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Telling a kid to suck it up and work harder is “too harsh”

Telling a kid to suck it up and work harder is “too harsh”

Stories like this one drive me insane.

Here’s the deal. A sophomore at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines was benched from the wrestling team following his failure of an advanced algebra class. He wrote an e-mail to the school board protesting, and received three e-mails back. One of those three e-mails offended his poor little mommy’s sensibilities, because he used “harsh” language. The harsh language? Well, read the two e-mails for yourself.

Here is sophomore Craig Richman’s e-mail:

Dear School Board,

I am sending you a message about my eligibility for sports, and how I disagree with the rule. (Mainly to see if I can do anything about this, so I could change it.)

First to start things off, I want to tell you that I failed my algebra 2 class second semester last school year (Because of this I am now ineligible for 6 weeks for the next sport I play.). I also want to state that I am only a sophomore at Roosevelt high school this year.

Now I would like to explain what I disagree with about the 6 week rule. I honestly don’t think it’s fair that I have to sit out for some of my wrestling season for “challenging myself.”

Last year as a freshman I was taking algebra 2. (A junior grade level math class) I had already received my freshman and sophomore years worth of math credits in middle school. So I am advanced in math. I believe if you say I have to still sit for wrestling season for failing a 2 year advanced class ( That I am retaking this year), then you apparently don’t care that much about the education of kids, because then I’ll take this as you pretty much saying that you don’t want kids to challenge themselves. Now is this true? I honestly hope not since you are the school board but, if I still sit for wrestling season, then ill think way more poorly of the school system.

I would completely understand sitting and not getting the
privilege to wrestle for 6 weeks, if the class I failed wasn’t an advanced class that I was taking to challenge my self. (Do you honestly think it’s fair that I am punished for not understanding the materials in an advanced class?) Also I don’t think this is not fair that I sit because I also never decided to take advanced math (The school did.). When I went to middle school they automatically placed me in a higher math class. I thought about getting that changed, but after discussing this with my mom back in middle school, we thought that this could be good to take advance math, and that no harm could come out of it. But were we wrong?

Wrestling is very important to me, and my season begins next week on Monday. So I hope you read and put some thought in this and email me back quickly. So I know if I can change it so I am able to wrestle all season.

Craig Thomas Richman

Apparently, the kid isn’t doing too great in English either.

Now, here’s school board member Jonathan Narcisse’s e-mail:


Look in the mirror. This is a good rule. Perhaps it isn’t tough enough. You are a student athlete and your first priority needs to be your academics.

Playing sports is a privilege not a right.

If you were to become a pro athlete your playing days are numbered. If you expect to be a college athlete your eligibility will be directly linked to your academics.

And if your sports career ends in high school your academic success is even more important.

I played tennis and wrestled in high school. Boxed afterwards. You need to ask yourself what you need to do to be a better student. Life isn’t fair. The world isn’t fair. What if you were able to compete and suffered a devastating injury. What favor would we have done you?

No, instead of complaining about the tough rules, which by the way apply to everyone, you need to suck it up, ask what help you can get to be a better student and then focus on more than meeting the minimum but ask what can you do to truly excel in the classroom.

I remember this great athlete in high school names Randy. The adults let him slide by. Last time I saw him he was at the Git N Go gas station on Keo asking customers for money for wine and offering blow jobs for money. It was very sad because he had world class athletic talent. So much so that no one told him what I’m telling you now.

He didn’t make it in college because they didn’t let him slide and now his life is a shambles.

Robert Johnson, the first freshmen to ever start basketball in the Metro, had all these adults falling all over him. For four years he slid by. Then when he got to Iowa State he couldn’t cut it. Period. And all that God given talent was wasted and none of the adults that made it easy for him rescued him once he failed.

So suck it up man. Hit the books. Work out and stay in shape and don’t make the same mistake ever again.

This may seem like tough love but it’s the best advice you could get in this matter.

Jonathan Narcisse
School Board Member

He referenced oral sex, which has Craig’s mommy up in arms. Craig himself is more angry that he was told to “suck it up” and that “life isn’t fair”. Oh, the horrors.

