Amy’s note: There are several things I really liked about this scene and hated to cut, such as the fact that it shows how unconcerned the rest of Allie’s community, let alone country, seemed to be with the new system. I also like that it illustrates how alone she is, and it shows her desire to speak out when no one else will, and you get to see how while she’s an adult, she’s reprimanded like a child (though it pains me even now to read it). I hated to cut this since these are all major themes and issues the series attempts to address, but Allie’s rant is much more in your face than I like, so in the end I think it’s a good cut. This scene begins as Allie and her family pull into the parking lot of the new Academie facility for Matthew’s orientation.
The place was packed. It was a really good thing someone had thought ahead enough to realize that it would be a madhouse today. Because of this, they had traffic cops out directing people which way to go, along with large, professional-looking signs posted throughout the area to be sure you were headed the right way. And just to be sure you didn’t go in through the wrong door, they even set up orange barrels and barricades along the areas that were not to be used. Part of what made it so crazy was the fact that there was really only one way into and back out of the facility. Thus, a long line of cars formed both entering and leaving the institution.
We found the parking area and headed inside, continuing to follow the signs until we reached the gymnasium. Here the bleachers were pulled out, as if preparing for a game, but the floor was lined with row after row of folding chairs and a place was set up at one end with a podium draped in The Academie logo. I found the symbol rather gaudy myself—red, white, and blue of course, with a little too much gold surrounding an eagle soaring menacingly over a book. There appeared to be words written around surrounding the emblem, but from where I was sitting I couldn’t make out any of it.
We took a seat at the top of the bleachers to the left of the podium, far enough back that I doubted I’d see much of anything. It appeared as though they were to begin the orientation as soon as they ushered everyone in and got them seated. I decided that it was a good thing that they didn’t have the students bring much with them after all, since Matthew was forced to sit with his bag.
After a few minutes, a woman dressed in pink business suit approached the podium. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you Col. Robert Gray, Ph.D., president of Academie facility #214.” She articulated herself perfectly, as if she had practiced this single announcement a hundred times before delivering it. She smiled and looked in his direction as she said his name.
A man of medium stature, dimpled skin, and graying hair approached the podium. I was surprised to see that unlike the majority of our society, he was not overweight, though I certainly could not claim that he looked healthy.
“Welcome,” he began with a smile that seemed to reach from ear to ear. Apparently, he was very pleased with how things were going so far. “Parents and students—future leaders of our country: after a year of planning, strategizing, coordinating, meeting, and organizing, followed by months of building, changing, and growing in preparation for this new system of education in our country, it is exciting for me to finally see you here. I am proud to welcome you to this facility and I am inspired to see the future leaders of our country sitting here with us today. What we are embarking on here is an adventure…”
I couldn’t help but look at Matthew. His eyes were glued on the speaker, taking in every word. He seemed truly excited by the future that lay ahead of him here. Maybe he felt The Academie would challenge him in the ways he needed or that they would give him the opportunities he longed for to become the person he knew he could be? The idea of being immersed in education excited him, so that even the idea that he would hardly be able to come home for the next few years seemed to him a worthwhile sacrifice. “I’ll have the whole rest of my life,” he would say.
As I listened to the president of the facility and saw the gleam in Matthew’s eyes, I wondered if perhaps it was me that was wrong after all. Perhaps despite the fact that I so often talked of the need for change, maybe when it comes down to it, change is simply something I can’t handle after all?
“I know that you have a lot of questions,” I heard the dimpled man say as my mind snapped back into focus, “and I hope to answer many of these during our short time here together. First, let me remind you that you should have received the packet of information in the mail a few months back. Many of the answers you seek should be found there, so be sure to read over the information thoroughly if you have not already.”
Yeah, yeah. I’ve seen that information and looked it over a hundred times. Mostly it appeared to be propaganda. The only real information I saw was that about how the students would live on campus –in an atmosphere they claimed to be ‘college-like’ but I had questioned that all along. The idea that they could change my former high school into anything that resembled a college campus seemed like way too much of a stretch for me.
“Many have asked about supplies for your children. All the things they will need both for their education and their day to day personal and health needs will be provided by The Academie program. The only exception is prescribed medications and anything beyond routine healthcare. This is why you were asked to fill out such a lengthy medical history, which you should have brought with you today. These medications and services will be provided to your children, but because they are above and beyond our regular program expenses, you will be billed for these services.”
I looked at my parents and saw that they appeared to let out a collective sigh of relief that Matthew kept himself in good health.
“Therefore, your child should have brought with them today, only a small bag of personal artifacts. This is all that they will be permitted, so if they have brought more than this with them, you will need to sort through it, re-pack, and take home with you anything that is extra. There was a rustle of bodies as people began to sort through their bags.
“Another question that I know many of you have,” the speaker raised his voice above the rustle, “is regarding visits. We realize that seeing your children is important to you. However, the way that The Academie system is set up, it will only be truly effective if these visits are kept to a minimum. Thus, only immediate family members will be permitted to visit students, and these visits must be arranged in advance. If visits become too frequent and appear to detract from the student’s education, then you may be denied future visits until a reasonable amount of time has passed.”
