"Something I discovered was a new love for myself."
-A Depot senior in her valedictorian speech
Yesterday was our little graduation ceremony at the Depot. We call it "Senior Celebration." Every senior gets to give a short valedictorian speech, and hearing their accounts of their high school experiences was powerful.
They are a diverse bunch, but every one of them overcame tremendous challenges to get there yesterday. Challenges in their pasts led to challenges in their habits, dispositions, and support structures, which led to difficulties in school, which snowballed until they were too big to handle. "When I first came to the Depot," said one senior, "I was pretty much ready to give up."
But to focus on these disadvantages would not do these young warriors justice. All of us have deficiencies and weaknesses, scars and wounds, hurts and hangups, failures and mistakes. We can all decide to focus on those, stew and fret over them, or accept them and focus on improving. We can lie down in defeat, or courageously move forward.
We can all view ourselves as a static, fixed, permanent set of weaknesses and collection of failures and mistakes, or we can see ourselves as always growing and changing, dissolving and reforming, every moment as a new beginning.
We can all focus on judging ourselves for our weaknesses and failures, which actually hinders progress, or we can accept ourselves, which opens the door to progress.
We can tell ourselves a story about weakness and injury and victimization, or we can be the heroes of our story.
What defines these students is not their pasts. It's not their failings. It's their victories over these obstacles. They've gained a new openness to admitting they are wrong and asking for help, the courage to face their deepest fears and anxieties head-on, and the resilience to bounce back from disappointments and failures. They've grown in self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-efficacy. They've set high goals and gained academic skills they never expected to master.
It's not the failures that define them, but the constant growth and renewal, and this is an ongoing process. As I wrote my little speech for them this week, it really hit me: though we aim to get them ready for college and career or whatever's next, we can't really prepare them. I don't think we're ever really ready for what life has in store for us. At least, I'm not. Life has a way of serving up challenges I never imagined, and I'm certainly not always "ready" for them. That's why I need to always be learning. That's why I'm always a beginner.
That's what I told them, and that's why I shared my favorite poem with them at the end--Struggle, by Sidney Lanier:
My soul is like the oar that momentlyWhen I finished, I said, "This is a new beginning for you all. May there be many more to come. I know there will be more struggles, but I know that every time you'll glitter out a again... and sweep the sea."
Dies in a desperate stress beneath the wave,
Then glitters out again and sweeps the sea:
Each second I'm new-born from some new grave.
I caught one senior's eye as I said that last part. I swear her eyes glittered.
She will sweep the sea.
I hope they all will, again and again.
I hope we all will.