September 2013 | EditorSpeak

Wisdom of Youth

I volunteer in a program that offers support to high school seniors—all the first in their families to attend college—as they write their college application essays. At our second meeting a recent high school graduate and program alum, who has been accepted to the University of California–Berkeley, spoke to the group of 50-odd coaches and students.

Wearing sneakers, jeans, and an oversized hoodie, the young woman leaned against a pillar in the high school cafeteria and offered advice to the students who were embarking on the essay-writing process.

First, she told them (and I paraphrase, but only slightly): “You’re young and you think you know everything. But you don’t. Your coach knows more, believe me. Listen to him.”

Her second piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid to throw something away. You have to do that to make room for something that’s really good. Trust that it will come. It will.”

Finally, she said: “Do not try to take the advice of too many people. It’s OK to show your essay to your English teacher, or one or two people, but if you listen to too many people, you’ll end up with a mess. Work on it until it’s good—until it’s yours—and then hold on to it.”

She’s only 18, but I haven’t heard smarter or more useful advice from anyone in a long time. We all need to remember that there are people out there who do know more and have a lot to offer, and that we should accept what they share openly and willingly. And that if something we’ve created isn’t working, we have to let it go. There are more clever paragraphs and beautiful steps left in us; we’re not going to run out.

Her wise words also reminded me that although sometimes it’s hard to have faith in our work, in the end it really is ours. We should trust it and be proud of it.

I only hope a kid in a sweatshirt will appear every so often to remind me of these things. —Lisa Okuhn, Associate Editor


One More Thing

As a leadership workshop for high school sophomores came to a close, the speaker raved about future opportunities for these soon-to-be alumni: volunteering with Special Olympics, training as group leaders, participating in a global congress.

It all sounded wonderful, one mother said. “But my son has soccer and baseball, plus he’s class president and runs the photography club, tutors, has piano on Tuesday, and works at the soup kitchen twice a month. How could he fit this in?”

The speaker immediately launched into a well-rehearsed explanation of how that already overbooked kid could squeeze in one more thing.

Just once I want to hear someone speak the truth: “Your kid? You mean Mr. Busy-Pants? If he wants to do this badly enough, he’ll have to give up something else.”

I’m not a meanie, just a dance teacher who would dearly love to have two rehearsals in a row with all of the dancers present. Last spring’s middle school production was the worst ever. Kids would show up for one rehearsal, miss three, then argue with me about the choreography. They’d come late (from softball), then leave early (for goodness-knows-what). With no irony whatsoever, two sweet fifth-graders asked if they could still be in the number even though they’d missed all the rehearsals.

I let them. With all the other absences, two more kids who only knew half the steps wouldn’t make a bit of difference. They were happy, their mom was happy—I was the only one with fingernails bitten to the nub.

We’re all busy. I get it. And as every dance school owner knows, the “best” kids tend to be the busiest of all. We can ask them to notify us of conflicts in advance. We can stay up until 2am sweating over schedules. We can say “No missed rehearsals,” in our firmest tones, but when Mrs. Jones mentions that Mari’s voice concert is the same night as dress rehearsal—and she has a solo—we’re helpless.

The only person who can help us is Mr. Busy-Pants himself, and I believe I see him signing up for another activity right now. —Karen White, Associate Editor