high school

Congratulations & Thanks, Little Brother

Yesterday my little brother graduated high school.

*takes a moment to process this*

At 5 o’clock, the school staff ushered us in single file. I walked passed smiling siblings and proud fathers and anxious mothers; aunts and uncles and cousins and teachers; girlfriends and boyfriends and best friends. I knew almost none of them, and yet I knew how they felt when they woke up in the morning, and I knew how they felt walking in the school gates that afternoon. We all shared the same look in our eyes. We all had those smiles that were hard to suppress. We were all so proud.

For me, it was strange more than emotional. As the ceremony started and tissues were shuffled through the audience, I couldn’t help but sit silent, thinking. How is it, I thought, How is it that the infant who used to laugh when I tickled him, the toddler who used to call me “Supergirl”, the boy who used to wake up early to watch me play video games on Saturday mornings, and the teenager who used to ask me for a ride to karate class, how is it that they’d all grown up into this man that stood before me in a cap and gown? How had they become someone I look up to, that makes me laugh, that is my own personal superhero?

As the name of each student began to be called, cheers came in bursts around the audience. Families and friends stood and shouted, hoping to showcase their pride and spread it outward. We were no different. When my brother’s name was called we waved our fists and wooed our “woos”, hoping to let my brother know we were proud of him, and to let the crowd he was ours. And as dozens of other families followed suit, I began to realize why I didn’t feel sad so much as dizzy.

Yes, it was crazy to think that my baby brother, the boy who, over the years, has led people to believe he was my son (which we took advantage of and pulled pranks), my stepbrother (which made no sense because we are essentially the same human), and—after a colossal growth spurt—my boyfriend (which, ew), this boy was graduating high school and could now legally drive, vote, and serve jury duty. Yes, this was off-putting, but not sad. For I had known the baby who grew into a boy who grew into a teenager and then into a man, and seeing him take this next step forward was like accepting an invitation to meet the man he will soon become.

So as the caps began to fly, my heart began to swell. The dizziness had been overtaken by anticipation. I walked through the crowd to find my brother and gave him a big hug, anxious to tell him of all the things I know he’s yet to accomplish. I wished him “congratulations” but what I really meant was “thank you.” Thank you for letting me be a part of your world, and thank you for offering me a front row seat to watch you conquer it. May the future only hold good things for you, crazy things, preferably things that include pizza and In N Out Burger. May you always be brave enough to be yourself and kind enough to let others do the same. May you never stop letting me call you Bub, and may we never stop taking this picture.

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Dear High School Students,

Hi, it’s me, an adult—or so they tell me. I’m 10 years removed from where you are right now. When I look at you I feel like we’re a million miles apart and yet, at the same time, we’re also five minutes away. When I look at you I can see me and where I was when I was where you are. I was lost and confused and goofy and scared and optimistic and curious and quiet. I didn’t have a clue who I really was or who I wanted to be. I just knew I hoped the future brought good things. Fun things. Things that lived up to all the things everyone told me to work for.

Did I find those things? I think so. Yes. And also, no. I think I found some, missed some, and have yet to discover some even exist. In many ways I feel like I’m you again. Like I was never not you. And I suppose that’s true. I supposed I’ve always been me, no matter where I was or who I was trying to be. It’s been me, in this body, in this life, wandering her way through the world, and this past Monday I happened to land in your auditorium for your spring showcase, with the hopes of seeing my little brother be courageous. Which he was. He acted and sang and even swayed a little, and I smiled from ear to ear with pride and love.

But that was only the half of it.

You see, he had two performances. Two amongst twenty. And as I waited for number one and then number two, I got to see you, all of you, being courageous. You were funny and honest and sad and scary and beautiful and touching and raw. You made it look easy, even though I know better than to believe that. I know some of you spent hours debating what you would wear. I know it seemed nothing looked right or fit right. I know you probably paced back and forth wondering why you couldn’t be more comfortable in your skin or why you couldn’t be as easy going as some of your friends. I know you might have tried to talk yourself out of coming, and that you were nervous you wouldn’t be funny enough, talented enough. You were worried you wouldn’t be honest enough, or worse, too honest.

But you showed up. You showed up and sang songs and acted out scenes and performed monologues. You shared little pieces of yourselves, even if they were hidden behind familiar stories or catchy hooks. You stood up on stage and said, “here I am” and I just want you to know that I saw you. You. I didn’t see the flaws in your outfit you kept fidgeting with backstage. I didn’t see the hair out of place that almost brought you to tears. I didn’t see you as a number on a scale or a statistic in a textbook. I saw you and I just wanted to thank you. Thank you for letting me and the rest of the world see you. And thank you for the inspiration to let the world see me.

Give Up Your Guilty Pleasures

When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I wanted to be liked and accepted and I thought the only way to achieve that was to like and accept the “right” things. Be it the clothes I should wear, the movies I should like, the music I should listen to. I had no idea who I was, so I hoped everyone else would tell me.

But even as I started to learn the game, I was still well aware I was cheating. I didn’t wear everything I was supposed to wear, and even when I did, I wore it a bit differently. I didn’t like all the movies I was supposed to like, and I listened to a lot of music that lie far outside the lines which were drawn. Everybody has those quirks though. Those little secrets we keep from the masses. We call them guilty pleasures.

Like most teenagers, I lived off of guilty pleasures. After a long day of playing the game, I’d come home, relieved I could finally relax. My family didn’t care what I wore or what I liked, they loved me regardless. And although it took me sometime, I grew to learn than anyone worth having in your life will hold the same opinion. As a result, guilty pleasures began to lose value.

A few years ago, I heard a quote from Foo Fighters’ front man Dave Grohl:

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you f*cking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not f*cking cool.” Don’t f*cking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the f*ck not? F*ck you! That’s who I am, damn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of f*cking shit.”

Sure, it featured a few more f-bombs than the average life lesson, but it sunk in all the same. When we give into the game of guilty pleasures, we essentially admit to being ashamed of a part of ourselves. In doing so, we prevent ourselves from ever truly becoming ourselves. And to quote Dave Grohl, that’s not f*cking cool.

So I say ditch the guilty pleasures. Like what you like, without shame. It’s what makes you who are. And the world needs who you are. It’s what keeps it interesting.