You Define Yourself
by Jay Fadden
This past weekend, my daughter Amelia graduated from high school. Amelia attended Mount Saint Charles Academy in Woonsocket, Rhode Island and had a wonderful high school experience after her freshman year. You may be wondering why I wrote after her freshman year. The reason is simple: she struggled that year, and I was devastated to learn that, because I never knew. I thought she had a great freshman year, but I found out how wrong I was about her experience.
As part of the college application process, Amelia was required to write a paper. It could be on almost any topic. Usually, those papers deal with a light topic or fun experience that the applying student had in or out of school. Amelia wrote something else.
She asked if I would like to read her paper after it had received much praise from the colleges she had applied to attend. I was thrilled and looked forward to reading what she had written with no idea what the topic was. I wondered if it was about sports, which she loved, or her family, or maybe it was going to be about the trips we had taken. I was looking forward to reading a fun piece and sat down in my chair, got comfortable, took a deep breath, and began to read. I got a few sentences in when I realized that this was not a happy story. In fact, it took my breath away. I repositioned myself in my chair and refocused. This was not going to be a light read for a father. This was going to be hard.
To give some context to the story, you need to understand Amelia. She is a very kind, sensitive, and giving young lady. She loves to laugh and be with family and is quick to joke around with her family. She is very playful and a bit of a risk taker, which I have always enjoyed about her. But she is also extremely shy around people she does not know. She can come off as distant or aloof because of her shy nature. She will not start a conversation and will stay to herself. It takes a while for Amelia to warm up to people. If you did not know her, you might think she is a bit of a snob. But she is a gift for those willing to crack that shy shell and reach out. When she does make friends, she will open up and be the life of the party, but it is very hard for her to get there. But boy, when she is your friend, it is a fun time!
Now that you know a bit about Amelia, let me tell you about her first year of high school. As she entered her freshman year, Amelia was very small, shy, in a new school with no friends, and had her arm in a sling from a broken collar bone because of a basketball injury. Not exactly a perfect environment for a young lady who is so shy. The year proved to be a challenge. At the beginning, she did not have many friends and felt alone. Some girls only referred to her as the girl with the broken collar bone. She would go to school, eat alone, sit alone, and then come home. It was tough, and Shirley and I never knew until this year.
We have a very close relationship with Amelia, and yet she never told us about the struggles she was going through or the loneliness she was experiencing. It breaks my heart to know she was dealing with that by herself. As a parent, my one wish in life is that my children are happy, and Amelia was not and faced it alone. I am not sure why she did not tell us, but I wish she had.
The story has a happy ending, though. Amelia eventually made friends with a group of wonderful girls. There are about 10 of them who are very close and do everything together.
You never know what a person is feeling, even someone you love and who is close to you. We need to be kind to one another and available. There are thousands of people who are like Amelia was as a freshman, people who feel alone and lost in a world that can be unforgiving and cold. We need to be the sunshine that can thaw that cold.
I have asked Amelia if I can post her paper on the blog so that you can read it yourself. Here it is for your edification. I hope you enjoy reading from a teenager discussing her first year.
Almost every teenager has a high school defining moment. For the varsity "jock" it could be winning the state championship, or for the motivated science expert it could be winning first place at the science fair. For me, well, I was the girl who broke her collarbone.
Beginning at a new school where I knew no one, I was lost at every turn and had no idea how I was supposed to act amongst my new peers.
Immersed by strangers, I stood amongst my peers in silent distress, I stood and I wished I could become invisible, I stood in miserable loneliness. I stood in my ugly blue sling that was slightly stained and slightly uneven. I stood in agony, defined as “Broken Collarbone Girl”.
In previous years I was the most expressive girl I knew. I would wear a colorful dinosaur shirt as evidence. I did not have a care in the world of what others thought of me. I was the peppy ‘Flounder’ in the school play, “The Little Mermaid”- the girl who fit her role perfectly.
I was the girl who could not walk down the hall without finding someone to talk to. However, at this new school, I dragged my backpack up the stairs on one shoulder just because I didn’t want to be noticed for taking the elevator.
So, I trapped myself in a shell, not allowing myself to be expressive or daring and suppressed every ounce of the passionate characteristics that make me who I am.
Here's where I went wrong: I let other people's ideas about me control how I lived my life. I lived under their guidelines and what this age would consider "normal". Well here's a newsflash for myself- there is no "normal”.
Standing at the podium of my freshman year Recollection, I discovered the importance of this lesson. More than a hundred pairs of eyes on me, with shaking microphone in hand, I stood with a trembling voice and restless leg. "Hi", I said, “many of you probably don’t know me but I’m the girl who had the sling.” Breathing a sigh of relief, I went on, “I just wanted to say I have a problem of falling down the stairs, so you might see me sprawled on the ground here or there.” A wave of laughs went over the crowd and I smiled at my accomplishment. Stepping to the side of the podium I continued my narration as I reintroduced myself to the grade. I was Amelia Fadden, the girl who had had a blue sling and a bad habit of falling down the stairs.
In this moment I was able to redefine myself as I chose to be. My classmates saw a glimpse of who I truly was, not the girl at the back of the classroom, but the girl who was comfortable on a stage making a hundred people laugh. I showed my confident, free-spirited, enthusiastic self, and realized how silly it was thinking I had to hide who I was when they so easily accepted me.
I am no longer afraid to speak out in class, or to say hello to a new person in the hall. I am no longer afraid to be myself, to embrace the slightly odd, optimistic, loving girl that I've become. I will not allow my time as "broken collarbone girl" to define who I am. My time as the girl with the blue sling will certainly not define my high school career. The only person who can define me is myself; I will not accept any other definitions of who I am unless I am the sole author. I am not "broken collarbone girl", and although it took me a year to learn it, I am proud of who I am today and am not afraid to express myself as I am.