In 2008, the television game show Jeopardy! hosted a Kids Week Reunion, bringing back contestants who were originally on the show when they were 10, 11, or 12 years old. If you have ever caught Kids Week, you know that every kid knows they're destined to be a brain surgeon, an embedded war journalist, concertmaster of a symphony, the first person to [enter achievement here], a Supreme Court justice, an astronaut, and/or President of the United States.
They have additional aspirations of curing cancer, solving world hunger, and ending political bipartisanship. They're so bright-eyed, and so smart, you root for them to achieve their dreams. Heck, aren't they already halfway there just by being tiny geniuses? So I made it a point to watch the Kids Week Reunion and see what kind of impact each now college-aged young adult had already made on the world.
For the last six years, every now and again, I've thought back to that week of shows, wondering just what happened to those kids, just what went 'wrong.' Now, don't misunderstand me - I didn't think that by 19 or 20 they all would be Steve Jobs-like gurus. But I did imagine exciting D.C. internships, a patent pending on an invention, national math and science awards, a published book...things of that nature.
There is extremely limited information online about that week, so I have to go on memory - and what I remember is that they had somehow morphed into average citizens whose contemporary goals looked nothing like their assured dreams of yesteryear; looked like the goals of the rest of us who never competed on Jeopardy! as a child. Although I can offer no particulars, the disappointing ordinariness of the contestants can be summed up with the fact that one of them was currently attending community college.
The show runners responded accordingly by creating categories and 'answers' that were mildly challenging at best; the contestants, in turn, still struggled. And I remember feeling sad for their lost dreams.
More importantly, though, I wondered how could this be? There would be nothing odd about three or four of the contestants having stumbled along the way to greatness; but the majority of them?
If they were too bright-eyed as kids, too confident of their future, it wasn't their fault. Maybe their parents and teachers, even the community, put too much emphasis on the budding intelligence of upper-elementary students; maybe on that side of the American Dream a successful future was too exciting, seemed too inevitable.
Maybe those kids were told stories about themselves too compelling to resist.