Randi Kreiss

What you do in high school doesn’t stay in high school


If you think what you do in high school doesn’t matter, perhaps the Brett Kavanaugh hearings will change your mind. That is my message to our children and grandchildren.

When my husband and I attended Lawrence High School, from 1961 to 1964, drinking was a big activity. A group of our friends regularly went to a bar in Lawrence and drank themselves silly every weekend night, and sometimes during the week as well. The owner was not rigorous about checking IDs.

We were all underage. My husband still has his “Lawrence H.S. Drinking Team” sweatshirt, one of several that he and some of the guys had made. It was something we joked about through the years because their drinking seemed innocuous; nothing bad ever happened. I realize now that they were just lucky.

The drinkers I knew, mostly boys, went on to solid careers and successful personal lives. Their early drinking seems not to have affected them adversely.

Of course, these examples are anecdotal; they happen to be a group who drank a lot as teenagers and then grew up and beyond their abuse of alcohol. I am not aware that any of the boys was violent or sexually aggressive when under the influence in those days. None of them ever got caught drinking and driving, which they surely did.

I share this story because I am struck by what has not changed: the tacit approval of heavy drinking-until-drunk that is part of the Judge Brett Kavanaugh story. We have to get past this notion that alcohol abuse is a rite of passage in college.

By the time you read this, Kavanaugh’s fate may have been decided. What strikes me about the process is the tendency of the principles involved to write off his heavy drinking in high school and college as “what everyone did.” And with that comes a kind of excuse, that if he was inappropriate, it was because of the beer, not because of any moral failing. The girls were drinking, too, and so their accounts of events 30 years ago are necessarily flawed and subject to skepticism. They sacrificed their own credibility by getting too drunk to remember.

People who drink heavily may do things they would not do otherwise. And they may fall victim to others while impaired. Isn’t it possible to drink if one wants to, but not get drunk, not cede responsibility for one’s own safety? Self-control in drinking, as in other behaviors, should be part of living a healthy life as a teenager.

Kavanaugh apparently did drink in high school and college and law school, and he sometimes drank to excess. What is less clear is what happened when he was drunk. Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of assaulting her when they were both under the influence, seemed genuine. Still, her statements about his alleged sexual offenses back then are fraught with problems because of the compromised condition of the teenage witnesses involved.

As of now, I would not confirm Kavanaugh because there is substantial evidence that he was a heavy drinker, and he has lied about that. A liar has no place on the Supreme Court. Whether or not sexual crimes took place, and with whom and how often, we can never know. But it is sufficient for me that he has been untruthful about his drinking behavior.

Lessons abound in this historical moment. Like my high school buddies, you can drink a lot when you’re under age, and you may get by and get through it with out any lasting effects. But you may also be the unlucky kid who gets into a drunken driver’s car and winds up going through the windshield. Or you may find yourself the victim of a sexual assault . . . or the perpetrator.

When you drink until drunk, you make yourself vulnerable to other people’s bad intentions. You relinquish the ability to defend yourself.

If Kavanaugh had been as sober as a judge as a student, he might not have landed in this mess. What you do in high school apparently doesn’t stay in high school, especially in the era of social media.

Copyright 2018 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.