to the class of 2016: on the power of thought

When I think about the class of 2016…

I think about Rene’s eye roll and sassy hip sway. I’m so sorry I missed your pole dancing performance.

I think about Bianca’s powerful serve on the volleyball court and confident voice of leadership in class discussions.

I think about how the only thing bigger than Chantel’s mouth is her heart.

I think about how we stomped you in staff versus senior volleyball.

I think about Rubby’s laugh and Nana’s immediate departures to the bathroom upon arriving to the class.

I think about those of you I taught during 8th grade: Daniel, Joe, Cindy, Jennifer, Laura, Bianca, Jacky, Naomi, Luis…and the way we would gather in the hall to discuss The Book Thief because we just could not wait until class started.

I think about the mighty four, petite in size but giants in spirit.

I think about bowling, from Joe’s cradle grip to Wheat’s rebellious gym shoes to Chantel just trying to get it straight to the amazing backward shots through the legs.

I think about the moment Noora finally let me into her heart.

I think about how Luke became Lu-uke, two syllables representing a kind gentleman.

I think about Marlen’s brilliant and beautiful way with words.

I think about Edgar in the hall, whose mocking me as “sheriff” shifted into his own role of influence as he put rambunctious middle schoolers in their place. Thank you, Sheriff, for having my back.

I think about Cindy’s quiet strength in the midst of tremendous challenge.

I think about our meeting with Joe, adults upon adults gathered in a circle of support, where the tears flowed as freely as the love.

I think about the losses Jennifer suffered this year, but also the tearful and confident declaration in front of our class of what she found: her voice.

I think about how heartbroken I was to lose almost half of our AP Lit class at semester. But I also think about how the remaining 12 grew into a family woven tightly together by heartstrings. Sitting around a table, sharing our dishes and the stories behind them, I thought about how proud I was to call you my sons and daughters. Sitting around a table, discussing books, I thought about how you were going to blow away other college students during classes. Thank you, AP Lit students, mis hijos y hijas, for what you taught me. Never forget your Daddy Davenport.

I think about these memories, the times I’ve shared with you, the lessons I’ve both taught you and learned from you, because ultimately if I can tell you one thing before you leave:

Thinking is power.

Be the people who analyze everything, who look with a critical eye, who question with depth, who challenge with openness, because this thinking will give you insight into how the world works; remember… everything is an argument. Knowing this means you will see what tries to keep you down, you will see the resources to change that, and most importantly you will see the strength and courage inside yourself to write your story as YOU see fit. Knowing this also means you will see who is on your side, what support is beneath you, and what glory lies ahead of you.

To the class of 2016, thinking is power. But remember and honor and prioritize that the truest and deepest thoughts come from the heart and soul, and from those anchors, I will always think of you with love and pride.

Congratulations!

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To the Class of 2014: On Fear

Class-of-2014Today I watch my seniors check-out. And as they sit with me, over and over I hear: “Ms…I’m scared.” And if I could say anything, I would say…

Well of course you’re scared. You are leaving all you’ve ever known. You are separating from a community of friends and teachers you have been with for the past six years. You are venturing out into the world that, though inaccurate, has repeatedly told you you’re not good enough. You are moving away from the family home in which you’ve been nestled. You are transitioning into the adult world of responsibility, dire consequences, bills, accountability.

I was afraid too. In fact, I bet any adult you talk to will admit to their graduation dread. I moved from the suburbs of Chicago to the University of Illinois–a two and a half hour commute. And I cried the entire way… the entire. way. Because I was scared and nervous and insecure and sad. So I suppose, if I could, I would say to you that your fear is normal. You, along with every other single high-school student across America, is feeling fear in this moment.

And so, if I could, I’d like to give you some advice:

  • Embrace your fear. That you are afraid means you are doing something right. That you are afraid means you are risking. Embracing your fear means being kind to yourself, accepting that you are scared out of your wits. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling anxious or frightened. Be soft to your heart and mind and all that they carry within them.
  • Use your fear. Don’t try to change your fear; the more you fight it, the more it will grow and become a monster in your life. Instead, make it work for you. The great people in history and literature, the great people of these stories that inspire us, are not people who denied or ignored or lied about their fear. They are people who used their fear, who took all its energy and harnessed it into something meaningful. Make your fear count. Make your fear matter. Make it your bitch. Yep, I just said that.
  • Think of your fear as a pen. With it, you can continue to write the story of your life. Maybe you are proud of your story, so you write the next chapter. Maybe you are ashamed of your story, so you write a new book. Maybe you are lonely in your story, so you write some new characters. Maybe you are lost in your story, so you write a setting that comforts you and clarifies your thoughts. No matter what you write, write. No matter how afraid you are, live. No matter how nervous you are, risk.
  • When I think about the fear present in this room, I think so much of it comes from this moment in your identity development. So with that in mind, I encourage you to be true to who you are, but also to realize and accept that who you are will change. And that is a beautiful, wonderful, glorious thing. To stay the same, to say static, is boring–and also causes stress. To change, to reflect, to see someone else you want to be like or someone perhaps you don’t want to be like, that is exciting; that is living. So look around, be yourself, but also change yourself. Grow. Develop. Expand. Shift. Because shift happens!
  • And lastly, this Scripture comes to mind: “there is no fear in love; perfect love drives out fear.” I think about moments the love of people in this room have overcome fears in my life. My neighbor Libbi helping me to work through my fears of being an ineffective teacher. How we came together slowly but surely sophomore year. Returning after my Mom’s death to a group hug in the hall and a bracelet that said “family” on my desk. It is love, ultimately, that allows us to embrace and use our fear. And so, if I could, I want to remind you, class of 2014, how much you are a part of my heart, how proud I am of you, and how much I love you. Congratulations…10267773_237007369829133_2181741124839691383_n

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