I had a school belly ache this morning.
Today I set foot back in my old high school. To sing and to speak. It’s been 12 years since my year finished up and I hadn’t been back since.
School is a rollercoaster for all of us, aint it? I have vivid memories. Good and bad. The experiences at this time in our life that can make us… or break us.
I walked back through the gates and was flooded with memories. Everything was kinda the same, yet… so different. I remember the table where I sat on my very first day, reluctant in a skirt, with my hairy legs (I didn’t know you were supposed to shave back then), shy, very dorky, but eager to please, and aching to fit in. (It didn’t take long before I was shaving my legs…). The buildings, the teachers, uniforms, the quadrangle, the hall, everything was as I remembered it. Students were lectured about etiquette on public buses… just as I remembered. They all have the hots for the young male teacher… just as I remembered.
But I’m a different person today.
It was like the new me was meeting the old me. The teachers who knew the old me were meeting the new me.
I was greeted by a friendly and familiar face. Ashamedly I didn’t recall her name, she wasn’t my teacher, but she knew all about me and the guitar I made and won a Design Tech Award for 12 years ago! And suddenly I’m reminded that teachers are human. With passions, visions, their own hopes and dreams, their own opinion, their own flaws, failures and mistakes. They don’t seem human when you’re a student. It’s us versus them. There are the ones who are like heroes to us, who inspire and encourage, who plant seeds that we take with us for life. And there are the teachers whose harsh words can define and limit us for the rest of our lives. I am grateful for the teachers who saw something in me and believed I was worth their time, effort, patience, and guidance, despite my troubled teen years. Unforgettable.
My school was a great school. There was opportunity, respect, education, some wonderful teachers. But it wasn’t always easy. Adolescence is a tough time for anyone, only to be made tougher by the idea of grades and “figure out who you and what you wanna do with your life NOW”
I approached the school wanting to come back to talk and sing. I wanted to share a bit of my story, my time at school, and where I have landed today, in the hope that if I could get through to just ONE person and make their life a little better, it would be all so worth it.
I stood in front of the school of 1000 people. I spoke about my high school years. I was a good student, but I struggled with an eating disorder. I struggled with being gay, lying about it and pretending I wasn’t to avoid bullying, I struggled with depression, anxiety and self-harm. How school can be so tough. I felt fear as I shared my story today, and that fear could have disabled me if I gave it too much weight. But the message I wanted to leave people with is bigger than that fear. It’s the message that we’ve all got our stuff; home life, abuse, disabilities, religion, sexuality, social/peer pressures, sickness, poverty, etc, but you WILL get through it. It all feels so intense at the time when it’s happening. It’s important to try your best, but school is not the be all and end all. There IS life after year 12. “I dare you to be yourself”, I said (perhaps easier said than done). Part of me wishes I had the guts to be myself back in school (but if we were never there, we’re never be where we are today – and today I had the guts to be me). It’s liberating to not place so much emphasis on what the world thinks. I came out of school alive. Not only alive, but I’ve prevailed. I’ve followed my passion for music, despite the hurdles and setbacks. We don’t HAVE to be bad at maths, cos our maths teacher tells us we are. We don’t have to follow the straight and narrow through the bottleneck society creates to success. And we don’t have to hate ourselves for being different.
It was an empowering experience. And if it could offer one student hope, it’s a job well done.
I stood on that very same stage where I once sang my little heart out and tied for first place at the School Talent Quest. The stage where I sang to my peer group at our graduation, and received a goosebumping standing ovation. Today I sang Hero in Me to the most appreciative audience. A song I would never have been brave enough to compose in high school. When the school applauded, it was like no applause I can ever recall. It echoed endlessly through the hall, and I felt their sincerity and enthusiasm as I stood there, struggling to accept their humbling praise. I felt a sense of empowerment and pride. I was proud to have found the courage to reach beyond my comfort zone and stand before those young people as the true person I am today, and inspire them to become the true person they are.
It’s all gonna be ok, ey.
What was your high school experience?
Was there an experience that made you?
Was there an experience that broke you?
Where are you now? Who are you today?
Tell me a fond memory?
Did you also draw a mustache on your face with eyeliner in the 8th grade?
Who are you grateful to?