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By Capt. James Van Thach told to Jonathan Wei
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The school took away Hassan's free periods, which meant he had to report to study hall when he didn't have a class. He was also punished with 60 hours of detention, placed on probation, and demoted from the presidency of the Renaissance Club.
That one really hurt. "I had great ideas!" he said. "I saw the Renaissance Club as an awesome embodiment of the spirit of Renaissance. And not just for the crazy revelry. One of my ideas was to have a philosopher's roundtable."
Hassan is also a member of Beta Club and German Club and plays the viola and the piano. He's learning guitar. Over the summer, he started the Society for Love and Justice a humanitarian organization that works with Operation Iraqi Children in collecting school supplies and mailing them to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was on the football team in his freshman and sophomore years but gave it up to focus on academics. He was previously on the debate team as well but now considers it pretty shallow to argue for the sake of arguing.
"I hate to argue; I love to discuss," he said. "I got out before it turned me into one of those debater monsters."
Another club he's recently dropped out of the Young Republicans. Turns out that a few things surprised Hassan during his immersion trips. He liked the hippies he met and the conversations they had. He saw what it was like to be homeless and wanted to do what he could to help. And Iraq? Well, he's not quite ready to take a side. Though he still has inclinations toward conservatism, he likes to think of himself as "independent-minded."
"He's in a category of his own," says Hassan's good friend Francisco Alvarez. "His views transform themselves all the time. He's a young man undergoing transformations in himself and his political outlook."
Alvarez was one of the first four of Hassan's friends to know he had taken off to Iraq, and Alvarez says he's come to an understanding about why his friend went. At the time, it had a lot to do with a perception of the coverage of the Iraq War as liberally biased, he says.
"He wanted to go and ask people what they actually thought about the war," Alvarez says. "And he wanted to do whatever he could to help out the United States.
"In the end, I think he did want to go as a journalist, but not in the modern sense. When he came back, he was willing to put aside his feelings and re-analyze. He re-analyzed the entire situation."
Despite the classroom teasing, however, Hassan hasn't re-analyzed his feelings about Pine Crest.
"What's great about Pine Crest is really the intellectual level of the student body as a whole is admirably high," Hassan says. "Like at lunch, probably at most schools they would either make fun of each other or they would talk music or pop culture. As you can see, I'm rather condescending with that stuff. At Pine Crest, when I sit down with my friends, we talk philosophy and current events. We have mostly deep philosophical discussions. This is a completely different world which is very, very conducive to the sort of person that I am right now."
After prom last year, when most of the students were "drinking and having intercourse or whatever," Hassan and his cronies headed to the beach and played Risk.
"I feel like I'm getting more out of life than the people who are drinking and having sex," he says, but then a premonition comes. "Maybe I'll change my mind in college."
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