Hope for high school grads

Hope for high school grads

Believe it or not, I still remember high school. It’s only been 27 years since I graduated. What’s not to remember? I realize that a lot of things have changed since the spring of 1981. When I was in high school, we took typing class on an electric typewriter. No one I knew owned a computer or a cell phone or an iPod. The most high-tech thing we had ever heard of was a VCR but they cost more than $1,000 and the movies were about $75. We figured it would never catch on. While a lot of things in high school have changed, there are some things which haven’t.
My honors English teacher, Mrs. Smith, was equally horrible to all of her students. She rarely smiled. She was a task master of the highest order. One day my best friend and I started laughing uncontrollably in class. Have you ever been in a situation where you tried desperately to stop laughing but it was next to impossible? She made me go to the hallway until I could re-join the class and act like a “civilized young lady.” While in the hallway, I realized that Mrs. Smith’s standards were too high. She expected excellent classroom behavior, flawless papers and an articulate use of the English language. Who in the world would ever need those skills?
Coming from an athletic family and being such a tall gal, I naturally played on the basketball team my sophomore year of high school. My athletic skills were average at best. Though I towered over the other players and gave my best effort, my lack of aggression and natural ability eventually assigned me a place warming the bench. What could a teenager possibly learn from sitting on the bench?
Like most high schoolers, I thought I found true love my junior year. Jeff was everything a girl could want. Funny and outgoing. Musically gifted. Gainfully employed at Whataburger on nights and weekends. But we didn’t find that long-lasting kind of love I had dreamed about. I didn’t understand at the time. Sixteen seemed the perfect age to meet “Mr. Right.” When he broke my heart, I felt that love had surely passed me by.
In my large high school in Texas, popularity was a game played by an elite group of students. It was as though they had been chosen at birth. Their destiny of success seemed to be carved in stone. The rest of us were forced to “try again” in college. But it would be an easy road for those who had already reached the top of the social ladder, right?
It’s graduation time, 2008, and high school seniors are preparing for a life “out there.” Some of them are a lot like me. They were cursed with teachers who held them to ridiculously high academic standards. No one ever described them as “athletically gifted” or “popular.” Maybe hearts were broken by enthusiastic fast-food workers who seemed like “Mr. Right.” I know. I remember.
Thankfully, graduation is a time of new beginnings. A time to realize that life isn’t over. Truthfully, it hasn’t even started yet. So to all those graduates who need a second chance, be encouraged. The best years are the ones to come. True popularity is about learning to value others. Real love is about putting another’s needs before your own. And Mrs. Smith, if you’re reading this, thank you. You were absolutely right. Grammar and articulation are very important. (But don’t forget to laugh!)
Editor’s note: Lisa Smartt’s column appears each Wednesday in the Friends and Neighbors section of The Messenger. Mrs. Smartt is the wife of Philip Smartt, the University of Tennessee at Martin parks and recreation and forestry professor, and is mother to two boys, Stephen and Jonathan. She is a freelance writer and speaker. Her book “The Smartt View: Life, Love, and Cluttered Closets” is available at The Messenger, The University of Tennessee at Martin bookstore or by mail for $10, plus $2 shipping. Send checks to Lisa Smartt, 300 Parrott Road, Dresden TN 38225. She can be reached by e-mail at lisa@lisasmartt.com.
Published in The Messenger 5.14.08

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