At the end of the school year a group of freshmen girls gathered around my desk after finals were done. Their chatter was music to me. I had a sweet melancholy feeling sweep over me, knowing that I would no longer be a part of all of this...these girls with their tough questions and their silly smiles and their delightful reveries about life and love. One girl Josie looked at me and asked, “Mrs. Mac, now that you’re retiring and leaving us, do you have any advice?” To be honest, I was a bit dumbfounded by the question. I didn’t know what to say, so I just laughed it off. “Oh, Josie, you girls don’t need my old lady advice.”
By now I have had the luxury of time over this first summer of my retirement to carefully contemplate that advice question. I taught adolescents for thirty-one years. I saw fashion evolve, hairstyles rise and fall, and popular music change on a whim. Kids really haven’t changed that much, though. They’re still terribly insecure. They struggle to please parents, coaches, and teachers. They are frantically searching for love and friendship and acceptance.
So what’s my advice to these young people as they enter the halls of high school this year without me? To all who are willing to listen to the musings of an “ancient lady,” here goes:
1. Find a true and honest group of friends and hang onto them. Good friends are precious. They will have your back and hold you up. If you are lucky, these people will follow you into adulthood. Some of my best friends are from high school and college. They know all my wicked secrets and sordid stories. They have saved my life.
2. Search inward for self-confidence, even when the dementors are trying to suck out your soul. Find the courage and strength to face the trolls and demons. Have the guts to really know and love yourself, and then the monsters will be forced to trudge back under the bridge.
3. Ask questions. Form your own opinions. Back up those opinions with research and facts. Don’t believe something just because it’s the easy thing to do. Don’t sit back and let others barrel over your thinking. Don’t allow your heart to be hidden in the fog; this would be a wretched and tragic loss.
4. Sometimes things just plain suck. That is the cold hard nasty truth. It is how you deal with the sucky things in life that define your character. Don’t give in to self-pity or constant complaining or self-destructive behavior. Find your inner strength, my loves. It will guide you through the darkest of storms.
5. Beauty is much more than the latest fashion or that skinny girl you envy. Beauty is your smile, your strength, your love, your light inside you. It is kindness. It is intelligence. It is the fire that drives you. Nurture that beauty and don’t be conned by the surface. Looks fade. Pounds creep on or off. Wrinkles and gray hair emerge in a split second. See yourself and others beyond what is in the mirror. Beauty comes in many bewitching and exquisite layers.
My munchkins. I will miss you so. My heart is breaking just a little as I write this, knowing I won’t be in front of a classroom this fall. Don’t worry, though. Another path is calling me, and as I stumble into the unknown I will attempt to follow my own advice.
“It is very difficult to live among people you love and hold back from offering them advice.” ~Anne Tyler