“This generation is never going to accomplish the things I know it to be capable of unless we stop thinking of each other in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’…Like it or not, we’re all in this together.” ~ Ted Chalfen, from his graduation speech

Ted Chalfen, Gay Colorado Teen, Thanks Graduating Class For Support In Speech

Most of the time, graduation speeches are pretty predictable. Generation of generation of young dreamers attempting to sound erudite, use their time at the microphone to plead for a cause or to chastise a neglectful element or to reflect on life. The latter always makes me smile because I can still remember how I thought I knew so much of life when I graduated from high school lo so many years ago. The speeches usually include some kind of inside joke that the parents won’t quite understand, or some sort of grand charge for the varied members of the graduating class. Sometimes the speaker reveals a genuine sense of comedic timing, but rarely.

I don’t know if there is some unwritten rule that graduation speeches should stay within the confines of being generic, but that usually seems to be the case. I remember who gave the speeches at my graduation, but I don’t remember a single word of what they said (high school, college or graduate school).  That being said, this particular speaker and his speech are worth listening to, if only because they reflect so well on his classmates, the school, the teachers, the administrators, and the parents.

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“We have a hunger of the mind which asks for knowledge of all around us, and the more we gain, the more is our desire; the more we see, the more we are capable of seeing.” ~ Maria Mitchell

 Oliver Wendell Holmes

   

No man’s knowledge can go beyond his experience”  ~ John Locke

Well, the IB/Honors program was last night, and I was so proud to be there.

As with most things in our life, even the trip to the school was not uneventful. Corey had to work until 3, but the duty sergeant asked if he could stay a bit longer. Corey told him that he could but that he had someplace important that he had to be. Unfortunately, Corey thought the time was 7, not 6. So by 5:15, I’m freaking, as I tend to do. My mother had already left, so Brett and I ended up riding with my ex, Alexis and Eamonn . . . It was one big happy family reunion, only not so much.

No, it wasn’t bad, just weird. Then when we got there, I had to search for Brett’s cap and gown, which was being held by the IB director, only she was nowhere to be found. Found the gown, pulled it over Brett’s head, plopped the cap on. Good to go.

Mr. Martin, Brett’s favorite history teacher, was the speaker, and it was a nice, short speech. Then the people on stage turned the tables on us and declared that parents had to walk their students up to the stage to receive their IB stoles and/or honor tassels. Crap. I look like a sausage. Where is Corey? Lucky that Brett’s last name begins with an S and not a B.

All in all though, the program was very nice. Corey made it in time to walk up with Brett, Paul and me, and everything was over in under 90 minutes. My kind of school program.

“The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand.” ~ Frank Herbert

 I make light of it, but getting Brett to this point has been a concerted effort with many people at his school pulling for him. When Brett started to have problems a couple of years ago, Corey and I sat down with his counselor, a truly generous, wonderful woman, and all of his teachers. We came up with a plan that would allow Brett to stay in the IB program. The head of the program approved the plan, and accommodations were made for Brett’s absences because of illness.

This year, his counselor set up his schedule so that he would only go every other day. Because Brett has always been in advanced classes, he already had enough credits to graduate, but he needed to complete a few core courses for the IB diploma. The every-other-day schedule worked fairly well; he still missed some school, but not nearly as much as last year.  And this year Brett spent his lunch period in Mr. Martin’s room instead of going to the cafeteria. He didn’t eat lunch, and I think that his one-on-one time with Mr. Martin really helped him in a number of ways.

Just being able to listen to a man who knows his subject, a scholar, talk about life and politics, gaining knowledge not found in textbooks—an invaluable experience. I remember having a couple of teachers like that, and I did the same thing: leeched off their knowledge, drank it in, felt privileged for the insights. Anyone with a few years on them will tell you that real knowledge does not come from textbooks; it comes from life—what we do, what we see, what we hear. We learn from the people with whom we interact, the people with whom we disagree. The act of living, seeking, finding—that is the source of real knowledge.

