May 15, 2007

Two Colorado Cultures

Last Sunday afternoon I spent in a small western Colorado town that is still far from fashionable, sitting in a packed 1950s gymnasium to see my nephew graduate from high school.

An under-powered sound system pumped out "Pomp and Circumstance" as the graduates, all 33 of them, walked in, most of the guys showing sneakers or cowboy boots under their gowns. And there was D.--with his stethoscope draped over his shoulder alongside his National Honor Society cord!

He is studying to be an EMT, and already volunteers with the local fire department. Minutes earlier, the great-grandmother of one graduate had collapsed outside the school, and he had helped to attend to her and see her into the ambulance.

D. is so proud of what he has done so far. He probably sleeps in his EMS jacket. And why not: emergency medicine is fine for a young man who is (a) an adrenaline junkie (snowboards, cars, etc.), (b) smart enough to be salutatorian of his small class, and (c) serious enough to study medicine. Maybe he'll go for an MD degree someday, although right now he has set his sights more modestly on being a physician's assistant and serving some rural area like the one where he grew up.

The principal read off the post-graduation plans of each student. Only one will be going out-of-state to university. The Navy and the Marine Corps each will receive two graduates--and so will the highly selective Colorado School of Mines. Other vocations were named: massage therapist, chef, electrician. One upcoming marriage, several immediate jobs.

D. collected a couple more scholarship awards, including one from the local cattlewomen's association, which included a woven lap robe decorated with all the local brands.

I do not mean to sound too bucolic. I probably would not have fit into that school too well myself, and D. and his best friend dropped a few remarks about how the administration is afraid of anything "controversial." Even a classic play like The Crucible is deemed "too controversial."

M. and I started for home that afternoon. We drove over a small pass into another town, located down the valley from a famous ski village. At the next table at the Thai restaurant where we stopped for supper, a group of diners was clad in synthetic fleece and the high-tech sandals you see in mountaineering shops. They spoke of condo decorating, frequent trips to Asia, and how "spiritual" the architecture of Nepal is. One had met the Dalai Lama.

Colorado: Land of Contrasts. Enjoy your visit. If you go off the road, maybe D. will be there to pick you up.

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