Richman’s parents feel Narcisse’s 11-paragraph e-mail was unnecessarily harsh. But they are more upset with a story Narcisse shared with the teen about an athlete who hadn’t focused enough on his academics and was last seen at a convenience store “asking customers for money for wine and offering (oral sex) for money.”

Kim Richman, Craig’s mother, said the e-mail was offensive and demeaning.

“It was not something you should be getting from somebody who you should consider a role model, somebody who is on the school board,” she said.

Her husband, Tom, agreed: “The analogies are inappropriate, especially when he’s writing back to a high school student.”

Kim Richman said she plans to express her concerns about Narcisse’s e-mail to him and other school officials.

Narcisse on Monday stood by the e-mail and said that the teen had heard worse language in the locker room at school. He said the teen needed to be told he had to work harder in order to be a better student.

“If I hurt his parents’ feelings and his feelings, tough,” Narcisse said. “I’m telling him what his parents should have told him.”

Craig Richman said Narcisse’s sexual reference made him a little uncomfortable, but he was more upset with Narcisse’s lack of help on the issue and telling him “life isn’t fair” and to “suck it up.”

“He shouldn’t be saying things like that,” Craig Richman said. “He’s on the school board and is supposed to be a role model and give words of encouragement.”

So that’s the whole sordid story.

And you know what? I am 100% on Jonathan Narcisse’s side. Not only am I on his side, but I think someone needs to knock some common sense into the kid’s parents. What kind of upbringing must he have had to think that “life isn’t fair” is a harsh lesson to learn? Good grief.

If you’re wondering why American teenagers have overinflated egos with little accomplishments to back it up, well, here’s example number one.

And of course, Narcisse should not have referenced oral sex. It was extremely unprofessional. But let’s get real here. We inundate kids with sex ed, oftentimes graphic sex ed, and let teenage boys read Maxim and Playboy and watch MTV. This isn’t exactly Victorian London, OK? You’d think the fact that the poor little child’s sensibilities weren’t disturbed at the mention of oral sex, just at the advice to work harder, would be telling you something. It was a poor choice of analogy, but he should still stand by what he said because it was good advice.

We teach kids so often these days that we’re all winners! and that everyone gets a gold star and all kinds of nauseating crap like that. Children today quite obviously have an entitlement complex… much like the rest of the country, actually. Working hard for the privilege to play sports never occured to this kid, did it? No, he just thought he was entitled to play.

To participate in sports and school events when I was in high school, you had to have a 3.0 GPA. The spring semester of my sophomore year, I was not doing well in school. My freshman year I had a pretty decent GPA, but I had transferred to a public school from a Catholic school, and it was ridiculously easier than what I was used to. So I slacked off, and my grades dropped. Therefore, the activities I wanted to participate in were now unavailable to me. So I spent the spring semester working my ass off to get my GPA high enough so that, in my junior year, I’d be able to do everything I wanted to do. My parents certainly didn’t help any or complain to the school board. I distinctly remember my mom being very unsympathetic and telling me that I got myself into the situation and I could get myself out. Sure, she’d help me study or with homework if I needed it, but she didn’t make any excuses for me or tell me that it wasn’t my fault.

Apparently, this approach is inconceivable to this kid and his parents, and a lot of parents around the country. Too many parents think their darling little angel never does anything wrong, and if his GPA suffers, or he broke some rule, well, the school should just look the other way for their little sugar-filled sweetykins. It’s ridiculous. Rushing in to rescue your kid every time they get thrown a hardball is not only bad parenting, but it doesn’t actually help out the kid. The day will come when Craig, and kids like him, will grow up and realize that everything in life is not handed to them on a silver platter; that they can’t just send an e-mail demanding that they get their way. And how will they be able to handle that when that day comes if their parents and teachers have babied them their entire lives while simultaneously telling them how great and wonderful they are? It’s a recipe for disaster.

And a man who tried to help this kid, to give him some very, very good advice is now getting punished for it. And for what its worth, someone in the comments pointed out that the class Richman was taking and complained about is actually not an AP course; it’s a general math course required to pass high school. Apparently he just chose to take it early, but it is still required for graduation, which kind of changes things a little, doesn’t it? It’s just another lesson this kid needs to learn. Kudos for trying to challenge yourself and all, but taking risks is exactly that: risky. Regardless of how brilliant your mommy says you are, the outcome may not be exactly what you want it to be, and part of challenging yourself is acknowledging what may happen if you try and fail.

