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The two boys — Eric and Curt — grew up together, dreamers on a dead-end street. Overweight and unathletic, they shied away from rough sports and played with GJ. Joes in their back yards, preferring to conduct their wars in miniature. Down the block was a clan of tough kids, and on many afternoons one of the boys would have to fight his way home from school. For all their similarities, however, there is one big difference between Eric Stone and Curt Hersey.

One survived high school. The other did not. He could circulate in rival cliques; he did not drink, use drugs or condone casual sex. In June, he graduated from Walton and prepared to enroll in Berry College.

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Eric was neither so fortunate, so smart or so strong-willed. He let his kinky blond hair bloom into an enormous frizzball and grew conspicuous for his red eyes and wasted grin. Eric Stoned, the kids called him. Never much of a student, he flunked 10th grade and dropped out of school altogether in May By that time, he had been introduced to the chemical pyrotechnics of LSD and would spend his weekends watching the shapes change on his TV and dinosaurs rise out of the earth.

Not long after he dropped out, his parents expelled him from their home, and he took to living in the woods or breaking into churches and sleeping on the pews. This is the story of how two teen-agers with such similar beginnings can come to such different ends. It is the story of Eric Stone and Curt Hersey and the millions of other adolescents stewing in the unforgiving melting pot of American high schools. It is the story of the opportunities available to stop the slide of kids like Eric and how those opportunities are too often squandered.

It is the story of how parents can alert themselves to the intangibles separating the winners from the losers.

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It is the story of surviving high school. High School. No other American institution is balanced so uneasily between the extremes of promise and perdition, dream and nightmare. For decades parents blithely accepted the notion that children entering the ninth grade were embarking on the best years of their lives, and the ears of sullen teen-agers rang with admonitions to enjoy these precious moments while they had the chance. Lately, with the news media rife with stories of teen-age suicide and malfeasance, the circle has broken, and parents worry that their charges are straying into gardens of corruption, vales of terror and tears.

The reality, of course, encompasses both extremes and obeys neither. High school, by definition, is a time of turmoil and transformation. It is a rite of initiation, and very few who participate in its mysteries emerge unchanged or unscathed.

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With their hormones in riot and the cherished purity of childhood receding like a dream, high-school students find themselves called upon to establish a stronghold in the precarious gap between innocence and experience. For a period of four years, their lives are defined and dominated by stark polarities: rebellion and obedience; anger and docility; individuality and conformity; idealism and cruelty; the desire to experiment and the need for safety.

Although not a therapeutic setting, high school asks that a wild child exhibit self-control, that a passive child speak out, that a muddled child resolve his contradictions. Should the child succeed, he or she earns the right to be judged as an adult and to be held able by adult standards and laws. It is an uncertain reward: the dawning of adulthood in a process as traumatic as childbirth. There are, however, no Lamaze classes for the parents of teen-agers, and while infants come into the world howling and desperate with need, adolescents pass through high school silent and wary and as secretive as Masons.

They have their own clothes, customs, language, food, music and handshakes; they close their bedroom doors; they are the Mad Hatters of their own Wonderland, and they are at pains to reduce their parents to uncomprehending Alices. Unfortunately, many parents respond to secrecy with withdrawal and to rejection with retreat. They inevitably discover they are sadly, even tragically, mistaken. Indeed, the intricacies of adolescence test the skills of the parent — and require parenting — as thoroughly as the first days of infancy.

Suddenly the parent walks a tightrope that punishes both arrogance and indecision. Suddenly art works better than science, and mother and father must re-examine the shifting lines of their dominion: Should rebellion be crushed or encouraged?

Should experimentation be treated or tolerated? That glum face, that failing grade — is it depression or self-pity, disability or simple disinclination? In the absence of ready answers, parents must rely on instinct; in the absence of unerring instinct, they must seek education. There might be someone who knows more about algebra and trigonometry, but no one knows more about my. For years, such attitudes bolstered the invisible boundaries of the American family and rallied the troops in times of crisis.