It’s been tough, at times, taxing, but Brett pulled through. So to see him on stage receiving his IB stole was a moment of pure joy for all of us.

“To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.” ~ Henry David Thoreau 

 

And so Brett is just a few weeks away from leaving high school forever, from moving into a world he does not know, from moving into another academic realm filled with more textbooks, lectures, and tests. But I hope that this time he will be better prepared to sift through the vast information that is coming his way, to cull it like wheat, and find the heart of what matters, to take away what he needs, and then some.

In the grand scheme of things, high school is but a cobblestone path, one that we must traverse to get somewhere else. Many of us trip over its rough edges; some of us fall, and a few pass smoothly without incident. Only when we are years removed from it can we truly see this period for what it really was: a chance to grow, perhaps to make lifelong friends, to be carefree before life intrudes. Only later do we realize how very much we received from the people who were on the opposite of the room from us, how some of them went beyond what was expected and invited us in, allowed us to think, to analyze, to refine. These are the people we remember because they were our introduction to the limitless possibilities of learning, of appreciating, of moving forward into the great unknown that is life.

More later. Peace.

Music by The Great Lake Swimmers, “Stealing Tomorrow”

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

 The journey is more important than the inn

Photograph by L. Liwag

“What you are comes to you.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top.” ~ Unknown English Professor, Ohio University

Well, eldest son did it. He walked up there and took his diploma, and the school Superintendent pronounced them graduates. The ceremony was a fast-paced deal that lasted only an hour and a half, as compared to my daughter’s graduation which seemed to go on and on and on. The venue was good too, open, roomy, not squooshed up against the person you are sitting against, so I had no claustrophobia problems.

Aside from immediate family, his cousin who is graduating tomorrow came, as did his friends since childhood, Gordon and Tailor. I made Eamonn stand for pictures with everyone, and he was actually pretty gracious about it.

The only downside was when I was trying to move up a row (because of course every seat in the row that I selected was being saved), and I scraped my thigh on the arm of the end seat. I have a nice, big black and blue spot on my leg, but I don’t plan to enter any hot legs contests anytime soon.

As far as people being overly rowdy and loud, it wasn’t too bad. The school’s principal had already made a few announcements prior to the start of the ceremony in which she said that if the noise became too loud, she would step back and stop handing out diplomas, and she kept her word. Twice she stopped the procession until the crowd calmed down.

It’s such a shame that she had to make the announcement in the first place, and that she had to follow through with it, in the second place.

“What is the most important thing one learns in school? Self-esteem, support, and friendship.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams

The Road Less TraveledI always like to choose a fitting quote to go into almost every card that I give, and I found a really good one on Goodreads. The quote is by writer Neil Gaiman:

“I’ve been making a list of all of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who is dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”

The reason that I like this quote so much is because it is essentially true. What do we take away from high school? How to conjugate a verb in French? How to find the square root of an isosceles triangle? What the Monroe Doctrine was?

If you remember this kind of information, you probably do really well at Trivial Pursuit and/or you have gone on to become a teacher. But what is my son taking away from high school?

A group of friends who have stood by him during the worst times of his life (so far) and the best times of his life (again, so far). Memories of some really great times that he would prefer his mother never finds out about, and more than a few regrets that he didn’t follow through on a few things (track, football).

He is also taking with him the following lessons:

  • Mom knows if you are lying if you giggle too much
  • It’s hard to explain why you were absent from a particular class if your mom dropped you off at school that morning.
  • The school is serious when they say they will confiscate cell phones
  • You cannot make the team if you never go to practice
  • Yes, you have a deceptively charming smile, but that smile only works with some teachers, probably females
  • Mom was right when she told you that you really would survive the second breakup with your first serious love
  • Girls do talk to each other, so it’s probably not a good idea to date friends no matter how hot they are
  • Asking your mom to type your paper that is due the next day at 9 the evening before does not put her in a good mood
  • It takes money to put gas in the Trooper, and it’s probably a good idea to check the oil sometimes
  • Your mother knows when you have been smoking in her car, even if you leave the windows down all night