The really sad, scary thing is that these are the people who will be running our country in the near future.

What happened to the original American dream? It used to be that you could accomplish anything, be anything, do anything, if you were willing to work hard enough for it. If you fail, try again. Try harder. Don’t give up, keep working. Be resilient. And now what is it? If something doesn’t go your way, whine and complain until you get what you want?

What are we doing to the youth of America?

Hat Tip: Rachel Lucas

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  • Just WOW.

    I’ll back you up to the hilt on the “tough love” thing. I’ve been noticing the younger generation — not you — seems to have a prevailing viewpoint that *every* punishment is up for appeal, and why shouldn’t they? I think the lesson should be linked to drivers’ ed, myself. Even the most inexperienced motorist can understand intuitively that you can’t write a letter that begins “Dear Mr. Telephone Pole, I’d like you to reconsider paralyzing me, I know I wasn’t watching the road but the punishment seems excessive…”

    I can’t go along with you about the oral sex thing. Sorry. That was just completely out of line. Frankly, it makes me think you should be waiting a little while to see if this board member doesn’t have a brick shy of a full load upstairs. I’d offer a halfhearted defense of a coach who said that VERBALLY in the locker room…but a board official putting it in writing? What was he thinking?

    No, as a father I’d be clamoring for that guy’s head. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t.

  • Steve L. says:

    It’s nice to see someone in the younger generation seeing the obvious problems that us old folks have seen for years. Kids today don’t belive that they should have to work for anything. They believe that they are entitled to whatever they want. Fox Business had a piece online on their Fast Tracks program called College Grad Missteps. One of the things the HR guy mentioned was that kids these days don’t want to start at the bottom. They don’t want to be the guy who goes and gets the coffee. They feel entitled to be in the meeting with the big client. They expect to be VP within 6 months. When it doesn’t happen, they get frustrated and start to feel they are being treated unfairly.

    We are doomed.

  • physics geek says:

    Apparently he just chose to take it early…

    He didn’t take it early. He merely fulfilled all of the prerequisites earlier than most students by taking/passing algebra and geometry. But the kid is a total douchetool. Reminds me of way too many that I’ve taught.

    BTW, I do side with the tone of the board member’s letter, but the oral sex thing? To a teenage student? Umm, that guy should go. Fast. Buh-bye, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  • Mat says:

    I work at a university and I have student workers under me. The entitlement aspect is definitely there and I would even say there are a few students who actually complain about the fact that they have to do work (it’s work-study). They usually work 3 hours average and I usually have them do, maybe, 20 minutes of real work (most of the time they cover the desk and answer questions). It’s not particularly demanding. They do act like they have all the answers and they’re going to be surprised when reality hits them. I actually said that to a couple of them one time and they laughed. I just shrugged my shoulders.

    Regarding the actual article, I read it earlier in the day and I was appalled by it. I don’t see an issue with the “blow job” comment. It’s the truth. It’s reality. Why should it be sugar-coated? I seriously doubt the student was made “uncomfortable” by the comment as much as he saw an opportunity to attack the board member.

    What disturbed me, however, were the replies to the De Moines paper. I would say that at least half (easily) were in support of this doofus student. I mean, this student was a total dumbnut and half of the responses were in support of this twit? I find that very scary.

  • Melinda P says:

    And people wonder why I’m homeschooling my children?

  • Libby says:

    We pay our children weekly for doing their chores over the course of the week. They’re pretty good about remembering to do them and, for the most part, they do a good job. (They are six and seven). They were just recognized for their hard work at school and are Honor Roll students. My husband and I told them if they got strait A’s we’d give them a bonus of $50. This is all fairly normal in most households.
    What we do differently, however, is that they have to pay “taxes” on their bonus. They were not very happy about that. But we told them at the begining of the school year, that the tax would be enforced if they got Honor Roll. They worked hard even though they knew that they would be taxed. My husband will put it into an account so they can see how their tax money is doing. (It’ll be in their savings accounts.) And they are putting money aside for the taxes that are due April 15th.
    Just like mommy and daddy!
    We think this is a good idea. But what do you think? Too harsh at six and seven years old?

