(Copyright 2000. The Tattoo. All rights reserved.)

The Tattoo

--- Making a Permanent Impression Since 1994 ---

September 11, 2000

Don't get lost in the system

By Joe Wilbur

The Tattoo

As I look back on the last four years, I am filled with a silly
sort of nostalgia one never imagines he'll have about the high
school experience. I remember lessons I've learned that have
nothing to do with parabolas or the five paragraph essay, the
scientific method or obscure foreign verb tenses.

The most important lessons I've learned --- those I'll take
with me farthest and longest, have been practical lessons:
assume nothing, don't compromise, take responsibility, DO
NOT procrastinate.

And, when I think of these things, I'm filled also with that
warm, just-out-of-the-dryer feeling about the teachers and
friends who've taught me these things. I've been fortunate to
have had many great mentors, many great leaders.

But then, as I remember each of them and what they've
taught me -- all those selfless people who've spent hours
filling empty, sometimes disinterested students with
knowledge, pride and determination, I realize the person
who's taught me the most about life and living in the past
few years did the least work possible, and as slowly as he

For his seemingly endless ineptitude, complete inability to
communicate and staggering overconfidence in the face of a
complete lack of skill and resource, I am forever indebted to
my guidance counselor.

Yes the guidance counselor -- the one who pulls the
strings. Even more than the gym teacher, this is the
man or woman who can make or destroy you with an
accidental twitch. Classes, transcripts, letters of
recommendation -- it’s dizzying how much power they have,

Mine was not a pleasant experience, it's true -- but if not for
the manipulation and deception of this champion bungler
and my constant trial, I might never have learned the
following lessons:

1) GO TO THE TOP. Bureaucracy, in high school as in life,
is the root of all evil.

If you can possibly go over the head of the person you're
handing vital information to or entrusting with a great
responsibility -- do so.

If it's going to go to the next level anyway, take it there

Some may see that as rude, but I've found it to be necessary.
If you really care about your education, well being and
future, deal with as few people as possible.


If you want to take a class and your guidance counselor says
you can't, check it out yourself. If he says you have to take a
class you're uncomfortable with, check it out yourself. If he
cites a rule or regulation or, in fact, makes any hard and fast
statement about anything,  ask to see it in print.

Make sure you know you're hearing the truth and not the
quick answer.

DO NOT be put into a class you're unprepared for and DO
NOT settle if you're not sure.

The halls and classrooms are littered with miserable kids who
are convinced that they HAVE to be doing what they're
doing, that they have no choice, because they’ve taken their
guidance counselors at their words.

These people are not gods. They’re not even angels. Hell,
they're not even checkpoint charlies at the gates of purgatory.

See that pile of junk on their desk? You're in there
somewhere. So's everybody else you know. Kinda makes you
queasy, doesn't it?

3) MAKE COPIES. If there is one copy of anything -- a
letter of recommendation, a transcript, an absence excuse --
someone in a tie WILL lose it.

Spend five minutes soaking up radiation at the copy machine
and start a file -- when he says he's lost it, call him on it --
show him you're a step ahead.

4) KNOW YOUR DEADLINES. This seems easy enough.

What I really mean to say is, make sure THEY know your

There's no quicker way to make yourself late than to allow
something to be mailed for you if you can do it yourself, or
to depend upon your guidance counselor for some vital piece
of a deadline package.

I once actually had to stand over the shoulder of my
guidance counselor to make sure he faxed my transcript THE
DAY OF a college deadline because he hadn't mailed it yet.


Everyone wants to be pleasant. More flies with honey and all
that, right? But the thing is -- and this is a lesson you'll learn
repeatedly throughout your high school career —- if people
smell fear or apprehension on you, if they think you'll go
quietly when dissatisfied or compromise when faced with
adversity, you're dead in the water.

In a busy day on a busy job the last thing your guidance
counselor (or anyone else for that matter) wants is a student
who's a wall -- an impenetrable force for what he wants or
needs -- and he certainly doesn't want to have to meet your
parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wall. If he understands that you are
that wall, spawn of those parents, he's not going to push you

That being said, remember this -- not all guidance counselors
are evil. Some of them genuinely want to help you -- you'll
know them in the first few minutes and they'd probably agree
with everything I've said here. If you're lucky enough to meet
a good guy, make him your friend immediately -- it's nice to
have friends on the inside.