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High School Confidential : What Are Today's Graduates Concerned About? Not Necessarily World Peace and a Cure for Cancer. A Look Inside the Diaries of the Class of '87.

May 31, 1987| Linden Gross | Linden Gross is special features editor of Los Angeles Times Magazine.

It is far and away the biggest campus in the Los Angeles Unified School District--65 acres spotted with low-slung, sand-colored buildings, a swimming pool and tennis courts. Until 1950, the tract was a quiet veterans hospital. Today it is Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, a cross-section of the city's ethnic and economic diversity.

Lunchtime. Seniors rush to their Mercedeses, Volvos and Rabbits for a dash to nearby fast-food chains. Underclassmen haul cafeteria food to spots staked out by their cliques. Trendy fashions abound. Only a heavy dose of shorts, jeans and sweats relieves the impression of having wandered into a group of misplaced nightclubbers.

Two decades ago, Birmingham drew mostly from Van Nuys and Encino. Today, a third of its 3,000 students are bused in from outside the San Fernando Valley--about 400 through the voluntary integration program, the rest from overcrowded schools. About a third are Latino, a 10th black. One face in every 16 is Asian. What else has changed? To find out, the Magazine asked a group of Birmingham seniors to keep personal journals through the past school year.

The issues of their parents' school years--busing, the draft, the environment--have given way to concerns about suicide, drugs and AIDS. Still, as these excerpts show, the age-old trials of relationships, identity and acceptance concern students most.

ISSUES AT HAND

I spot a friend three aisles down. The teacher is not looking so I commando my way down to him. I sit next to him and we join the rest of the auditorium in yet another side conversation. A spokesman for the anti-drug program starts talking about drugs and their effect. He cracks a few jokes and about 50% of the audience laughs. He tells us about his family members who have OD'd on drugs and how that affected him. He cracks a few more jokes. It gets to the point that I'm hearing joke after joke. I think to myself, "What is this? Who is this guy, Richard Pryor or something? This is serious stuff here, guy."

The man turns the program over to a student. I freeze as I see a familiar face speak about his problem, how he started, how he felt, how he's quitting. He said he's been sober for two months. My mind wanders off again. I remember back in eighth and ninth grade. How some of the kids used to smoke dope, and the girl who had vodka and whiskey in her locker. One of my closest friends got kicked out of school for pot. But most shocking was when he came up to me at nutrition one day to show off his latest discovery: coke. It was in a little bottle. He told me to taste it and I told him to get lost. Then another friend came up and started arguing about the purity of the coke and whether it was real or not. He said he'd know if it was real if he had some. At that point I decided I didn't want to hang around those guys again.

I met up with them a while ago. They're still druggies and dropouts. I'm glad I didn't fall into the same trap they did.

--KHASHY DOWLATSHAHI

Talk about gall. Ever since the IMPACT program on our campus, Birmingham has been obsessed with anti-drug groups. Well this time they really picked a winner.

Today this group gets on stage and starts "rapping" about how "drugs are for thugs" and how we should say no. I recognized one of them. He used to go with one of my friends. But what the fool neglected to tell the audience was how he sells drugs right on some of their streets, to some of their friends, or to some poor kid who may try "the rock" for the first and last time.

--TINA WALKER

I found out that a young girl at my school died. She was driving in a car with her boyfriend after a party. She was going to be 16. She didn't even have a chance to spread her wings. I'm just getting to do that. What really upsets me is that this drunk driver who killed her will probably get off with a fine.

--RICHARD LAURENCE

I started going out with this athlete. It was really neat at first, being in a new school, having someone to walk me to class and carry my books. Then he stopped trying to impress me. Sometimes he wouldn't wait for me after my classes and I'd wonder where he was. He'd never tell me. I just figured he was ditching--everyone ditches, even me. Then one day, when I saw him coming in late, I walked over to see where he'd been. He just kissed me, and suddenly I figured it out. He had the strongest aroma of liquor on his breath. It turns out that he'd ditch a couple of classes every day, as early as first period, to go get drunk.

The whole situation put me in shock. I want to help him out. Except, how?

--MARCY KNOPF

Knopf transferred to Grant High during the year.

I'm one of the Birmingham representatives at Camp Hess Kramer, a three-day weekend in Malibu designed to get students to come to terms with racism and sexism in today's society.

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