It is not a novel complaint. In light of the realities facing the class ofhowever, parental ignorance no longer seems cute or cartoonish or even a matter of hip vs. For some families it is a matter of life vs. Allover Atlanta there are drug-treatment centers populated by kids who cut classes, committed crimes, ran away from home, slept on the floors of roide rest rooms and were never asked if they were using drugs. There is the drinking condoned until the car wreck and the unnoticed depression that mounts into suicide. Such lapses in parental vigilance may be forgiven, if not totally excused.

From the blur of statistics and the bray of the media, there often spring weariness and reation, a learned helplessness in the face of trends that are seemingly beyond individual control. Fortunately, this country has not suffered its upheavals entirely in vain, has not struggled with drugs, suicide and the dissolution of the family completely immune to insight. It is a democratic profile. The child is neither rich nor poor.

The child does not have to be scruffy, rowdy, slow or criminal. The child is simply one of the 20 percent of the American population somehow disposed — by genetics, family history or environment — to abuse food, alcohol, drugs or sex.

According to experts, parents have recourse to only one reliable mechanism, and that is education. Today educating about drugs and alcohol means undertaking a clear-eyed and coldhearted assessment of risk. Does chemical dependence run in the family? Does the child exhibit emotional dependence, a fondness for medication, a bottomless self-image? If so, the child should know that he may be carrying a sometimes terminal disease — the disease that justifies the existence of all those hospitals and treatment centers ringing Atlanta, the disease that spared Curt Hersey and Otterburn student wanted for older daddy killed Eric Stone.

Eric Stone is clean now. In the manner prescribed by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, he hit bottom, sought treatment, bounced back. He wears a blue tie smudged with grease, blue slacks, Otterburn student wanted for older daddy motorcycle boots; in his shirt pocket he keeps a pack of unfiltered Pall Malls.

He is a big, friendly kid with thick chapped lips and wavy blond hair cut to suburban standards. Eric blames himself for his problems. Nothing could have stopped him, he says; he hated school, loved getting stoned, and that was that. For him to heal, he had to hit bottom, had to face death.

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No other way. At the hospital, he learned that once the process of addiction is started, it tends to move in a predictable and circumscribed direction: down. But perhaps Eric was not completely responsible for all that has happened to him. From the moment he first hit the halls of Walton, Eric Stone was a walking inventory of susceptibility, the quintessential adolescent at risk. He was adopted. He was slightly dyslexic and had spent most of his school days struggling with his disability. He did not get along with his adopted parents. He cut out of the house at night.

He thought of himself as a nobody. In short, he was ready to fall through the cracks. Falling through the cracks. The kids use it — so do the teachers, counselors and administrators — to describe what happens to the loners, druggies, dropouts and suicides. Created in to receive the overflow of students in surging East Cobb, Walton High School might have been deed to facilitate psychological free-falls.

It is huge — around 2, kids in four grades. It is affluent — not a single student lives in an apartment, according to school officials. It is academically oriented — 90 percent of the kids go to college. Unfortunately, every photo has its negative, and every gilded surface its underside.

Newcomers often do not find Walton — like other affluent suburban high schools — an easy place in which to thrive. Neither, for that matter, do the legions of kids who are not particularly handsome, pretty, smart, rich, talented, athletic, witty or outspoken — the kids at the dead center of the bell curve.

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For these students high school can become a struggle for self-definition, conducted in a society as harsh and vast and unyielding as any conjured up by the naturalistic novelists of the 19th century. Catherine Blusiewicz, an adolescent psychologist in DeKalb County. Touring the halls of Walton High School, it is difficult not to be impressed by the sheer size of the students, by their physical beauty, by their flair and style.

Interviews reveal their sophistication and incredible media savvy. But most startling is their awesome capability to categorize their comrades. These kids keep mental dossiers. Like employees at a large corporation, they can provide rapid-fire job descriptions of anyone within shouting distance.

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Eulogy, Dr Alan Reece