  • hall monitor says:

    This story made http://detentionslip.org ! Check it out for all the crazy headlines from our schools.

  • You need to use that “tax” money to subsidize the other kids who didn’t earn any money because they were too lazy to do the chores, got crappy grades, and backtalked their parents.

    Then let your own kids know what you’re doing with their money, and why.

    If everyone did that with their kids for a generation or two, no democrat as we know ’em today would be able to win Massachusetts or anything else.

  • Libby says:

    We don’t want our kids’ well earned money to go to those who have not worked or earned it. We believe that people should chose to whom to give their money and time and effort. We do quite a bit of charity. For example, there are children here in the Las Vegas valley who go home on the weekends without the benefit of food or drink for the weekend. We, however, do not know which children need the “weekend backpack”. Our kids go to a very affluent public school, but there are always children who are in need.

    Thank you for your feedback. My kids know where their tax money is going. It is going into a savings account so that they can see it. My husband and I want to raise good Americans. We are conservatives, but I just want them to love this wonderful country in which we live. It is not perfect, but it is good. Thank you very much for your words.

    We could be very off base, but I think not.

  • Denise says:

    Cassy, I agree with you completely. The school board member was a little easy on the kid, except for the part about the blow job. He should have rephrased that. But this idiot child needs to forget about the wrestling team and take a couple of English classes. Perhaps composition would help him properly write a letter of complaint. When I was in school, a failing grade kept you off the team, period. There was no six weeks about it. The same went for National Honor Society. I caught a break there, though. The school I attended for freshman/sophomore years named NHS in the sophomore year. I had straight A’s except for P.E. class (being handicapped held me back there). So I didn’t get in. But when I changed schools for the last two years, that school named NHS in the senior year. Since I didn’t have any more P.E. classes I got in. But I was the exception to the rule, I think. This kid should be glad he’s only out for six weeks.

  • Stephen J. says:

    Getting upset about the particular nature of the language is one thing, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic to point out that Narcise is actually falling pretty far short of professional formality here. Narcise is not Richman’s father or uncle; he doesn’t have the right to be casual or familiar to him, and he is professionally obliged to be more courteous than this, whatever the board’s decision. Is it so unrealistic to insist that school board professionals should not use locker room language as an exemplary standard of acceptable teacher-student communication?

    Moreover, it’s a bad ruling. It doesn’t quote or explain the official school policy or clarify exactly why classmates who made less effort, and who have no fewer credits at this point than Richman does, get to keep their sports privileges while Richman loses his for failing a course beyond what his year would normally require him to take. If the issue is simply, “don’t take courses you don’t think you can pass yet,” then be clear about that and explain why. Don’t adopt some faux-avuncular tone and tough-love manner to which you have no right. Teachers are not in the business of providing love, tough or otherwise.

    “Life isn’t fair” is a valuable lesson. But it strikes me that it might be a lesson much better taught by parents and reality than used as a justification for dismissive rulings and unprofessional conduct. Learning it like this only tends to teach the untrue corollary “Therefore, you don’t have to bother trying to be fair, either.”

  • Andrew says:

    I actually like the blow job reference. Maybe the women think its inappropriate, but you’re not going to get teenage boys to listen with sophisticated language.

  • Ironwolf32 says:

    I have 2 quotes from high school that live with me:
    -My computer science teacher in high school, “You are responsible for everything you do.”
    -My Dad, “You are at school to study and to learn. Everything else (Sports, Clubs, etc.) is second.”

    Both of them apply here:
    He failed a class and he is responsible for that. He is not eligible for wrestling for 6 weeks. They shouldn’t change the rule. This is only his sophmore year, so he still has Junior and Senior years. So what if it is an advanced course, he chose to take it. You run the risk of failing it. Classes come first.

    The school committee member didn’t need to add the line about what “Randy does to get wine money”. (It gave me a mental picture that I didn’t need.) If you focus on that line, you miss all of the solid points he did make. It is a privilege to wrestle not a right.

    In fact, my parents would have said, “You failed a class, you are not wrestling. You can’t handle both. Get your grades up, then we will think about letting you wrestle.”

    …Craig Richman said. “He’s on the school board and is supposed to be a role model and give words of encouragement.”…

    This sums it all up. Craig is looking for encouragement. The “F” should be all of the encouragement he needs. I failed a course once and it was all I needed for further motivation.

