It was a cold mid-afternoon in January as snow fell upon the urban American city of Cascade. The sky was cloudy and dark, telltale signs that a storm was brewing. Nestled amongst this threatening atmosphere was Western Heights High School. Built in the early 90’s, the new institution quickly gained recognition for its academically-inclined programs. Today, an unexpected message interrupted the classes at Western Heights.
“Will all teachers of the senior level please immediately guide their class to the auditorium? That’s all senior classes to the auditorium. Thank you.” A loud click echoed after the word “you,” indicating the principal, Mr. Russell, switched off the PA system.
“I wonder what this is all about,” Jeannie whispered to Lila and Pamela. Her words were cut off, however, as their teacher, Mrs. Davenport requested the students to follow her to the auditorium.
“What did you say?” Lila inquired of Jeannie as she got up from the seat and began walking towards the door.
“I wonder what the assembly is about,” Jeannie repeated herself.
“It’s probably an award ceremony to honor my latest article in the school’s newspaper,” Pamela wistfully said. Ever since Pamela’s article on the school’s dress code ran on the front page of Western Heights’ Daily News, it was all she could think about.
“I’m sure that’s the purpose of the assembly,” Jeannie replied, rolling her eyes.
As the three friends walked down the hall and quietly chatted, they looked like they had been best friends forever. Those who made this presumption were absolutely right.
Each girl looked very different from the other. Short and a little bit overweight, Pamela Mitchell had medium length brown curly hair and sparkling blue eyes. She could usually be seen wearing an Indy rock band t-shirt and a comfortable pair of jeans. Being a strong liberalist, she strived to change the world a little bit at a time through her non-fiction writing.
Lila Ford wasn’t as concerned about world issues as Pamela. She preferred to spend her free time taking pictures of landscapes and animals. Lila was an avid outdoorswoman who claimed she was the happiest when surrounded by wilderness with nothing but a 35 millimeter camera in her hands and friends by her side. Lila was constantly being told how pretty she was, a comment which annoyed her fiercely. She said it was pointless for a photographer to be beautiful, since photographers only cared about what was in front of the lens. Lila stood tall at five foot eight; she was well built from all the exercise she got while searching for photographic images in the woods. However, it was Lila’s long red hair and piercing green eyes which were her best features.
Jeannie Dallas was in between Pamela and Lila’s height. She had short blonde hair, hazel eyes and a dimple in her right check that appeared every time she smiled. Unlike Pamela and Lila, she didn’t have a passion that she pursued with a fury. Jeannie liked most things and didn’t believe that one must have an innate desire for something to be happy.
Since Pamela, Lila, and Jeannie seemed so different, many of their classmates wondered why they shared such a strong bond. Their friendship was based upon a sincere liking for each other and the history they shared.
During their first days at Western Heights Junior High, Pamela, Lila, and Jeannie met under unusual circumstances. The school’s organized outing to a local amusement park, for the day, led them to a rollercoaster that promised to be the fastest, scariest, and wildest rollercoaster one had ever been on. Fate, as Pamela liked to define it, made them line up one after the other and brought them to sit in the same rollercoaster compartment. It was in the spinning, diving, and jerky rollercoaster where Jeannie threw up on Pamela’s lap and, in a subsequent action, Pamela and Lila bumped heads. After their classmates heard about the mortifying incident, they were subjected to social mockery for a week. In that isolated week, Pamela, Lila, and Jeannie turned to each other for support and friendship. They found this in one another and held onto it ever since.
With only a quarter of the auditorium’s seats occupied, Mrs. Davenport’s class filed in. Pamela, Lila, and Jeannie had no trouble finding seats together as the principal, Mr. Russell, began to talk.
“I’m sure that you are all curious as to why you’re here. I have gathered all the seniors together to discuss a very important matter. This matter relates to the process of applying to colleges and universities. I don’t mean to sound condescending, but for those of you who haven’t noticed, we are already halfway into the school year. It’s time that you all began to think about where you’d like to go next fall. I was once a student myself so I understand the confusion and panic some of you may be feeling. To help ease these unnecessary emotions, our dedicated guidance counselors helped me create a vocation test.”