“High school: Oh man. This is where boys and girls go from tweens to teens and become complicated and cruel. Girls play sick mind games; boys try to pull each other’s penises off and throw them in the bushes.” ~ Eugene Mirman

Zen leapOkay, those are the fluffy lessons, so to speak. But he also learned some really hard lessons, like how much it hurts when your first love breaks your heart. And how hard it is to keep your word if you never meant it in the first place. Or how someone who claims to be a friend can stab you in the back without breaking a sweat. And how your parents can become real hardasses over things like curfews, and grades, and conduct notices, even though you don’t really understand what the big deal is.

I think that it is profoundly unfair that you first discover love at a time when you least know yourself in life. How is a teenager supposed to cope with all of the drama and accusations and breaking up one day only to make up the next day? How are they supposed to handle all of this angst and study for calculus too?

Frankly, when I put things in perspective, it’s no wonder that 11th grade becomes the make or break year for so many people. The pressure from their teachers is incredible because they are pushing students to think about college, and they are trying to cram as much information as possible into a brain that is essentially a sponge: and while a sponge can absorb a great deal, it also lets a whole lot seep out.

The pressure from worried parents intensifies in their junior year because there is college to think about, and if not that, then how have they prepared for a trade? And aren’t they spending too much time on the phone, and shouldn’t there be limits on the computer?

And the poor teenager is thinking “God, I wish that I could talk on the phone in peace, and I really don’t think that chemistry is going to make or break my career, and I’m responsible enough to stay out until midnight on a school night.”

And then comes the summer before senior year, and everything changes. By October, your senior is already thinking about graduation and getting an apartment, and you are wondering where all of the years went and praying that nothing goes horribly wrong in the next seven months.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

Eamonn made us tremendously proud today, but I have to admit that there were times when I wasn’t sure that he would make it. There were moments when it seemed that there was nothing more than Pooh fluff in his brain, and there were many nights when I would get anxious about his state of mind and just how much he was in control of himself when he wasn’t under guard at home.

But I really believe that the senior year is more for parents than it is for their teenagers. It’s nine months in which you can begin to accept the fact that you son or daughter isn’t 7 any more, that you are not the most important part of their world, and that they are thinking about life without you.

Starry skiesIt’s a hard reality to face, and if you are anything like me, you don’t accept it gracefully. Even as your man-child or woman-child is thinking of new paths of discovery and a brand new chapter in life, you are reconciling yourself to fate and the need to close a chapter that has ended much too soon.

I hope that Eamonn figures out what his great adventure is going to be. I hope that he never stops dreaming, and trying, and loving, and living. I wish him star-filled skies at night, and red-orange sunrises that will take his breath away. I want for him all of those things that are possible, and even some that may not seem possible. I wish him joy, and I wish him love, but most of all, I wish him a life that is filled with hope.

Hope for better tomorrows, a world more at peace, people who are more in tune with their environment, friends who will be there at 3 o’clock in the morning if he needs them, and the immutable knowledge that home is always waiting.

And in the words of the incomparable Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget the way you made them feel.”

More later. Peace be with you and yours.

High School Should Be Abolished

The Boardwalk Trail in Trail of Cedars Glacier Natl Park by Janson Jones
Trail of the Cedars, Glacier National Park, Montana by Janson Jones of Floridana Alaskiana

“The Long and Winding Road . . . ” ~ Paul McCartney, The Beatles

“Will Never Disappear. . .”

pathwayI picked up my son Brett from school today. When he got in the truck, I could tell that it had been another bad day for him. My heart aches so much for him as he is certain that the rest of his life is going to be as bad as it is right now.

Even though most of his teachers and his counselor have been extremely understanding and have agreed to work with him, he is still suffering the pains of the anxiety and depression, and I have little doubt that almost all of it is caused by school.

