Today I graduate from high school.
Today is my milestone and our milestone.
Today meets me with a newfound freedom.
Today marks the end of the beginning, though certainly not the beginning of the end.
Today I am smiling. I am smiling because I am moving on.
Thirteen years ago I walked into kindergarten. I felt like I had "made it." Six years ago I walked out of sixth grade. Then too, I was fairly sure I had "made it." And then when I walked into middle school and out of middle school, into high school, and now out of high school.
The difference this time is that I know I have made it. Made it, without quotation marks.
Those 13 years ago I was a child, a girl, a dependent human. Now I am an adult, a woman, an independent human.
I moved, as everyone does, from childhood to adolescence and now to adulthood. I’ve learned the tools necessary to be happy and healthy. I have found what I am passionate about and what challenges me. I know where I’m headed and what I need to avoid.
Getting here, though, wasn’t always easy.
This past year I have written my columns from the point of view of a teenager because I am a teenager. Everything I do and see and feel I do and see and feel as a adolescent. But I have not talked about what it is to be in those years between blissful childhood and crowded adulthood.
Never in my life, besides possibly my parents, has anyone asked me, "How does it feel to be a teenager? What is it like? What is fun and what is hard?"
It surprises me that no one is curious about that. I know everyone was a teenager at one point but it seems as if people forget how they wished to be treated when they were younger. Did you want your struggles to be written off? Did you enjoy it when people asked your parents questions about you when you were standing right there?
It is also surprising that no one asks these questions because adolescence is the time of life when myriad life-threatening issues can surface: mental health instabilities, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders and self-destructive behaviors.
If this is such a vital time in our lives, why does it feel like people are either mourning the loss of our innocence or waiting for us to start our careers?
In this time in between, which I think of as age thirteen to age eighteen, I figured out who I was. I grappled with my role in the world, my place in my physical and social environments and my personal relationships. That is an immense burden to carry around while also having commitments to school, extracurricular activities, families and oneself. And I say that from the point of view of a white, middle class American coming from a stable family.
What must be shouldered by a young person trying to grow up in the face of racism, poverty or a turbulent home life, I could not speak to from experience. I imagine, though, that it is one heck of a lot more.
So how does it feel, what is it like, what is fun and what is hard?
It feels overwhelming.
It can be lonely, confusing and unforgiving. Teenagers are expected to act like adults but are often deemed undeserving of the same respect; expected to always make the right life decisions without having the experiences to draw from; expected to listen to adults but ignore peer influences; expected to function at our highest capacity even though our bodies and minds are exhausted.
It is fun to discover and explore and feel free. It is fun to drive with the windows down and stay up with friends into the wee hours of the morning.
It is hard to figure all this "stuff" out while being stressed out by schoolwork. Which, by the way, is a very real kind of stress and a very intense amount of work. At the most rigorous point in my schooling, I attended school for six hours a day to come home and do six more hours of homework. Following the labor reform movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Congress enacted that employees could only work a maximum of eight hours a day without getting paid overtime. Therefore if school were considered a job, which it is for a student, it would be illegal to ask us to work a twelve hour work day.
It is hard to figure all this "stuff" out while navigating family expectations, societal expectations and social expectations.
All in all it is hard.
So today, as my last day writing for the Reformer, I depart with a simple request: treat us with respect. Value our opinions and our insights. If a teenager is acting out, don’t simply reprimand them. Try to get to the root of the issue. Maybe all that person needs is someone who cares or someone to ask how their day was. If we mess up, help us see where things went wrong and how to avoid that in the future. Don’t brush us under the rug. We’re just trying to figure it out.
Now is the time to bid adieu.
First, a shameless plug: The Journey East Documentary Project has filmed over 300 hours of raw footage, raised approximately $11,500 and conducted 23 interviews. The film will be completed by this August. Please keep a look out for flyers about town for information about a public showing at the Latchis Theatre. We would love to see you there.
I am heading to Atlanta, Ga., in the fall to attend Emory University. The next stage of life has arrived and I am bursting at the seams. With jubilance, that is.
I would like to thank everyone who read all or any Reddened Reviews. It is a humbling experience to know that the thoughts I type up on my computer reach all of you. This experience has given me the confidence to share my writing with strangers, which can be a scary thought.
And lastly, thank you to Tom D’Errico for being such a supportive editor.
That’s all for today. Best wishes and Godspeed,
P.S. This column is dedicated to a kind man named Bill, who has always shown my peers and I the respect and compassion we needed to succeed.
Alana Redden graduates from Leland & Gray Union High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org