WASHINGTON - The same day that U.S. soldiers rescued a terrified, wounded 19-year-old Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch from her Iraqi captors, my son's Northern Virginia high school was awash in emotions of a far different sort.
The contrast said a lot about the opportunity, sacrifice and privilege in today's United States and about the country that young Americans like Lynch volunteered to fight for.
As Special Operations soldiers were spiriting Lynch from captivity, scores of kids at T.C. Williams High School were learning which colleges had accepted them and which had turned them down.
I watched one story unfold as a journalist, the other as a father. The connection seemed unavoidable. Just two years ago, Jessica faced the same season of decision as the seniors at T.C. Williams.
Her family said she had wanted to be a kindergarten teacher. She ended up a prisoner of war in Iraq.
The first week of April is college-admittance week for kids all across the country.
Many T.C. Williams seniors were anxiously awaiting letters from George Mason, James Madison, Yale, Stanford, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and dozens of other universities.
You may remember T.C. Williams as the school depicted in Denzel Washington's ``Remember the Titans,'' a movie about a black coach at a newly integrated high school. Today, its students come from literally dozens of countries. Back to School Night is like attending a meeting at the United Nations. The economic diversity is just as immense. In short, the school is a portrait of what America is becoming: a new melting pot of ethnic and economic backgrounds and, sadly, the continued disparity between rich and poor.
Judging by experience, some of T.C. Williams' kids will end up going to Ivy League schools, some to the best public universities, some to junior colleges. Some will go to the elite military academies, and others will join the military. Some will go to the armed services inspired to serve their country, some to get skills they can use later in life. And others, like Lynch, will join the military to help pay for college. To get the education they're told they need for a better life, they may have no other choice.
Lynch, who is recovering from multiple broken bones and other wounds, never signed up to become a POW. But we all know those are the risks inherent in any military service for men - and some women, now that they can fill jobs that could put them in battle zones. Certainly, anyone who joins the military does so with eyes open to the potential of being killed, maimed or captured.
But for some kids like Lynch, we have turned sacrifice for country into a bartering chip. And with the draft long gone and the need for large numbers of soldiers mitigated by the technological might of the military, that sacrifice is being confined to an ever-shrinking percentage of Americans.
This is not an argument for the draft. The volunteer military has seemed devastatingly capable, and parents of soon-to-be 18-year-olds can be quite selfish in their position on compulsory military service.
But at times likes this, when young women who want to be kindergarten teachers end up as prisoners of war, it is good - no, it is vital - to remember this: The few make the sacrifice for the many in this country. And some of them are put in that position because of the cost of higher education, which spirals ever upward.
Ironically, Lynch now has full-ride scholarships from West Virginia and Marshall universities, awarded after she was released from captivity. She may get more than an education out of her ordeal. Apparently, the chorus of anti-war voices emanating out of Tinseltown is not enough to deter the entertainment industry's ambulance chasers. Hollywood agents are reportedly lining up to tell her story.
Not long ago, Hollywood announced that its latest "reality'' show would be a re-creation of the "Beverly Hillbillies'' - the '60s comedy depicting West Virginia hicks who moved to Beverly Hills. Talent agents scoured West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee for the right fit.
You want reality? Jessica Lynch, the 19-year-old POW from West Virginia, is reality.