FREDERICK, MD–Brian "Bri" Moeller, 17, poised to graduate from Frederick West High School next month, reflected on what a long, strange trip it's been Monday while signing his fellow seniors' yearbooks.
"Looking back, I can't believe how naïve I was when I first arrived here as a freshman, so many untold epochs ago, with no real understanding of what the world was like," said Moeller, pausing to take a long, contemplative sip from his Capri Sun juice pack. "Man, my eyes have been opened since then, let me tell you."
Attempting to capture the essence of his journey from freshman-year innocence to senior-year wisdom and worldliness, Moeller signed his friends' yearbooks with the phrase, "What a long strange trip it's been," a line from the song "Truckin'" by The Grateful Dead–a band he was not even aware of four years ago, but whose greatest-hits album he now owns.
"As a younger man, I'd heard those words but never truly understood them," Moeller said. "Now, after all I've seen and done, they resonate deeply within me."
Drawing a "Steal Your Face" logo on the signature page of classmate Aaron Aberg's yearbook, Moeller added: "Those innocent years of the Z-108 'Friday Top Five At Five' countdown–back in, what, '97? '98?–they're so far behind me now."
Gathered with friends on a bench near the spot where the bus driver used to pick them up after school, back in the days before they had driver's licenses, Moeller and his friends reflected on how far they'd come.
"The cafeteria–can you believe we actually used to eat lunch there?" said Michelle Benson, 17. "God, I feel so bad for all the little freshmen and sophomores too young to drive to Stella's [Pizza]."
"Remember how everybody thought Janelle was going to be B.F.F. [Best Friends Forever] with Andrea, but she ended up being B.F.F. with Stephanie instead?" Renee Marks chimed in. "We were so young back then… so foolish and young."
His face growing pensive, Moeller mused on some of the many experiences he and his friends shared during their years at West, including that time they endured two whole hours with no electricity when the school's power went out; the time the school janitor lost his temper and yelled, exposing them to the harsh realities of working-class existence; and the time they confronted, head-on, the disturbing truths of modern urban life during a class trip to Chicago to see a touring production of Rent.
"I'll never forget my long talks with Gina, the foreign-exchange student, junior year," said Brett Kogan, Moeller's best friend. "I learned so much from her. Up until then, I'd never realized there were no Hardee's in Italy."
"Of course, we're older and wiser now," said Moeller, wistfully touching the Dave Matthews Band patch he placed on his bookbag last year. "After that crazy weekend at Matt's dad's cabin last fall, I doubt anything could faze me."
Though the years offered more than their share of good times, Moeller noted that it was not always wine and roses. There was the time he left his term paper in the breakfast nook and had to call his mother to have her drop it off at school, mere hours before it was due. There were those long student-council meetings that were "a living hell." And there was the hard-earned lesson gained from the time he went to Jeff Rossum's party instead of studying for the following day's algebra midterm and wound up flunking the test.
"At the time, that really seemed like the end of the world," Moeller told Julie Duchamp, with whom he bonded during Mr. Kannenberg's second-period algebra class, becoming "so unbelievably close" in the process. "But now, after coming through the other side, I know that whatever doesn't kill me only makes me stronger."
Moeller said he cannot believe how much happened during his long and storied time at West.
"After graduating from eighth grade, I was thinking, 'Okay, I'm in high school now,'" Moeller said. "I thought I knew everything there was to know. But I was wrong, so wrong. Over the last eight semesters, I've seen it all: Kristin and Justin's soul-shattering breakup, the tragic futility of drunk driving portrayed at that one school assembly with the gruesome slide show, the true bonds that form among brothers in arms as they face unthinkable odds at State Debate."
"Four years ago, I was but a boy. But now, I am a man," Moeller said. "It's a sad and beautiful world." He then went home to eat Fruit Roll-Ups in the den while watching MTV.