By Ms. Selinger
The words taped to the faded yellow paper marred with push-pin holes that mark years of crisscrossing the country always follow me from job to job, school to school. My memory of how they arrived in my possession is hazy, the details of their acquisition lost somewhere in the recesses of my mind; yet, the yellow paper never fails to hold a place of prominence in every office, classroom, or desk I have inhabited since the start of my career as a teacher, coach, and college counselor more than two decades ago. The words, written by ceramist M.C. Richards, have concisely defined my philosophy of education and, in recent years, even my approach to parenting. Scores of students, colleagues, and parents have walked right by it, never pausing to study the words unless invited:
“It is difficult to stand forth in one’s growing if one is not permitted to live through the states of one’s unripeness, clumsiness, unreadiness, as well as one’s grace and aptitude.”
Just the other day I asked a senior to read these words on the wall next to my door. “Hmmm,” she said, her curiosity sparking. “Interesting. Can I take a picture of it with my phone?” What do the words mean to her?
Perhaps I will never know. Perhaps she was being polite and humoring the crazy college counselor. But to me, this sentence summarizes what awaits this young woman as she leaves the halls of her high school, ready to take the next step in her education and life.
Graduation is a time of reflections, endings, and departures, but it is also a first step towards what lies ahead. Heading off into an unknown, unpredictable, and unclear future can certainly be uncomfortable. As Ione Skye’s character in the classic ’80s movie Say Anything said in her graduation speech: “I’ve glimpsed our future, and all I can say is… go back.” But going back is not an option, even in the movies. We can only stand forth in our own growing, knowing for certain that we will feel clumsy and unprepared, yet still hoping for both grace and aptitude.
As parents, teachers, and friends, we often try to push aside those feelings of discomfort for our loved ones. We prefer to prevent them from feeling “unripe.” We thereby hope to alleviate the suffering that we feel from watching them falter. Painlessness seems preferable from the sidelines, but we all know that rising after a fall breeds true self-confidence, while hollow words of reassurance only serve to create false certainty. As a teacher, counselor, and parent, it is difficult to restrain myself from stepping in to deflect the blows that come from moving forward. Yet it is those times when I stood alongside my students and my children, offering a helping hand rather than a protective shield, when I have witnessed genuine growth.
In my own life, embracing the awkwardness and fear that come from traversing unfamiliar territory has, time and again, yielded interesting results. While these results are certainly not always what I had hoped for, each moment of growth has reminded me that life itself is a blessing and privileges are never to be taken for granted, no matter what form they take.
As you seniors prepare to leave BB&N and step into your future, I hope you take a moment to look back on those times when you have been allowed to stumble and succeed, to feel like an expert and a novice. Those are the moments that have allowed you to authentically grow. Go with the confidence that you will survive those moments of unripeness and will reap the benefits of your grace and aptitude.
You are prepared, and we are proud.