    He should be working to make that grade a single blemish. When colleges look at his transcript, he will be able to say, “I screwed but I didn’t let it happen again.”

  • McDoogan a.ka. Dookiestain LaFlair says:

    I wish someone sent me an email like this when I was in high school, I could of sued them. It should be me being the entitled, ungrateful brat, not this clown. Where is my wet floor with no Wet Floor sign? That is the new American dream.

  • Amanda says:


    I live in Des Moines, and the problem with you picking up this little bit about Narcisse is you really don’t know anything else about him. Not that you aren’t entitled to an opinion on this story, but Narcisse is a first-class asshole. The reason this story got so much traction in the first place is because he’s done a lot of other stuff to strong arm the Des Moines school board, and people are looking for a reason to get rid of him.

    So, say what you want about this instance, but Narcisse has a history of this type of inappropriate behavior that makes his next bid for reelection look pretty sketchy.

  • Instinct says:

    When I taught martial arts we had a rule that all students (college students included) had to bring in their report cards. If you were getting lower than a C in any class you were suspended until the next grades came out.

    Yea, they were paying us to train but we had felt that we had a responsibility to make sure that they knew that education comes before everything else. Heck, my sensei would constantly just reach up onto his bookshelf, flip open an encyclopedia and whatever he opened it to he would have us write him a report on it.

    This kid should be kicked off the team just for being such a whining baby about it all.

    As for Narcisse, He may be a first class asshole Amanda but he is RIGHT. And if telling a kid to suck it up and be a man for once is inappropriate, then I think we need more of it in our schools.

  • Justin says:

    So, the kid wrote an email saying that he was being unfairly punished for taking an advanced course. That is a reasonable argument, and I see nothing whiny about emailing a school board member with a disagreement.

    Narcisse, supposedly an adult, responds by completely ignoring the argument. Instead, he goes off on a long winded rant about the evils of professional sports and how the school’s magnificent wisdom is the only thing keeping Craig from a life of prostitution.

    Craig might have failed math but Narcisse failed basic reasoning.

    The tone of the response was completely unprofessional as well. Narcisse is not the boy’s father, not his uncle, not his friend. The man is a bureaucrat. If it were a student taking that tone with a teacher, I don’t think you’d all find it acceptable.

  • Cylar says:

    Stephen J. Says:
    11:08 am

    Getting upset about the particular nature of the language is one thing, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic to point out that Narcise is actually falling pretty far short of professional formality here…

    I am in FULL agreement with you, and I think you nailed it better than Cassy did.

    I noticed that Narcisse (what a name – coincidence that it sounds like “narcissist?”) didn’t seem to have all that much better of a handle on spelling and grammar, than did the 10th grader he is lecturing. My high school English instructor, may she rest in peace, would have read this and promptly had a heart attack.

    The school board member is a douchebag. There are ways to get across the ‘life isn’t fair’ and ‘you have to work hard to get what you want’ memes than this tripe.

    As good of a message as it is, I’ve largely the same problem with it that I do with Michael Savage – the delivery is so rude and boorish as to completely obscure any redeemed value in the content itself.

  • Mat says:


    I read some other stuff in that Des Moines paper, and it’s true that this Narcisse guy sounds like a jackass. He just happened to be right on this issue.

    However, sometimes you have to talk like an asshole (Narcisse) to get a point across to another asshole (student wrestler). It’s messy, but it can be quite effective.

  • Instinct says:


    You are missing the entire point that the rules say he had to maintain his grades, I bet there is nothing in the rules saying “Unless you are taking an advanced course in which case you don’t have to pass it”.

    So, just because the kid decided to take an advanced class doesn’t mean the same rules don’t apply and so he SHOULD be banned from sports until his grades come up. Sports, once again, are a privilege, not a right.

    And basic reasoning says that school is for primarily an education, not sports, so maybe it is you who have failed basic reasoning and not Narcisse

  • Stephen J. says:

    Just to clarify my own position: If the school policy is that failing a course, any course — whether it was a required one for your year or not — is grounds to be suspended from extracurricular activities, then that’s the school policy, and it’s not an unreasonable one. Learning when not to take on workloads you can’t handle is a significant and important life lesson, as is learning how to develop your work habits and time management skills to the point where you can handle them, or learning when you have to make hard choices about priorities and sacrifices.