Oh good god, give me a break. I was right, this was prison. I wonder if when we visit, they would bring Matthew out to us in shackles as well.
“Additionally, we would like to discourage you from removing your child from the facility for any reason.”
Ah yes, there were the shackles. I knew they were coming. Maybe I wasn’t so far off in questioning how good The Academie could be for Matthew—or anyone—after all?
“Now, I understand that this means sacrifice on all our parts. No one knows this better than I, since my twelve-year-old daughter, Jenna, is also an Academie as of today. Therefore, Jenna will not be home with us—even for holidays—until she graduates six years from now.”
I expected to hear the sound of dissention at these words. But the audience was surprisingly quiet.
“But people, six years is not a long time. Think of how fast this time goes by. And soon enough, we will have them back with us for many, many years to come. And they will be better people because of it. And we will be a better society because of them. This is our opportunity to let them go, to let them become better people, and let our country become a better nation.”
And that’s when I tuned out completely. I just couldn’t continue to listen anymore, after hearing him try to justify why he can give up on raising his daughter and miss out on all that she was going to experience over the next six years. I suppose that when she graduated, if she had indeed become a good person, that he would take credit for that too. Not since he raised her, but because he had given her to The Academie.
It was all such a load of crap. So I tuned it out. Besides, he seemed incapable of answering the really important questions I had, such as how it was that I was going to get along without my brother for the next couple years, or how that will impact our relationship long-term. I mean, really, after being gone from our lives for the next two years, was he really going to graduate and just jump back in again as if no time had passed? Let’s not be ridiculous. He’ll grow up and move on—move apart—and I suppose that the rest of us will too. And I hated every bit of it.
That’s when I glanced to Andrew and began to imagine all the things we were going to need to do together over the next couple years—before I lost him as well. He sat, quietly drawing pictures, apparently oblivious to the future that awaited him. Again, the tears began to well up in my eyes. I vowed to myself right then to spend as much time with him as I possibly could.
I turned to my mother and saw that she appeared to be putting on a brave face as well. My father seemed fairly convinced that The Academie was a rock solid program, one that would protect teenagers—from themselves and from each other—and protect the rest of us from them as well, but my mother seemed more torn on the issue. On one hand she was fully convinced that my dad and The Academie officials were right. On the other, I don’t think she was really prepared to let her son go for the next two years. This she never said, but I could see in her eyes and general demeanor, especially in the last few days. I’d catch her off guard sometimes, and notice a stray tear or her face slightly blushed. Or when her back was to me I’d hear her voice squeak just a bit and I could tell she had been crying. Even so, she seemed more in favor of The Academie than against it, and I never heard her speak a word against it.
As I sat waiting for the man’s rambling to end, I glanced around at the others that filled the auditorium. Our community was large, so the high school was of a considerable size. I had graduated with about 400 others, and Matthew’s class was even larger. Thus, despite the fact that the room was filled with only 16-year-olds and their parents, it was quite packed.
I looked from face to face, wondering what they were all thinking and feeling at this moment. And that’s when the anger began to erupt within me because I saw that no one looked concerned. Rather, much like Matthew, each of them seemed to be fully engaged in what the speaker had to say. He was dishing it out, and they were letting him spoon-feed them whatever crap he wanted to. They were eating it up.
When the time came where Colonel Gray opened up for the floor for questions from parents and students, I thought that I might burst. Here was their chance to ask him what the hell the government thought they were doing setting up such a messed up system. Here was their opportunity to tell him and everyone else how ridiculous this all was and how there is absolutely no way that they were going to sit by and let them take their child away from them for so long.
Each time a hand was raised, my hope was renewed. Surely, this one would tell him off. Certainly this one would call him on out on this ridiculous charade. But each time, they asked another stupid question—something absurd—like “What about bedtimes?”
Did no one care that they weren’t going to see their children again for years? They just told you that they don’t want you visiting and you can’t take them home again without a really good reason—and then only for a very short while—or they’ll come and take them back and hold you legally responsible for impeding your child’s education—didn’t that bother anyone?
As they continued to ask their stupid questions and ignore what I believed to be the glaring ones, my outrage reached the point of explosion. I stood up and raised my hand high in the air. If they weren’t going to say something, I was.
And that’s when I felt a giant arm plunge me back down onto the bleacher. It was my father, and he was glaring at me like I’ve never seen him do before. He had that “what the hell are you thinking?” look combined with “I can’t believe you” and “you’re going to get it when we get out of here.” I tried to make sense of what would cause him to be so upset with me, but to no avail. Didn’t he want answers?
Through the rest of the question and answer period I pouted with wounded pride at the embarrassment of being publicly disciplined at such an un-disciplinable age. When was he ever going to stop treating me like a child? And now how was I going to get answers—let alone tell off the idiots running our country?