When he asked me if his life is always going to be so bad, I just wanted to cradle him in my arms and hold him and never let go. That’s the mom in me talking, but it is also the person in me talking who has been and continues to be terribly unsure of herself, even after all of these years. I know how it feels to believe that life just sucks and that it is never going to get better. I know how it feels to believe that you are worthless. I know how it feels to bear the burden of putting on a good face just to make it through the day.

And because I know these things, it makes me wish that he could just skip these years and arrive at a better point in his life.

“I’ve Seen That Road Before . . .”

stone stepsI mean, I actually didn’t have a horrible time in high school. I did pretty much whatever I wanted, managed to still get good grades, cheered, and belonged to every club I could join. But the truth is that it was all a big act: my attempts to fit in, to belong. And I always wore this façade, one that reflected someone who knew what she wanted and wouldn’t let anyone stand in her way.

I have to tell you that maintaining that kind of façade really takes its toll. I would move through school at this frenetic pace for weeks and weeks at a time. I would go to all-night study sessions, take my advanced courses, work part time four or five times a week. The pace I set for myself was insane now that I look back on it. But then the inevitable crash would come, and I would get sick and be out of school.

At the time I suspected that I was manic/depressive, as it was called then, but only from the little bit of research that I had done on the subject. Of course, information was not a mouse click away at the time, and research meant pulling books and articles from shelves and reading them on the library’s time. I just knew that I had these extreme highs that would shift on a dime.

My mother, of course, would say things like “snap out of it,” and “you’re just making yourself sad.” Or the best one: “You have your period.” To be fair, though, even though I cast my mother as uncaring, it was not that so much as uninformed. My mother came from a very small town in North Carolina and had no formal education. What she knew about depression was only what she might see in movies. And in her generation, mental illness was a big stigma: People did not talk about such things as it would end up on their permanent record.

Permanent record. You won’t believe how many times I used to hear that. I asked my mom one time where this permanent record was kept. She told me not to be a smartass.

But I digress . . .

“The Wild and Windy Night . . .”

Dark-stormy-cloudsMy main point is that high school is an unendurable test of strength, will, character, and emotion. Think back to your high school days: Did you love them? Do you look back on them fondly? Bigger question: Would you go back?

No. Absolutely not. No way. Never. Fry some chicken and call me for dinner but N-O.

I was telling Brett that there are some people who never leave high school because it was the best time of their lives. We all know those people, and we usually feel sorry for them.

But in retrospect, there are only a handful of people from my high school days that I still care about. One of them is dead; he died much too young of cancer. One I was married to (no, we were not high school sweethearts, ugh). One is his best friend and was my best friend. One reads my blog regularly and has come in and out of my life for years and has always been in my life because we have known each other much longer than high school. And one is a gay man who lives with his partner up north.

There are other people who I remember fondly, There are moments that I remember fondly. There are incredible adventures that I will never forget. But that was then. I’ve moved on, matured, grown, aged, changed and changed again.

“That the Rain Washed Away . . .”

silver-birch-forestWhat I was trying to tell Brett was that all of those popular people in high school, the ones who everyone knew and envied, or wanted to be like or hated just a little because they were too popular or too handsome or too privileged—those people are not who they were in high school.

For example, one of the really sad stories from my high school concerns the football star, the quarterback. He was actually a quiet, troubled soul, but few people knew that. Everyone just knew that he could throw a ball. A few years after high school, he killed himself. I won’t even try to surmise why he might have done such a thing. No one can ever know another person’s demons.

Or take some of the beautiful people in high school, the pretty blondes, the handsome jocks: Some of them are on their third marriages. Some are with spouses who they thought would treat them like queens only to find out that their husband is a monster who beats them behind the privacy of their closed door.

Some never made it to 20. They died from drug overdoses, suicide, homicide, illnesses. The ones other people looked down on, the brains, are working for GE, fortune 500 companies as engineers, NASA.

“Why Leave Me Standing Here? Let Me Know the Way . . . “

Standing AloneWe can never know where life will take us. Most of us would never have guessed that we would be in the places we find ourselves today. Some of us have done much better than we ever hoped. Some of us have done much worse. Fate is fickle, and life is hard.

