We used to think of Eden Prairie as a quiet corner of suburbia, aspiring to be what its name implies: An idyllic refuge from the commotion of big-city life. Sure, its tangled freeways can be maddening to outsiders, but we've still viewed it as a tranquil place to live, work and get an education. Until last week.
That's when Eden Prairie High School administrators called a long line of students to the office to discuss compromising photos that had shown up on Facebook.com. Some of the photos appeared to show the students at boozy, underage drinking parties. Forty-two students were interviewed and 13 were disciplined, receiving suspensions from sports and other activities.
The reaction of students called in by authorities -- at least those who spoke to the Star Tribune -- included everything but: "I've done something wrong, and I'll accept the consequences."
Some played the victim. "A lot of kids' lives are going to be ruined as far as scholarships and sports are concerned," complained senior Danny O'Leary, a member of the lacrosse team.
Facebook photos showed him, he said, with a can of Coors beer (helping a friend recycle?), a shot of rum (really apple cider?) and his friend's 40-ounce container of beer -- about the size of a small garbage can. Two of the four photos were taken before he joined the lacrosse team and signed a pledge not to drink, he said.
Why is that not comforting?
Other students spouted rights-talk. "I think it's a huge invasion of privacy," sniffed senior Rachel Kalaidis. This, about the school's reaction to Internet photos proudly posted for all the world to see.
Do they offer any logic classes at EP High?
At the obligatory "walk-out" from the high school on Thursday, protesting students spouted '60s-retread rhetoric. This time it was (literally) sophomoric. Two 10th-grade girls told the Star Tribune they had walked out to stand up for their personal beliefs in the right of free speech.
Sorry, kids, but the right of a teenager to possess a 40-ounce tank of beer is conspicuously absent from the Constitution. And despite what you might learn from television, if you do something wrong, it doesn't become right if you're caught doing it on camera.
So much for the students. What about that critical piece of the puzzle: The parents?
Some were reportedly poised for a trip to the courthouse. Others seemed to buy that tired rite-of-passage line that teenaged drinking is inevitable.
Fortunately, some kids in Eden Prairie seem to have a better grasp of what's going on than some of their elders. They have launched a new Facebook site, claiming that "EPHS students have gone too far."
"It was your choice to be in a situation where you risk your participation in school athletics/programs," reads one entry.
It's time for similar straight talk from Mom and Dad -- say, something like this:
You broke the law, and some of you broke your word. As an athlete, you signed a pledge not to drink or possess alcohol, and to be 'fully responsible' for your actions and their consequences. What is there about this you don't understand?
If you think breaking the law and breaking your promise have no consequences, well, you've learned something.
Don't give me the 'everyone does it' line. That never worked with my mom, and it won't work with the Highway Patrol.
And drop the privacy-rights stuff. There's a camera in every cell phone these days. If you do what is right and don't drink illegally, you'll have nothing to fear from other people's cameras.
Yes, you're 17 years old now, but there's a lot you don't know. The stakes here are higher than losing two weeks with the lacrosse team.
Imagine what would happen to your privacy and life prospects after you've driven off the road, paralyzed yourself or killed a friend. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions, and makes it easier to discard your principles. It can lead you to abuse someone else, or become abused yourself. The consequences could transform your life.
Oh, and about your concern that the school's penalty was too harsh. You'll soon think of that as a Hawaiian vacation compared with going without car keys until the last snow melts this spring in Eden Prairie.