Last week, Harrison’s guidance counselor asked him if he would speak at the annual “My Story” assembly which is held for seniors at the end of the school year. The subject matter, I assume, is self-explanatory. Both flattered and anxious (about the speaking in front of 500 people part, not the content) he, after the hemming and hawing typical of an eighteen year-old, somewhat reluctantly agreed. The assembly was scheduled for today. This morning, as he was heading out the door, he voiced his public speaking concerns to me (and I, in a proud moment, resisted the urge to offer him a Xanax to “take the edge off”) and I confidently assured him that he would be fine. He left the house with nerves appropriate to the task, a reminder to not read it too quickly (memories of his Bar Mitzvah speech racing through my head) and assurances from me that “he could do this”.
Below is the text of his speech. He read it to me last night and I made no changes. It is from the heart, almost unbearably honest, powerful, memorable, heartbreaking and meaningful. I would be remiss if I did not mention that it also made me ridiculously proud.
When you look at someone, you think you know their character. When you look at me
you see a somewhat tall, brown-haired kid with a huge nose. You think you know what you
want about me. You see my Warriors Swimming and Diving jacket – immediately you know that
I shave my legs, idolize Michel Phelps, bathe in chlorine and am likely to miss a shot on a 4 foot
hoop. Except, all of those things are false – except for the last one at least. We see the way
people look and think we know everything about them. But this is far from the truth.
We all have stories. Memories of these stories, I believe are the most important thing
we have as people. Some stories are filled with joy, others with grief and sorrow. We all have
faced, continue to face and always will face hurdles. I appreciate these hurdles because the
ones I have cleared and stumbled over thus far make me the person I am today, and who I am
proud to be.
High school, much like life is a rollercoaster. I am confident a huge majority of you have
heard this analogy before. In 7th and 8th grade I could not wait to get out of Baker. I was
officially a man, well, kinda, and couldn’t wait to experience what BHS had to offer. I had some
hiccups, however. I would say, one of my biggest challenges was my younger sibling. George
had been well known. With his bright yellow curls and sky blue eyes, he was anything but
ordinary in appearance. As he grew older, he developed a personality to match. George was
notorious for his rambunctious disposition in our close-knit community. Having been diagnosed
with a mood disorder, ADHD and severe dyslexia to top it all off, George was very difficult to be
around. People have commented to me time and time again about my incredible patience with
younger children, but George knew how to push my buttons and then some. Granted, his
diagnoses played a part; I couldn’t help but believe that little one had it out for me. I found
myself isolating, well, myself, from the family in order to diffuse any issues that arose – to the
point that I can’t even remember the last family vacation we could all be together in the same
room. But before I knew what had happened I lost my brother – and I woke up the very next
day to a little girl in the room adjacent to mine.
George had always had a preference for typically feminine things. I didn’t care, nor did
my parents. Slightly a-typical for a little boy to yank dolls from the shelf at the store over a
truck, sure, but hey – what does that matter. As not if by chance, on her 10th birthday, she woke
up, announced she was a girl and skipped off to school to tell the world. She had spent years (if
it was longer or shorter, we will never know) keeping this inside, and this is her story. Did I
struggle at first coming to terms with a major life event not far from a death and birth? Yes. Have things gone back to normal? Of course – yet she is still a very tough person to be around
due to her behavior.
Look – this is just one little anecdote of my time in high school. I spent two years
benched from sports due to bilateral shoulder injuries. My mother spent months stuck in bed
with a horrible back injury. My parents split up just this year, thankfully not due to my sister,
but their own things.
But this is no contest. So many other people have and will speak today with things that
we all cannot fathom. We all have unique stories – this is why we are all unique people. We all
have memories we hold dear, and memories we try to shed away. I can tell you, not that I am
older and wiser, because I am certainly not – but I have learned that these challenges have
made me who I am. My story is not the easiest, but it is also not the hardest by a long shot. We
are all out of here in a very few short weeks. We do not know what each other face in the
upcoming weeks, months and years. We do not know what everyone else has overcome to
make it this far. What is the most important is that we have our stories and we stick to them.
Be honest with yourself, and never stop pushing. Thank you very much.
Wow, right? (Indulge me in my kvelling…things have been so challenging for so long that I grab and hold onto the good stuff a little bit harder and tighter than I might otherwise.)
Perhaps most touching is the outpouring of supportive comments, texts and messages Harrison has been receiving from both classmates and teachers since he spoke. His has not been an easy adventure (remember, I dislike the word journey) for him or, for that matter, anyone in the family; siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends alike. The fact that he was willing to put himself out there, take a risk and share his story is, to me, anyway, impressive. Not sure I could have done it when I was his age.
And remember: Be honest with yourself and never stop pushing.
p.s. As we speak, Harrison is at the high school Athletic Banquet at which he is being given an award for “Most Improved”…a true testament to his successfully facing that damned bilateral shoulder injury and having not stopped pushing.
p.p.s. Why am I not at said banquet you ask? Because he insisted it would be boring and that I not attend so had I suddenly announced that I was going it would have been too obvious that something was up. I want him to experience the thrill of hearing his name called which, I am quite sure, will surprise him.
p.p.p.s. Yes, I did consider sneaking in the back so that I could watch.
p.p.p.p.s With visions of him skipping out before he is awarded, I texted the friend he is driving with to not allow him to leave early. Good thinking, right?
I think today will prove to be one that makes his “never stop pushing” mantra worthwhile.