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Basic black & Ryan White: ALC student doesn't want to be judged by his attire

This is the third story in a three-part series focusing on students enrolled in District 518's Area Learning Center.

WORTHINGTON -- Ryan White has a pretty basic wardrobe. Everything he wears is black, head to toe, no matter the occasion.

On this day, he's wearing what he calls "bondage" pants, baggy and adorned with pockets and zippers, and a black T-shirt, emblazoned with the face of Marilyn Manson, leader of an alternative shock rock band.

Ryan dresses in a style that is termed "goth" -- short for Gothic.

"People think I want to kill everybody," he explained about reactions to his appearance. "I just look this way because I want to be different. Not many of us in this town like this -- just me, my girlfriend, my friend Sergio and three or four other kids. ... Most people judge the Gothic genre as being depressed, anti-social people. But if they get to know me and my friend Sergio, it blows that right out of the water."

Soon, Ryan will trade in this daily uniform of all black for a uniform of a different sort and a different color -- khaki. He has enlisted in the National Guard, looking toward his future.

"I don't want to work a dead-end job for the rest of my life," he explained. "I want to do something I can have fun with, not flip burgers for the rest of my life."

Ryan has already passed the initial tests for entrance into the National Guard, but before he can head out for basic training, he must complete his high school education. He's due to graduate at the end of the school year from District 518's Area Learning Center.

The now-18-year-old was born in Sioux City, Iowa, but moved to Worthington as an infant.

"I'm an Iowegian," he joked, his coloring belying any claim to a northern European ancestry. He's Native American, although he's often mistaken for Hispanic. "My heritage is in Nebraska -- Omaha and Winnebago (tribes). It's very rarely that we go out there, only if there's a funeral or a family reunion."

Ryan lives with his mom, Sue White, and an extended family of aunts, uncles, grandfather and cousins in the immediate vicinity. His dad initially moved to Worthington to work at what was then known as Monfort, now Swift & Co.; he's since moved back to Sioux City. Ryan lived with his father in Sioux City for several years, from about age 13 to 16, but eventually returned to Worthington.

"I'd spend the school year in Sioux City and the summers here," he explained. "My dad made me mad, so I left. I was probably just trying to think of an excuse to move back here. Sioux City is a big place, but there's nothing to do there. I find more stuff to do here, and I can walk anywhere here."

Usually gregarious and well-liked, Ryan found it difficult to make friends in Sioux City.

"Sioux City was horrible," he continued. "The highest grade I got was a D minus, all the rest Fs. I didn't really know anybody. The whole five-year period I was there, I probably had 20 friends, and that's not very many in a place that big."

He also had a hard time fitting in at Worthington High School, where he initially enrolled after moving back north.

"I didn't really like anybody there, and nobody liked me," Ryan stated. "I didn't fit in. I didn't do my work, didn't talk to anybody. So I left the high school and was just sitting around home, doing nothing. Then I came here, to the ALC, and I've been here a year and a half. As soon as I came here, I made friends with everybody. The teachers love me."

Ryan may have felt more at home in the ALC building because he'd attended classes there before, during his early school years when it was home to West Elementary School. But Ryan tends to think it was the ALC environment that made a difference.

"It's a smaller place. I don't like big areas with lots of people. I guess it's like having the opposite of claustrophobia."

Whatever the reason, Ryan has created a niche for himself at the ALC, and his report cards now contain mostly Bs and even a few As. His current class schedule includes biology, literature, business math and independent study.

"I'm doing a report on weapons of war, from the caveman era to the sword to the handgun to the present," he detailed about his independent study. "I think stuff that makes loud noises and blows up is quite interesting."

Ryan's girlfriend, Desiree, is also a student at the ALC. They've dated for about four years, the relationship starting during the summers that Ryan spent in Worthington.

"She's my better half," he said. "She's been there through all sorts of goodness and badness. I love that woman to death. Here are some interesting things about us: She was born on Mother's Day, and I was born on Father's Day; she has the female version of my middle name -- Denise -- mine's Dennis. It's those little bitty things that draw us closer."

When he's not at school, Ryan's itinerary includes "hanging out with friends ... playing video games with Desiree, driving around endlessly, jabbering about everything."

Most of Ryan's free time is spent at Desiree's house. He does have a part-time job in maintenance at the Travelodge in Worthington.

"I pick up after the main maintenance guy, clean up after he's fixed something," Ryan explained about his job, "rearrange banquet rooms, shampoo carpets, vacuum."

Although Ryan says such tasks are better than the aforementioned "flipping burgers," he envisions a future in a much more exciting career, perhaps even as a doctor. That's why Ryan is enlisting in the Guard -- he wants to go to college.

"The military, to me, was the easiest way to get to college, because it's hard to pay off the college tuition. If I do what they ask me to do, I'll get my way paid."

Ryan might have considered enlisting in the regular Army, but he didn't want to commit to spending that much time away from his girlfriend.

"If I did the full-time military, they'd ship me off for four years straight," he said. "I wouldn't like that."

Once he's earned his high school diploma, Ryan will attend basic training, probably in South Carolina, and then advanced individual training, becoming part of an artillery unit. Ryan is hopeful of training as a medic, looking toward that goal of someday becoming a medical doctor. With those training experiences out of the way, he wants to attend college and enter an ROTC program.

Ryan realizes that he's got many years of schooling and study ahead if he wants to succeed on this path he's mapped out. And he's anxious to get started on that path.

"I want to get it done, get it over with, start something new," he said about finishing up his high school career. "I want to get out and explore the world. I've never been farther than a 150-mile radius."

And he won't even mind changing his mode of dress, no matter how attached he is to his all-black attire.

"I love camouflage," he said with a big smile. "It's so awesome, how you can just disappear into the environment."

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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