High school seniors, your long-awaited day has come and gone and all of you have turned your tassels. You’ve smiled at friends and family and walked across the stage one last time on your way to the next chapter of your life.
You’re reveling at another thing you can add to your list of life accomplishments as you look to all your fun summer plans before most of you go your separate ways.
As you should.
But, did you ever take a few seconds to look into the corners of the gymnasium to those classmates who were a little more isolated than most?
It’s no fault of your own if you didn’t. It’s only natural to miss it on graduation day.
In journalism, you’re taught to avoid generalizations that assume a complete group like “all” or “everyone” or “every” or “no one” or “for a fact” ... the list goes on and on.
But today is an exception.
In every state, in every school and in every grade, you have different groups of kids.
You don’t always mean to break up into groups, but you do.
It’s not just popular groups, or those involved in activities, but some end up as outsiders because of interests or simply by what they’re comfortable with by no fault of their own. I wasn’t a part of the popular crowd in school.
So much so that they voted me “least likely to succeed in my career” in their stupid end-of-year popular crowd superlatives because “girls don’t belong in sports.”
Was it just a little piece of paper that didn’t mean anything at the end of the day? Yep.
Is it still something that I remember that gets under my skin on occasion? Also yep.
I played a sport every season and a majority of my high school friends that I could count on one hand were boys.
Why? Most girls can’t tell me the difference between a field goal in football and a field goal in basketball.
If you think I was going to be anywhere but on the couch with my friends Christian Chappell and Andrew Lowe on Sundays watching the NFL, think again.
To this day the three of us don’t go more than a few days without talking and I refuse to play fantasy football each year without them.
They’re going to be in my wedding, as bridesmen, someday.
Uncharacteristic? That’s how my entire life has been. But I’ve found I’m the happiest because I wake up and make my own choices, don’t care what anyone thinks of me and take chances to include people and activities in my life that most turn their nose up at.
Being the sports editor in this small town has also given me close relationships with kids that I never knew I’d have.
I remember running late to interview a Burros boys basketball player after a game this season and I was having trouble with my shoe.
I couldn’t get it back on because the zipper broke so I ran down the hall without it.
The kid I interviewed still stood towering over me but his voice was still shaking.
I remember telling him that I promised I was way more nervous to interview him than he was to talk to me and pointed down at my sock.
He laughed and said “OK, good, because I’m wearing the wrong kind of underwear and am just uncomfortable.”
After that day we always said hi to each other and he was never nervous to talk to me anymore.
Kids opened up to talk to me or asked me for advice about things going on in their lives.
Why they felt comfortable talking to an out-of-place girl half a country away from her home in Maryland, I’ll never truly know.
I always thought I was just doing my job.
But I found I related to many kids who have high-functioning anxiety like me, a mostly gluten-free diet like me, some other medical issues like me, and more.
All because I knew what it was like to be the kid in the corner.
It meant something to me when someone would take two minutes out of their day to spark up a conversation and ask how I was doing.
It’s not hard to do the same. Ever.
So think back to the kid you may have passed in the hallway that you might have thought was really quiet or you thought you had nothing in common with.
Or heck, you may have thought didn’t like you because of some look you thought you saw from them in seventh grade.
They may have been fighting a battle you know nothing about, and walking across the graduation stage is a day they never thought would come.
But they did it. And it’s the biggest accomplishment of their life.
You have one summer left to take a few hours out of your day to reach out to them and invite them out to lunch.
Are you going to make a decision that could change someone’s life?
Put all that education you’ve collected the past 13 years to good use and show the world that you’ve learned what’s really important.