An Open Letter to My Students

I wondered what I would say to my senior students on their last day of high school. I had only a few twelfth-graders this year, but they were a special few. There were three extraordinary young men in my drama class, one of whom had been my student for all four years of high school. Teaching in a small school like ours, one gets to know some students quite well, and it’s been a privilege to know these three. So, what can you say to the departing seniors on their last day of high school? Well, through misty eyes I looked at this group of thespians, and what I said was,

            “Don’t forget how creative you all are. Don’t neglect that creativity as the years roll on and the adult responsibilities pile up. You are all deeply creative people, and if you don’t respect your creativity, it’ll bite you on the butt.”

            “Remember who you wanted to be.” So says the bumper sticker on my classroom desk. I can’t find the original author of this quote, but it’s an apt thought for our departing students. But there’s a problem here: many of these young people don’t really know who they want to be, or even who they are. And – even if they do have that insight – how can they remember those youthful dreams after decades of raising kids and paying bills and getting by?  So, with that in mind, I’d like to expand my advice to this year’s students.

            My advice to you, dear young ones, is to keep a journal. It doesn’t have to be a written one, though I certainly treasure the time for reflection that writing in a journal fosters. Perhaps you’ll sit down in front of a video camera and record your thoughts of the moment. Perhaps your journal will contain as many images as words: drawings, paintings, photos. But however you choose to tackle it, you should pause often to record your thoughts. Who are you, and who do you want to be? What do you love, and whom? What brings you joy? What brings you peace? What stirs your imagination? What do you yearn for?

            Let me tell you, darlings, as the years roll on and the adult responsibilities pile up, you don’t want to lose focus on these questions. Oh, the answers will change over time. For example, at your age, my greatest thrill was to go dancing in nightclubs. Now? Meh. But dancing is a thread that’s woven through my life, and it still brings me joy. As you keep your journals, you will notice strong threads woven in among the changing colors of your life’s tapestry. And those threads, some bright, some dark, represent your truest nature. Do not lose these threads, my loves. If you do, they’ll weave themselves into your dreams and strangle your peace of mind.

            And I promise you, you’ll enjoy looking back at those journals and hearing the voice of your younger self. The passing of time can make that teenage self seem like a stranger, but – I’m not sure whom I’m paraphrasing here – in your older self exists every age you’ve been: child, youth, young adult, and so on. The passing of time sometimes makes my younger self seem like a stranger, blurring memories and blending details into a fog. But hearing my own voice from back then, seeing my words on the page, brings it all back. In my journals I see patterns, themes, battles begun long ago and only now showing signs of victory. It’s the cheapest therapy you can buy – for the price of a pen and a notebook, I regularly have the kind of epiphanies that others pay thousands of dollars to achieve.

            So buy yourselves a graduation present, dear ones: a journal. Spend some time getting to know yourself better. Don’t forget to check in regularly and continue this vital conversation with yourself. Don’t forget who you wanted to be.

Leave a Reply