To the Class of 2014: On Fear

Class-of-2014Today I watch my seniors check-out. And as they sit with me, over and over I hear: “Ms…I’m scared.” And if I could say anything, I would say…

Well of course you’re scared. You are leaving all you’ve ever known. You are separating from a community of friends and teachers you have been with for the past six years. You are venturing out into the world that, though inaccurate, has repeatedly told you you’re not good enough. You are moving away from the family home in which you’ve been nestled. You are transitioning into the adult world of responsibility, dire consequences, bills, accountability.

I was afraid too. In fact, I bet any adult you talk to will admit to their graduation dread. I moved from the suburbs of Chicago to the University of Illinois–a two and a half hour commute. And I cried the entire way… the entire. way. Because I was scared and nervous and insecure and sad. So I suppose, if I could, I would say to you that your fear is normal. You, along with every other single high-school student across America, is feeling fear in this moment.

And so, if I could, I’d like to give you some advice:

  • Embrace your fear. That you are afraid means you are doing something right. That you are afraid means you are risking. Embracing your fear means being kind to yourself, accepting that you are scared out of your wits. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling anxious or frightened. Be soft to your heart and mind and all that they carry within them.
  • Use your fear. Don’t try to change your fear; the more you fight it, the more it will grow and become a monster in your life. Instead, make it work for you. The great people in history and literature, the great people of these stories that inspire us, are not people who denied or ignored or lied about their fear. They are people who used their fear, who took all its energy and harnessed it into something meaningful. Make your fear count. Make your fear matter. Make it your bitch. Yep, I just said that.
  • Think of your fear as a pen. With it, you can continue to write the story of your life. Maybe you are proud of your story, so you write the next chapter. Maybe you are ashamed of your story, so you write a new book. Maybe you are lonely in your story, so you write some new characters. Maybe you are lost in your story, so you write a setting that comforts you and clarifies your thoughts. No matter what you write, write. No matter how afraid you are, live. No matter how nervous you are, risk.
  • When I think about the fear present in this room, I think so much of it comes from this moment in your identity development. So with that in mind, I encourage you to be true to who you are, but also to realize and accept that who you are will change. And that is a beautiful, wonderful, glorious thing. To stay the same, to say static, is boring–and also causes stress. To change, to reflect, to see someone else you want to be like or someone perhaps you don’t want to be like, that is exciting; that is living. So look around, be yourself, but also change yourself. Grow. Develop. Expand. Shift. Because shift happens!
  • And lastly, this Scripture comes to mind: “there is no fear in love; perfect love drives out fear.” I think about moments the love of people in this room have overcome fears in my life. My neighbor Libbi helping me to work through my fears of being an ineffective teacher. How we came together slowly but surely sophomore year. Returning after my Mom’s death to a group hug in the hall and a bracelet that said “family” on my desk. It is love, ultimately, that allows us to embrace and use our fear. And so, if I could, I want to remind you, class of 2014, how much you are a part of my heart, how proud I am of you, and how much I love you. Congratulations…10267773_237007369829133_2181741124839691383_n