Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Can You Ever Go Back?

Common wisdom has it that you can never go home again, but what about going back to high school? Last week, I was invited to return to my alma mater, Bishop Kelley High School, and speak at Career Day. I had to chuckle. Were they sure they wanted me, a poor but passionate children's writer? Was I there to scare some sense into all of the artist wannabes?? It is a Catholic school after all.

Curiosity got the better of me, and off I went to high school...again.

It was a liberating experience. First of all, I didn't have to wear the insanely unfashionable uniform anymore. It is a horrid plaid skirt - which doesn't burn if you try to set it on fire as some of us did after senior year. They just melt - white shirt, penny loafers or some such boring, flat shoes, white socks, and, if you're lucky, a thick, itchy red wool sweater-vest. Instead, I got to wear a purple silk shirt, stylish black corduroy pants and insanely high heels. Things were going well already.

I then got to talk to two different, impressionable classes, one of freshman and one of sophomores. I told them all about the joys of writing, as well as the all too important slightly less widely publicized fact that you should not exactly lose that day job once you leap into writing. Huge sigh of relief. They were informed...if they were listening.

I did my best to make sure they were. I assigned homework. Yes, the power of standing in front of the class at my old high school with some modicum of authority had clearly gone to my head. I've done umpteen school visits across the U.S. and spoken to thousands of children. Not once have I ever assigned homework, but last Wednesday, I was on a role. They had to write a single page about what inspired them. It was supposed to get their creative juices flowing. Now, whether they ever did it, I have no idea. But it sure was fun - guilty fun - to assign it. I know. I'm evil.

I also - ah, this really was great - got to call my teachers by their first names. I'm 39 mind you, but I still have to jump over my own shadow to do that. It's all that Catholic upbringing, I guess, but I rose to the occasion. The scary part was, though, that I've been gone long enough, most of the people who taught me have retired or moved on. Okay, not so cool.

My talks went well, I think. Nobody hated me. They even, the dispassionate, too cool for the world high schoolers, laughed and participated in my talks. For me, that made the day a success.

All in all, it wasn't such a bad experience, although I have to admit, the highlight for me was walking out of those hallowed halls where I sweated math, English, social studies, and German for four painful years knowing that high school is forever behind me. I know. I know. Some people loved high school. For me, it was torture - old enough to know about all of the other things out there that I wanted to do, but not old enough to actually do them. I was utterly relieved by the knowledge that I don't have to manuever the halls, worry about which boy likes me, whether my make up looks decent, if I'll pass that calculus test on Friday, whether I'll ever finish Anna Karenina, PSAT, SATs, ACTs, AP English, academic decathlon, cross country quarter sprints, interviews for journalism, applications, and if I'll actually go to a decent college. I did. It all worked out. Thank God.

Nevertheless I did learn that you can go back to high school...for a day. You can try and tell those stuck in the craziness of adolescence, it will all get better. Will it make a difference? Who knows. But you can let them in on the greatest secret...there's an amazing world just waiting on the other side of those glass doors. All you have to do is make it through them.


PJ Hoover said...

Makes me want to visit my old high school! Luckily I never had to wear uniforms.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I'm glad it was fun for you. That's not something I'd ever want to do!

Sarah Laurence said...

How fun to go back to your school in that professional manner! My daughter hated wearing a uniform our one year in London, but she did look cute. I’m sure the kids loved hearing from you and the experience might resonate later when they are making decisions. Writing didn’t even occur to me as an option until years after graduating from college. Inspirational post!

Stacy Nyikos said...

PJ - You should. I'd love to hear that goes. Honest, with all of that energy of yours they just couldn't be apathetic in the least.

Green Girl - Oh, never say never. You'd be surprised at how well it goes, once you get over that uneasy feeling that haunts you the moment you step through those doors. I had to remind myself more than once, I'm NOT in high school anymore.

Sarah - I will never be a big fan of uniforms after having had to wear one. We did all kinds of things to express individuality. I wore ties with it, funky socks, my senior year, we all hemmed them up into mini-mini skirts. My mom refused to hem mine, so, huge embarrassing confession, I duct taped it up. That stuff is good for everything!

lisleman said...

went to a Catholic grade school but that was enough and I was glad to go to the public high school. I do remember some riot problems and having national guard in the hallways - oh the late sixties. It wasn't too bad.

I spoke at a middle school on career day a few years ago. I don't think they cared at all.

Stacy Nyikos said...

Middle school is very in-betweenish. It's prep ground for the dissonance of the high school years, but most of the time, middle schoolers have been kind to me. They still love fantasy, so I'm not yet a pariah adult!