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Letting Go of Grudges

March 16, 2012

When I’m famous and influential I hope to get invited home to speak at Seabury Hall’s high school graduation ceremony. It would be a great opportunity to share some of my life experiences and tell stories about the school twenty years ago. Maybe thirty, depending how things go.

I wouldn’t bother with the affairs and sex scandals. That stuff is dull and available in the checkout line. I don’t think I’d mention the drunk and stoned teachers either. And I’m sure no one would be interested in the times their kids were caught with alcohol.

But I would mention Mr. Anderson, who didn’t let me write an ill-fated paper. My thesis was that kids knew what they wanted to be before they turned 18 and should be provided the opportunity to specialize at a younger age. Mr. Anderson called for a show of hands: two of us could name our dream jobs. I was going to be a computer scientist, and Nina Cole a veterinarian. Impossible thesis, Mr. Mandoe: crumple, toss, try again. He was my first real writing teacher. You could say I learned to write in freshman expository. Then I waited three years for senior english and the chance to have him for a teacher again. Instead I was assigned Hodara, who gave me a 97 on a hodge-podge senior paper about a book he hadn’t even read.

I’d mention my Junior year: four quarters on the Headmaster’s List. 1240 SAT score. The conversation with Willa, the College Counselor, and the game of telephone gone wrong. Apparently it got around to the Headmaster that I wasn’t planning on attending college. He called me into his office and explained that I should consider going to a different school so that someone else could have my financial aid money: someone who was planning on attending college. I explained that I meant to take a year off to travel and I would definitely attend college after that. It got me off the hook, and he couldn’t stop me from turning one year into six. But when I went back to school I knew why I was there.

I’d definitely mention The Coach and his Speech. You know the one. When he gathered the entire student-athlete body in the gym and raged about how we should all be like _____. I don’t even want to say his name. The poor guy sat as stone-faced and scared as the rest of us as The Coach – in his tight little gym shorts – ranted at the top of his lungs about how sick he was of kids complaining about homework and sports interfering with each other and if we couldn’t all be like _____ we should just stand up right then and walk away from school athletics forever. Coach, if I knew what I do now I would have stood up and walked away.

I’d mention Ms. Arante, the University professor who influenced my writing… and education. She spent most of her classes telling stories. She would hand out homework and return papers with corrections, but she felt that the best way to teach her students was to share a piece of herself. She told the story of the fat Italian in the yellow dress. She told the story of the flying car. And she told us about Engfish.

Engfish is that phony way that students write for teachers. It’s how the school system teaches you to write. Anything containing ‘due to the fact that’ or ‘It is thereby understood’ is Engfish. Ms. Arante urged us to avoid it at all costs. The best way to do that, she claimed, was to develop your own voice. And the best way to develop voice was to tell stories. She was also fed up with the bureaucracy that she claimed big business education had become, and didn’t care if she lost her job. She intended to teach classes her way for as long as possible, and if her message was that writing classes do writers more harm than good, she was going to keep saying it until someone shut her up.

I heard you, Ms. Arante. You were my last writing teacher. When the fiction professor rejected my submission to take his class for the second year in a row and the poetry class was cancelled, I didn’t stick around. School isn’t worth paying money for unless you’re there to learn. And by that point, I was.

But above all what I would tell the new graduates would be to figure out what they’re most passionate about and put every effort into building a life which revolves around that thing. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what it is by 18; I was certainly mistaken. Take your time. Just don’t follow anyone’s advice but your own.

And don’t worry – I would never tell who burned the Led Zeppelin signs into the grass by the reflection pond. Or who raided the lockers and stacked all the textbooks in a pile one fine morning. Or who set off firecrackers in the bathroom during finals. And painted on the school bus.


From → Rants

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