DALTON >> Of all the new words, terms, and phrases that have come into my conscious mind in the recent past, "gap year" puzzles me more than most. I know that a gap is an interval or space. The London Underground is famous for its "Mind the Gap" signs, warning passengers to step carefully over the space between the platform and the subway car. Is the gap year dangerous as well?

Back in the beforetime, when I graduated from high school, it was a privilege to be able to continue schooling in some post-graduate type of training. Berkshire Community College had just opened its doors to a new two-year school where students could enroll in college courses and still live at home, a definite financial bonus for many working class families whose children were the first to consider college.

There was also Berkshire Business College where secretarial skills were taught. I attended a college typing course there the summer after high school, and that investment paid big dividends when it came to preparing college essays and term papers. It also brought in extra income when I hired out to type papers for students who had neither the skill nor a handsome Smith-Corona portable electric typewriter.

In the following generation, when my sons graduated from high school, there were also two options: go to college or get a job. It may not have been a simple choice, but there was no 12-month time-out in which to make this kind of decision.


Of course there were people who had to take time between high school and college or between semesters because they had to earn the money for school; but college loans were widely available for those who could qualify.

So what exactly is a "gap year"? Is it taking a year off from formal schooling? So many families push their kids from infancy into preschool programs and organized sports or any activity which will help get them into a premier institution of higher learning. Is it all this pressure which causes the kids who finally accomplish that goal to defer their acceptance for a year?

What happens when the young persons who have lived such a structured life jump off the treadmill of their existence? Is the gap year structured too? How and by whom?

I think we golden oldies all know that we've learned much more useful information outside of the classroom than in it. Is the gap year about learning to make one's own decisions — and mistakes — or is it an escape from making decisions? There is no interval in life; days go by, parents age, friends go on with their own lives, and no one gets that gap time back.

Growing up means taking responsibility for your own life — making career choices, social choices, and working to pay your own bills. Sometimes it means being responsible for someone else, and there is no greater measure of maturity than putting someone else's needs before your own.

Is a gap year free from responsibilities or a year to travel? Who pays the bills during this interval? I can't imagine a gap year in my own life, so I wonder how it affects those who do choose to take one. How is life different after it's over?

The title of the Broadway play "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off" is a humorous way to express what we all feel at times when life moves too fast or is too complicated to handle. Maybe if I'd had a gap year, I'd know the answers to some of these questions.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.