great, and we all knew it. I lost touch with them both after high school, and I always imagined I'd hear from them again when they won the Nobel Prize for some experiment in neuroscience or developed a new kind of particle accelerator.

Anyway, the ringleader of the crew, as far as I can recall, was a kid named Mike Weston.  And it turns out he did wind up living a pretty remarkable life, even if it was far too short:

After his third tour of duty in Iraq, Michael Edward Weston wanted to decompress. So in the summer of 2007, he decided to kayak about 2,300 miles down the Mississippi River, from Minnesota to New Orleans.

“He had planned it to take two months, which was sort of reasonable,” said his mother, Judy Zarit, of State College. “He did it in one month.”

Friends and family members say Weston, 37, of Washington, D.C., brought that same devotion, dedication and passion to every aspect of his life: as a student at Harvard Law School; as the writer of the family’s humorous Christmas letters; as the minister at his brothers’ weddings; as a Marine major leading troops in Iraq; and as a Drug Enforcement Administration agent fighting the opium trade in Afghanistan....

Weston, a 1990 graduate of State College Area High School, was killed Monday, along with nine other Americans in a military helicopter crash in Afghanistan. He was among three DEA special agents deployed with troops returning from a drug raid in the western part of the country.

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