by D. R. Hildebrand

At Dear Old High there was a refrain so familiar it could have been the school’s slogan: “There is nothing,” the adage went, “that Central won’t prepare you for…”

When Hildebrand is in an ad with a female model, the woman gets paid more than he does, even if he is modeling a strictly male product, like after-shave lotion.

By and large it was true. Central seemingly prepared me for everything. Mr. Brooks’ chemistry classes prepared me for medicine and engineering and solving complex equations. Ms. Evans’ gym classes prepared me for the long jump, the free throw, for hitting home runs. Mr. Speir prepared me for organizing large-scale events by way of Multicultural Day, Women’s Day and Career Day, at which alumni would surely remind me that there was nothing for which Central wouldn’t prepare me. I am, make no mistake, well prepared.

And yet I struggle sometimes to see how Central prepared me for modeling.

Yes. For modeling.

Was it the way my teachers swayed and swaggered so gracefully, so effortlessly in front of the blackboard? Was it the way Dr. Pavel, in his magnificently gray argyle sweater vests, sauntered aloof and underwhelmed down the hall? Was it all the doughnuts my classmates sold, day after day, fundraising dutifully at the second floor alcove? I have speculated at great length, but  Central, contrary to popular belief, could never have prepared me for modeling.

When I’m standing with my torso twisted in a knot, the sun burning holes into my retinas and  a photographer telling me to keep twisting, keep turning, stop blinking, what are the odds that I’m diagramming complex sentences in my head or wishing Dr. O’Donnell had given me more problems to test my understanding of Game Theory? The stylist is adjusting every crease inside my crotch, and my ribs feel like they’re going to explode.

Or when I’m at a casting for Target or some other prodigious client cramming thousands of models over the course of a week into an un-air-conditioned studio in Chelsea and everyone is sitting on the floor sweating like cattle before the slaughter, am I regretting having taken Hebrew instead of Latin? No one has asked me for a translation of Leviticus.

And what about when I walk into my agency and I see that 15 models from a board previously carrying 100 have just been dropped and though I came to discuss my career, I see that one agent is negotiating a booking in London; another is entertaining clients from Paris; a third is handling some crisis in L.A., and I have to negotiate charm, wit and apathy to be heard, is it likely that I care if I scored a five on my Advanced Placement U.S. History exam?

Eh.

Modeling, of course, is not the most typical or foreseeable of professions. I didn’t decide at random one day that after years of scholastic pursuits, I would suddenly about-face and strike a pose. Modeling was meant as an income. The question, simply, was as a complement to what: academic writing or creative writing? I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, refusing to acknowledge that my passion was for fiction.

I had been taught to think and write both critically and creatively, and it was this opportunity to dedicate myself to either that proved the value and depth of my education. Central might not have prepared me for modeling; true. Yet as far as writing is concerned, as far as thinking independently, communicating effectively, turning ideas into reality, it offered me a complete spectrum of options, none of which will ever go out of style.

D. R. Hildebrand, 30, was the president of the 258th graduating class at Central High School in 1999. He earned a BA in Religious Studies in 2003 from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. His original intention was to be a professor, combining religious studies and human rights. His début novel, “Walking Marina,” is an exposé of the male modeling industry in New York City. For more information, visit his website at www.drhildebrand.com.