“Did he just say we’re going to do a vacation test?” Jeannie asked in confusion. “What in the world is a vacation test?”
“Not a vacation test,” Pamela replied. “He said a vocation test. It’s some sort of quiz to determine what we’re good at. It tells us what career path we should take.”
Lila loudly snorted, causing Pamela and Jeannie to turn their attention toward her. “Mr. Russell must be joking,” she commented, with a hint of snootiness. “I already know what I want to be. I’d never let a piece of paper tell me differently.”
“I agree with you,” Pamela added. “Tests like these place people into stereotypical groups based on a few inane questions. The presence of tests like these is as much a nuisance to society as the presence of peer pressure. Perhaps it’s even worse than peer pressure, since many people foolishly believe people in authority know something they don’t. Tests like these can be blamed for lack of personal achievement and the inevitable onset of depression. The government and school systems say vocational tests better our society by inspiring students to gain employment. That reasoning is just plain wrong! It leads students to believe something because someone else in power says so. It kills all creativity.”
“Okay, Pamela,” a wide-eyed Jeannie urged. “We get your point. Now would you mind turning the volume on your mouth down? People are starting to stare.” Jeannie didn’t really care people were looking at them. She was used to it since Pamela usually had a political or social opinion outburst every week. She was annoyed, however, at Pamela’s and Lila’s insensitivity. She was unsure about her future career plans. Jeannie thought they could at least consider that she might be interested in writing the vocation test.
How ungrateful, Mr. Russell thought as he handed each teacher a small box containing several vocation tests. He was upset that the students hadn’t made more of a fuss over the test, which he thought to be brilliantly written. Mr. Russell spent many hours applying fun situations to the standard, boring questions that the guidance counselors had provided him with.
The teachers and their students went back to their classrooms. When everyone was settled down, Mrs. Davenport handed a vocation test to every student, including Pamela.
“No thank you,” she haughtily replied. “I’ve already chosen my career.”
Mrs. Davenport ignored Pamela’s protest as she tossed a test on her desk.
“A lack of substantial education and a test that belittles individuality,” Jeannie heard Pamela whisper to Lila. “What is the world coming to?”
Jeannie ignored her friend’s words as she began reading the vocation test questions.
Question number one: You just arrived at the mall with your friends. They agree to let you pick the first store to visit. You choose:
A) A clothing store
B) A pet store
C) A music or game store
D) A craft store
E) A book store
Jeannie bit her lip while she concentrated on the question. She finally chose answer “A.”
Question number two: When an event occurs in your life that makes you mad you:
A) Go shopping or concentrate on a fun, upcoming event and plan what you will wear.
B) Focus on other people’s problems and try to help them. You know thinking about yourself all the time isn’t good for your mental health.
C) Close your bedroom door and turn up the music or play a video game. Within a few minutes of engaging in the chosen activity, you have completely forgotten about your problem.
D) Make something. Make anything. If you’re not literally building something now you’re planning for it. You’ll do anything creative because it helps to take your mind off the unpleasant event.
E) Read. There is no better way to escape reality than through a good book.
Answer B suited Jeannie.
Question number three: You would describe yourself as:
A) Being a sociable person
B) Someone who is very sympathetic and caring toward others
C) Someone who likes to create new things from existing technology
D) Someone who likes to think outside the box
E) An intellectual who loves to expand his/her knowledge
The best answer was B, again, in Jeannie’s opinion.
Question number four: You must pick one more course to complete your timetable. You choose:
A) A social science course
E) A course on literature
“A,” definitely A, she decided.
Question number five: If a friend has a problem, they would count on you to:
A) Offer insight which he/she may have overlooked
B) Be a shoulder to cry on
C) Allow him/her to forget about the problem by engaging in a fun activity requiring a lot of concentration
D) Help him/her figure out a detailed plan to fix the problem
E) Compare the situation to a problem faced by a literary character and then suggest he/she do what the character did
Another B, she thought while circling her answer. Jeannie anxiously flipped to the last page where a description of the answers was offered.