    But I honestly don’t think it’s “whininess” to ask that exceptional circumstances allow for a variation in applying that policy; nor is it admirable to turn down that request by adopting a manner and expression which is wholly inappropriate and unprofessional; nor is it hypersensitive to be offended at that inappropriateness and lack of professionalism.

    If school policy rules against Richman, so be it. But just because Richman is in the wrong doesn’t mean anything Narcise says in conveying that out is automatically right.

  • Instinct says:

    Stephen what is with your “He shouldn’t have been so unprofessional” stance? What was unprofessional, really?

    He used some language that the kid has heard a thousand times before all over his school. Are you saying because he is a member of the School Board he shouldn’t use examples that really show what can happen to an athlete that doesn’t focus on his education?

    Sorry, but that is probably the most honest language the kid has heard his whole life. I don’t know what your version of professionalism is, but mine is that you do your job and do it well and that has nothing to do with if you use harsh language or not. I get very tired of the attitude that everything has to be sugar coated and let’s not offend anyone at all because, gee their feelings might get hurt.

    You seem more concerned about how the message was delivered than the message itself, and yes the kid IS whining when he knows the rules, screws up and then tries to get out of the punishment. Take it like a man and move on.

  • Stephen J. says:

    “I don’t know what your version of professionalism is, but mine is that you do your job and do it well and that has nothing to do with if you use harsh language or not.”

    I appreciate your point, Instinct, but professionalism is as much about your conduct and relating skills as it is about the quality of your work. It doesn’t matter what job you’re in; being rude to your employees, your charges, your clients or your boss is not done, it is not professional, and it will cost you your job sooner or later no matter how good you are – just as being bad at your work will cost you your job sooner or later no matter how polished your social skills. That’s just the facts. (And yes, you can be firm and critical without being rude. Part of being professional is learning how.)

    And as I said before, even the quality of Narcise’s letter as a professional communication falls short. Narcise was writing as a school board trustee to answer a student complaint, state the school ruling and explain the policy behind it. Yet Narcise neither cited the appropriate official policy, nor explained why the exemption Richman requested was not applicable, instead adopting a tone of personal familiarity that is simply not appropriate — not to mention rather foolishly showing off that his own grammar, spelling, punctuation and writing ability isn’t much better than Richman’s to begin with. It doesn’t matter if it’s email: if you are acting in your professional role, you adhere to all professional standards of quality and behaviour. Get a secretary to write your letters if you can’t write them yourself at the required level; that’s why school boards have them.

    Once again – and it bemuses me I have to keep repeating this – Narcise is not Richman’s teacher, principal, or guardian; it is not his place to “tell [Richman] what his parents should have told him” (who the hell is he to decide what that is?) or to dispense “tough love”. I repeat: That’s. Not. His. Job. Narcise is a school board trustee. His job is to answer Richman’s request, explain why it was denied, and stop. Period. Paragraph. That, too, is being professional – knowing the appropriate areas of authority of your job, and not presuming to exceed them.

    Yes, I am more concerned about the message delivery than the message, because it’s very obvious that the chosen style of delivery has ruined any opportunity of the message itself getting through. How you accomplish your goals is just as important as what goals you accomplish; it always has been and it always will be. Not once have I said that Narcise doesn’t have a point, or that what he’s said isn’t true — only that it’s not his place to say it, and that he’s undermined that point (rules have to apply to everyone and you can’t ignore them at your convenience) by cavalierly ignoring his own profession’s rules and standards because it suited/amused him to do so.

    I’m reminded of a Robert Heinlein quote, from the character of Lazarus Long:

    “Moving parts in rubbing contact require lubrication to avoid excessive wear. Honorifics and formal politeness provide lubrication where people rub together. Often the very young, the untraveled, the naive, the unsophisticated deplore these formalities as ’empty,’ ‘meaningless,’ or ‘dishonest,’ and scorn to use them. No matter how ‘pure’ their motives, they thereby throw sand into machinery that does not work too well at best.”

    Too many people mistake impatient tactlessness for fearless honesty, and almost all of those who do believe they themselves are in no danger of being subjected to it.

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