This year I started at a new school. It’s in a completely different part of the city, with a completely different set of problems. I miss my old students and co-workers, but fate has definitely put me here for a reason.
The other day I wrote about a speech I gave to a group of 8th grade students at a retreat. I spoke from the heart and told them about my kids. About their differences. About acceptance.
I had this opportunity all because of an email. A few months ago two students typed up an email with a vision. A very clear vision.
October 23, 2017I have typed up this email to propose a kindness/support campaign that I plan to bring to the Student Council, along with the help of my friend of course. This kindness campaign has to do with the musical “Dear Evan Hansen”, a musical about a kid struggling with social anxiety and bullying (which is a very relatable topic). During the musical’s duration, a boy that attended Evan’s school commits suicide, due to a depression that was never brought up to his family (since he had no friends). Evan begins a campaign in his school, starting with a website to honor Connor (the boy that committed suicide), then he writes and performs a speech, telling everyone that someone is out there, and someone cares, even if it seems like there isn’t.He states things such as “Even if you’re somebody who can’t escape the feeling that the world’s passed you by, you still matter” and “Today is going to be a good day, and here’s why: because today you’re you, and that’s enough”
Today you’re you, and that’s enough. Oh. My. God.
And that was the first time I had heard of Dear Evan Hansen. And it changed my life. I encourage everyone to ask Alexa to play the soundtrack right now. It’s very powerful. Especially to a middle schooler.
Because of this email, an entire movement was born in our school. Not only kindness, but also letting these kids know that it’s perfectly okay to be themselves. And it’s been amazing.
This email inspired my principal to create an entire day of retreat for our 7th and 8th graders. Which turned out to be such an awesome experience for me. I may have gotten more out of it than any of the students who participated.
I didn’t really know what to expect before I gave my speech. I was so pleasantly surprised. I had every student’s undivided attention. They listened to my story so intently. They laughed at the appropriate times and had the perfect reactions to the different stories I shared. When I was finished they gave me a round of applause.
“I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.”
It wasn’t exactly a standing ovation, but it sure did feel like one. I felt amazing. I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. And I felt so much hope for the future.
This generation is so accepting. They are so empathetic. They are so willing to listen. They realize that everyone is different and that different is what’s really normal.
The absolute best part of all of this are the students who have come up to me since. Feeling they have someone they can talk to. Struggling with their gender or sexuality and realizing for the first time ever that they are not alone. That there are other kids right here in this school that are struggling just like they are.
In my fifteen years of teaching I have always wondered if I have ever touched a student’s life. I have always hoped that I made a difference somehow to someone. This is the first time I’m sure I have.
Even if it’s only one kid. Even if they never tell me about it. I know that my speech made an impact on someone, somewhere.
At the end of my speech I told of how I have received the message, Well, you know, God doesn’t make mistakes, more times than I’d like to admit. Perfect strangers send me that message to let me know that God made my children one gender and who am I to change that? Ignorant, judgmental strangers.
I told them that my response is always the same. You’re right, God doesn’t make mistakes. A mistake would be giving my kids to someone like you. Boom. Their reaction to my hilariously witty response was perfect.
A few days later I was walking down the hall and an 8th grader, that I do not know, walked up to me and said, Savage Burn, high-fived me, then just kept walking.
The most amazing compliment I could have ever asked for.
Today I’m me, and that’s enough.