Dear Jacob Zimmerman:
Welcome to the world of grown-ups. Welcome to a world that doesn't revolve entirely around YOU and where actions have consequences. Negative actions have negative consequences, even if they hurt your feelings.
When you and 23 of your closest friends chose to vandalize your high school campus, in full view of video cameras (just how DID you get to be in the running to be valedictorian, anyway?), did you not think there might be some fallout? You might consider spray painting school property as a "harmless prank" (quotations marks my own), but did you ever consider that SOMEONE (it ought to be you, truthfully) has to clean up your mess? Did it ever cross your mind that administrators and other officials might not WANT the words "SENIORS 2012" indelibly displayed on signs, streets, and other government property? (Nice choice, by the way, turning your prank into a felony.)
Did you think being class president, maybe-valedictorian, and an honors student taking AP courses would give you immunity from punishment?
And now your feelings are hurt. “It just really hurts. The school board – you’d think they want the best for the kids, but this is the exact opposite,” you said on television. I heard the words come out of your mouth, and I was floored. What do you think WOULD be best for the kids in this case? A slap on the wrist? A pat on the head because the damage wasn't any worse than it was? (Yeah, a cop-killer about 60 miles from you is trying that defense too. He claims he isn't a cop-killer because he had the opportunity to kill even MORE cops, and he didn't. Let's give him an award.)
The quote from you that really got my goat, though, was when you said, "They are ruining my life."
THEY are ruining your life? Where is your personal accountability in this case? Have you even said you're sorry for participating in such a stupid act? (Yeah, yeah, I know, you left when it got out of hand. Great show of leadership.) THEY have put your goal of being valedictorian in jeopardy. (Ya think?
Since you can't even participate in graduation ceremonies?)
THEY are allowing you to finish out your senior year in an alternative school, thereby giving you the opportunity to get your diploma. THEY could have expelled you for the remainder of the year, meaning you wouldn't even get to FINISH your courses.
Personally, I think THEY are teaching you a valuable life lesson. That you can't just commit random acts of vandalism (whether or not there's a "tradition" of such...whatever) and not pay a price. That lawyering up and getting on television in a suit and tie doesn't erase what you have done. That you need to think beyond the next 15 minutes in your life.
I know whereof I speak. I was suspended from high school too, for something equally stupid. A friend and I left school without permission, and we had an accident. Sure, we did it all the time, and sure, everybody else did it too, but because the girl who was driving was foolish enough to pull out in front of another car, we didn't get away with it that time. I remember the principal (whom I neither liked nor respected, but that's beside the point) looking at us and saying that he KNEW everybody did it all the time, but he was going to make an example of us, two honors students. We didn't go get lawyers, we accepted that what we did was wrong and we paid the penalty. Our parents didn't stand by our sides, either. They pinned their arms to their sides to keep from throttling us. We weren't suspended for the rest of the year, but we were suspended for the last two days before prom. And if THEY had wanted to, they could have denied us the right to attend the prom. If they had, it wouldn't have meant THEY had ruined our lives; it would still have meant that we made poor choices, we got caught, and there were consequences to be suffered.
Get off the television and take your medicine. Take your diploma (and be grateful you get it) and get on with the rest of your life. Take this painful lesson (that YOU created, by the way) and use it to become a better person. Learn to take responsibility. Do something good for society instead of focusing on yourself.
And remember that your children will turn into teenagers too. If they make foolish choices and you stand beside them and support them because what they did might have been (in your eyes) "harmless," you're doing them a tremendous disservice.