Dear High School Me: Open Up.
Dear High School Me,
You graduated from high school seventeen years ago. In the past year, two of your classmates died: one from a long battle with brain cancer, and one suddenly.
You didn’t really know them at all.
High school is often all about judging and being judged. I get that you were scared. You were insecure. You felt labeled by many of your peers (and maybe you were). And let’s not even get into the paralyzing fear you had of dating.
You felt like you didn’t have much in common with many of your classmates. You were listening to Frank Sinatra and watching Katharine Hepburn and Fred Astaire, reading Jane Eyre and The Bean Trees, chatting with your best friend for hours on the phone about nothing and everything. You got to college and felt finally, this is where I can belong.
But you missed out.
I can tell you from life experience and certainly from eleven years of high school teaching experience: everyone has a story. Most people are just as well-intentioned, kind, ambitious, and scared as you. You wasted some really great opportunities by thinking they were so different: too popular, too loud, too rebellious, too immature.
What did you know? You were cursed with teenaged omniscience. You had everyone figured out. You dismissed many of the non-honors students. The ones who got pregnant. The ones who partied hard in the woods. The cliques whose loyal friendships last even almost two decades after graduation.
Now that you have friended some of your classmates on Facebook, you can see where they are as adults. Who devote their lives to caring for family members. Who have struggled with grief and addiction, have overcome and succeeded. Who embrace who they are.
These two men, gone too young, were good people. Their friends and families write about their humor, their talents, their commitment to family, their decency and integrity. You knew them, in your class of about 170, but you didn’t know who they really were.
It is your loss. And my opportunity. To tell my students and my children to open up. To be vulnerable. To risk judgment, to lighten up, to understand that the world is not as rigidly right-or-wrong as you think it is.
Listen to your peers. Be willing to learn from everyone. These lessons weren’t in your textbooks, but they’re far more valuable than what’s on any AP test.