I wrote about what I really learned in college 22 years after graduating–but here, I’m letting my high-school self speak from the perspective of the 11th-to-last day of 11th grade. I’m publishing this on my son’s 14-and-a-halfth birthday, as he prepares for high school in the fall. I’ve just been writing about how I taught myself to work with my own metabolic clock when I was 16, and being impressed with myself at that age reminded me of this essay. Teenagers aren’t so bad! They’re still learning constantly–in school and elsewhere–and sometimes they’re even willing to admit they’ve learned stuff.
May 17, 1990
Topic: What have you learned this year?
Do you want to know what I learned in this class, or in general? I guess I’ll answer both.
In journalism, I learned about getting along with people by making compromises, ignoring my opinions of people’s personalities so that I can work with them, and giving up other stuff when there’s an important job to do.
What else did I learn? I can do decent watercolors now. I figured out 500 new daydreams to have in boring classes. I learned that not all English teachers want an essay to reword what they told you; some actually want your opinion. I can speak and write everyday German. I learned some American history and actually liked it.
I learned how to draw on a professional computer program for architects.
I learned how the board of directors runs an organization.
I discovered that I’m not incompetent physically: I can dance as well as the average advanced student, walk around the house in the dark without bumping into anything, and figure out “various useful techniques to be used in appropriate situations” (quoting my cousin, who was attempting to be delicate but kept laughing).
I learned how to have real, close friends again, after recovering from brainwashing by a therapist in 9th grade. I learned that guys aren’t a mysterious alien species; good friends can be either sex. I learned that I’m not a freak but was just a late bloomer in terms of attracting guys.
I learned that I can survive just fine, thank you, without a car unless I have to go between the two sides of Bartlesville or out of town. I found out how much fun it is to run down the empty highway at 4:00 A.M,
I learned more than a lot of teenage girls know about female hormone cycles. I learned to always get a second opinion.
I learned to stand up for things I believe in. I learned that I have to tell people how I feel because they can’t read my mind.
I learned that I care about people a lot, maybe too much.
I learned that I don’t know who I am and may never get it figured out, but I’m off to a good start.
Not bad for one year. If anybody had told me on May 17, 1989, that I would have done some things and thought some things that I have, if they had said, “This is what you’ll be like a year from today,” I never would’ve believed it.
It was quite a year! Some of what I learned was crucial to becoming the person I have been ever since. Some of it was interesting to learn but just kind of floated away over time. Some of it I’ve had to re-learn several times and still don’t have it down, but yeah, I was off to a good start. It was a year of really exciting change and feeling that finally I could almost see around the corner into my adult life.
From the perspective of that adult life, I have a lot of respect for my teenage self. I see that I was bragging here, overstating some things to nudge up my self-confidence, in this journal that only my trusted teacher would read. But honestly, I really did learn a lot that year, and one of the things I was trying hardest to learn was that it really is okay to say what I think. I’ve always believed in the value of speaking up, yet I’ve always been afraid it might not be okay; at 16, I was well into the life-long task of pushing myself to speak up anyway, but that was a year when I really felt like the effort was paying off.
Reminding myself of what I learned in high school, I’m hoping that my son will learn the things he needs most and that I’ll be able to see both how wise he is already and how much he’s learning every year.