If you chose mainly A’s you are very people-orientated. You would be good at the following jobs: social worker, retail, fashion consultant, secretary.
If you chose mainly B’s you express an interest in, and understanding of, the sciences. You would be good at the following jobs: veterinarian, doctor, dentist.
If you chose mainly C’s you are creative in different media. You would be good at the following jobs: arts management, musician, video game designer/tester.
If you chose mainly D’s you often have unique ideas. You would be good at the following jobs: entrepreneur, manager.
If you chose mainly E’s you love the written word. You would be good at the following jobs: author, editor, English teacher, journalist, librarian.
Jeannie picked mainly B’s and was extremely upset by the vocation test’s answer. She hadn’t taken any high school courses to prepare her for such careers. Positive she didn’t want to spend her whole life studying, Jeannie carelessly tossed the vocation test into her backpack.
A bell rang, signaling the end of the school day. Chairs scraped noisily against the hard floors as the students hurried to leave.
“You look upset, Jeannie,” Lila noted as she slipped her blue and green backpack over her shoulder. “Is everything all right?”
“I guess so,” Jeannie unhappily replied.
“You don’t look fine,” Pamela pointed out as they walked down the hall and toward their lockers.
“I guess I am a little bit upset,” Jeannie confessed as she opened her locker and pulled out her jacket. “I know you both think vocation tests are stupid but I’m really confused about what I’ll do next year. I feel like I have to make a decision soon.”
Pamela bit her tongue. She desperately wanted to point out how self-destructive vocation tests could be. Instead, Pamela offered Jeannie a comforting smile. “A lot of people don’t know what they want to do.”
“You two do,” Jeannie bitterly said, shutting her locker.
“I just discovered my love for photography two years ago,” Lila stated. “You’ll find your true passion one day soon.”
The three friends continued walking down the hall and talking about what they were going to do that night.
Lila said she was going to attach her favorite photographs onto thin, black canvases she’d recently bought.
Pamela told Lila and Jeannie she was going to compile her latest research and form it into an article.
“Jeannie,” Pamela inquired when her friend failed to speak. “Earth to Jeannie.”
“What is it?” Jeannie replied distractedly.
“I would know that daze anywhere,” Lila said with a laugh. “It’s the I’m-in-love-with Doug Kenningson daze.”
Jeannie watched as the tall boy with brown hair and blue eyes cast a glance in her direction before continuing down the hall.
“Did you see that?” Jeannie whispered with heightening excitement. “Doug checked me out!”
“Sure he did,” Pamela said with a playful laugh.
“He did,” Jeannie insisted angrily.
“I wasn’t looking, sorry,” Lila added.
Pamela suddenly realized Doug was a touchy topic for her smitten friend. “I’m just kidding,” she said apologetically.
“Doug definitely looked in my direction,” Jeannie continued to argue.
“I believe you,” Pamela said, raising her hands in defeat. “I wasn’t looking at him either so what would I know?”
“How can you guys not look at Doug?” Jeannie gushed. “He has the body of a professional athlete. I’ve also heard he has a heart of gold. Did you guys know Doug donated the most items for the Children’s Hospital toy drive? He’s just so wonderful!”
“I’m not into the athletic type. They’re all too clichéd.”
“Surely Lila agrees with me, right?” Jeannie asked hopefully.
“There’s nothing wrong with Doug,” Lila admitted. “And I do like his charitable nature.”
“See, I’m not the only one who thinks Doug Kenningson is hot!”
“I didn’t say that,” Lila objected, a bit embarrassed by Jeannie’s loud tone of voice.
“Whatever, Lila,” Jeannie said with a high pitched giggle. “You’d better not steal him away from me though!”
“There’s no chance of that happening,” Lila replied truthfully. “I’m far too concerned about my photography right now.”
Jeannie felt her smile fade. Lila’s mention of photography made her think about her own career, or more specifically, her lack of one.