Friday, May 17, 2013

For You, on Reunion Day!

Ten years ago today, much to nobody’s surprise, I graduated from high school. Twenty-six of us marched around in the gym and sat on stage for 3 hours pretending to listen to ten different speeches and wishing the valedictorian would shut up and sit down already. I decided the highlights of my evening would be as follows, in order of increasing importance: a) eating cake; b) taking off the stupid hat and removing all evidence of cap head; c) the 30 seconds allotted to me in the slide show. I couldn’t wait for all those strategically selected pictorial representations of my life to flash before my eyes to the tune of Barbara Streisand’s “The Way We Were.” The careful juxtaposition of my photos was kind of stunning, since the ones of me wearing double-bridged titanium alloy glasses in elementary school immediately preceded the professional senior portraits I splurged on. It was going to be awesome. But then the gym’s speakers malfunctioned and my 30 seconds of glory had no soundtrack.

Aside from that tragic mishap, everything was fine. I ate 4 pieces of cake and the Arctic Sounder correspondent covering the event added this scintillating quote from me in the paper: “I just came for the cake.”

I didn’t think that 10 years after graduating from high school, life would still feel like a perpetual bubble of limbo. Sometimes I feel the same way about the last 10 years as some kids do about middle school—it doesn’t count until 9th grade! Like I’m still waiting for life to start. I’m not sure what has to happen before I feel like life has officially Begun. Maybe I’ll feel it when we buy another house, or when I can buy diapers on Amazon (not for me, but for the 11 kids I thought I’d have by now). And other times, I feel the sense of accomplishment that comes from realizing that I married a good person and influenced the lives of hundreds of students.

Yesterday, I found a copy of my graduation speech. Not an electronic copy, but a paper copy folded up in a journal. It was the only version I had saved, and lest it gets lost in a house fire or burgled in the middle of the night, I have released it into the immortal world of the Internet. I had to edit it though, because looking at it 10 years later, I realized it was kind of like that Lord of the Rings movie—the one that has five fake endings before it finally ends for real.

After thanking just about every person sitting in the audience, I began like this:

I owe many thanks to one particular person, for helping me understand that an individual’s own resolve to succeed is most important. This person has come a long way. If you imagine the following scenes, you’ll probably find that you share some common ground:

A 3-year-old in pre-school sits at a table with classmates, scribbling with precision a picture of a moose. Her most pressing concern is trying to decide whether or not the moose should have green chicken pox or yellow bows on his antlers. She notices the boy to her left. He’s not coloring in the lines. She says, “You’re not doing it right,” and tries to show him the proper technique.

Next year, she learns how to tie her shoes (but still wears them backwards) and her daily battles revolve around choosing the right combination of stripes and polka dots to wear to school.

Then she lives in a house in front of the river. She worries that her house will float down the river in a spring flood when the ice melts. She tiptoes up to the window daily to check the water level. When she finds the water level tolerable, it’s safe to find something else to do—like raiding the kitchen for tools to make mud pies and then convincing her little brother that mud “tastes so good.” 

Her dad takes her on boating trips. She sits at the bow with untidy, windblown hair and wears a puffy, orange life vest. On one trip, she plops down on the tundra with a small, plastic beach bucket and promises to fill it with berries by the time her dad returns from hunting. He’s gone for ten minutes before she imagines scenes from Blueberries for Sal gone terribly wrong and screams for help. Even after that, her dad still takes her to check the net every chance he gets, because he knows she won’t have time for it when she grows up. 

In elementary school, she hangs her homework with happy face stickers on the refrigerator, makes tissue paper bouquets for Mother’s Day, and tries to make cakes but they have more egg shells and baking soda than flour. Periodically, she hides in the bathroom and cuts her own bangs and her mom has to fix the damage by cutting off most of her hair. 

Later, she realizes she hates going to the dentist and that she needs glasses from always reading in the dark, and that she should have taken a breath before spelling the word LIBRARIAN at the district spelling bee. That way, she might not have misspelled it.

She moves to New Hampshire for 8th grade and the kids in her class wonder if it’s cold enough for pee to freeze before it hits the ground. They ask her if Alaska has any cities, and if she has penguins in her igloo, and “Where do you get your clothes?” And she says, “No penguins. The polar bears ate them all, but my igloo has dial-up internet and cable T.V. so I can watch Sponge Bob Square Pants.” 

She moves back to Alaska to start high school and finds out she can run a state cross country meet in Wal-Mart shoes with five-foot-long laces. She dresses up like and bakes 3 dozen parallelogram-shaped gingerbread cookies for Quadrilateral Day because she loves Mrs. Dunham, the math teacher who loved her first. She voluntarily donates a few brain cells while spray painting willow branches for the good cause of a concert backdrop--but it's a small price to pay for Mrs. Saito, her beloved music teacher. She lives from one biology final to the next and tries to follow the most important rule of the game that is high school—try to get through the day without embarrassing yourself—but some days it’s too hard. 

Her closet is full of jeans and t-shirts and Nike Zoom racing flats and there’s always more to do: find a job; take the SATS; try to discern the meaning of life imparted by Fred and Catherine’s doomed love in A Farewell to Arms; grow vegetables for the hospital’s community garden; design her own prom dresses because she can’t master the art of online shopping; accept the offer to be wrestling manager because she’s too afraid of the coach to say NO; realize that being a wrestling manager isn’t so bad because the wrestlers and the coach are human after all. 

Senior year is full of disappointments: she finds out her only friend from 8th grade in New Hampshire moved in with a boyfriend who had\ the mental acuity of a fence post; she gives up running because the stress fractures are overbearing; she tries to understand Ampere’s Law in physics class, but none of it makes sense; she spends Christmas vacation writing college admissions essays. In the end, she decides life is hilarious when she gets a four-year scholarship to the elite Mt. Holyoke College, yet she still uses a calculator to solve fractions.

Class of 2003, our road to success, began at a young age, when we first learned to use crayons. Each year we walked a little farther. It has been harder for some, but easy for no one. Years from now, the stories we tell will mean more if we find what matters most. I agree with Roosevelt’s sentiment, that “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Whatever we choose to be, may the light be on our windows, minds, and hearts as we find more dreams in the future and work hard at work that is worthy. I hope we choose wisely, boldly, and confidently as we walk forward through the doors life opens to us. In our own ways, we have done what it takes to get this far, and we have stories to tell. You have heard my story. Now go and tell yours. 

And just for fun:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What To Write In Cards

There is an episode of The Office where Michael Scott spends the entire day trying to think of what to write in Meredith's birthday card. After spending all that time thinking, the best he could come up with was "Let's hope the only downsizing that happens to you is that someone downsizes your age."

While Michael can be pretty ridiculous, I agree with him that it's hard to come up with good material to write in cards, or these days stuff to write on Facebook or any other medium. There have been several days at work where I have wasted way to much time trying to write something for a birthday, new baby, or some other event. So if thinking of stuff to write in cards is such a problem, someone must have solved it by now. After some research on Google I found that indeed someone had. So I present to you!