When we are in high school, everything seems possible at some point. Then nothing seems possible the next day. We go from highs to lows in the blink of an eye. Maybe it’s because of a rejection letter from the college we really wanted. Maybe it’s because we lost a parent or a sibling or a best friend. Maybe it’s because our family’s circumstances changed, and what we once had was taken away. Maybe it’s because we have no support system at home. Maybe it’s because we have no home. Who knows?

All of the petty grievances we had with people in high school seem so small once we move on and have to deal with real world issues: paying the mortgage, working with a boss who is sexist, finding out our spouse is cheating, losing a job because of circumstances beyond our control.

How can breaking up with your one true love at 16 prepare you for such things? It can help you to understand loss, but without a broader context, that loss will seem overwhelming at the time.

How can failing English or Trigonometry not make you feel like a failure? It can’t at the moment, but in a broader context, it can help you to learn how to overcome failure, and as long as no one rubs your nose in that failure, you may be able to deal with it in a way that does not tear at your sense of self.

“Many Times I’ve Been Alone and Many Times I’ve Cried”

Wild and Windy NightI’m not trying to diminish all of the emotions, feelings and flailing that a young person in high school endures. It is precisely because of the constant bombardment of things that so many young people take their own lives. As I wrote about in a previous post, being bullied when you are 13 and unable to sort through all of the emotions can cause a young person to snap. And how sad and utterly wasted.

If only there were some way to go inside the heads of these young men and women and let them know that in one year or two or three, their lives will be different. They won’t have to endure humiliation, verbal abuse, or whatever obstacles they face now because they will have the power to get away from that source of pain. If only they can hang on long enough.

I’m not naive. I know that not everyone escapes. I know that for some, the abuse continues. I know that because of economic circumstances, some will never be able to touch even the periphery of their dreams. And some will continue patterns begun in high school that prevent them from ever really maturing emotionally.

Many an alcoholic and drug addict are born in high school. Those bullies grow up to be spouse and child abusers. Some of those who endured constant ridicule grow into people who survive by belittling others because that is all that they know. Others who had to lie and live in secret grow into adults who always keep their true selves hidden. And some who were never able to overcome their childhood fears grow into individuals who continue to be victimized their entire lives.

But there is always hope, and with luck, maybe the sorrows that they endure during this emotional, hormonal, confusing time will help them to become stronger people, or at least give them insight into how they don’t want to raise their own children, the things they should never say or do to their own children because they have the emotional and physical scars to remind them of how much words can hurt.

“. . . You Will Never Know the Many Ways I’ve Tried”

Solitary Walk on BeachIf high school was the apex of your life, and you still look on it fondly, then good for you. Cherish your memories. But for most of the rest of us, it’s a period that we are glad is in the past. We might go to a reunion to see a few familiar faces and say hello, and probably, we want to gloat a little inwardly at the beauties who have gained weight and the arrogant young men who are now balding and pot-bellied.

Sometimes, revenge is sweet when it is never served at all, when we just let life take care of things. When we just allow fate to dip into the well and present its own version of just rewards.

I wish with all of my heart that the high school years could somehow be avoided, jumped over, or abolished altogether. But that is not reality. As much as I might want to cosset my son and keep him from pain, I know that I have to step back and allow him to finish this particular journey in his life. I can be there to support him, but I cannot bear this burden for him, nor would I want to if I could.

“Don’t Leave Me Waiting Here/Lead Me to Your Door”

sunrise through treesThere is an old Spanish proverb that says “The journey is more important than the inn.”  Only when we are a little older and a little wiser and a few years removed from the hardest legs of our journey—only then do we begin to understand that life truly is a winding road, filled with twists and turns and hillocks and vales.

Until then, we must endure all of the more arduous legs of our individual journeys and bide our time for the smoother paths. And if we can be patient, sometimes along the way the light will shine through the trees to help us along our paths.

Let me leave you with this beautiful memory of Paul, George and Ringo together live with John in video. More later. Peace.

 

 

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