the speech that nobody invited me to write

A couple of days ago, an old friend – Alex – from high school emailed me. Our high school, a private all-girls school which will remain unnamed to protect the innocent (I just said that because it makes me feel famous, you all know where I went to school) had asked her to speak at the annual Speech Day and she wanted me to look over what she had written. Speech Day is a big deal; they give out awards and say goodbye to the Seniors and all that business. I think it’s pretty cool that they asked Alex to speak, and I wasn’t surprised. She was an all-rounder type: super smart, funny, responsible and not socially retarded. What she wrote was really touching and full of wisdom and cemented the reasons why she was a good choice to talk.

Here’s the issue, though: they didn’t ask me.

It’s not like I’m surprised or anything because I was THAT KID who got threatened expulsion on numerous occasions and was constantly carrying around my “Behavioural Program”. This nifty (see: awful and SHIT) little thing was the equivalent of being muzzled. Is that a verb? It is now. I was totally muzzled at school. My Behavioural Program was this sheet of paper where it had different categories like “Put hand up when she wanted to speak” and “Completed all work” and “Listened to directions” and so on, and if I didn’t get all ticks for three days in a row I was absolutely outties. God, I hated being muzzled. Seriously, when I see dogs with muzzles and small children with those leashes designed to look like backpacks (PPL YOU ARE NOT FOOLING ANYONE) my vision goes a bit blurry and I just flash back to being sequestered in my Grade 8 Math class and my teacher announcing that nobody was to listen to “the moron in the corner”.

Needless to say, I got all the ticks. But let me tell you, it wasn’t easy going. Some days I really wanted to give up. But I didn’t. And what landed me in said muzzle in the first place? A list of transgressions that I swear weren’t even that bad: stealing matches from Science class and lighting them in the ancient wooden assembly hall (“I forgot I had them in my pocket!”); writing a note about a teacher being Lucifer and having it confiscated (“I wasn’t even talking about you!”); finding myself locked in a storage closet for the entire duration of Chapel (“Somebody pushed me in and it locked automatically!” – TRUE for the record) and singing in class. That last one is also true and a little baffling but I guess my teacher didn’t appreciate my rendition of The Little Mermaid’s “Part Of Your World”.

Despite this, I really, really loved school. If school was a team, I was totally head cheerleader. I never took sick days because of severe FOMO. That said, I probably didn’t love it for the right reasons. My favourite period was lunch hour where 30 of us would sit around and yell anecdotes over the top of each other (some days we actually had a list of who would get to speak in what order) as well as generally wreaking havoc upon the school, but I also enjoyed my spare periods where I would sleep in the library and play Tetris (GOD I was good) and of course Modern History where my poor teacher eventually lost the will to fight me sleeping through every single video she showed. I did watch that one with the hot dude from ER about swing dancing in Nazi Germany. That one was good. Glad I stayed conscious.

Regardless, I made it through relatively unscathed and the school still stands. But I’m a little upset they didn’t ask me to speak at Speech Day. I may not have been the model student but I think I would’ve done a good job, okay? I’m not going to let the lack of invitation rain on my parade.

Alex’ speech was about the things she’s learned since high school. So In the vein of this blog, I’m going to pretend somebody asked and list mine here. Maybe the principal will stumble across this and read it out on Speech Day. Probably not seeing as it’ll likely be completely inappropes. Here goes:

1. Don’t Be An Asshole

Remember that show Survivor? Okay. Well high school is like Survivor for assholes. Nobody likes to admit it and everybody pretends it’s not that bad but it kind of is. I remember at high school, it was like whoever could be the biggest jerk got 50 points for Gryffindor every time. It was an unspoken thing, but the girls with the most power were usually the ones that knew how to bring everyone else down to size. Because it was funny, right? And why? Because it wasn’t you. As long as it was somebody else being ridiculed, it was fine. Nobody’s to blame for this; kids are assholes by nature, I think. Actually, most people aren’t assholes by nature, but there just seems to be this universal stage between ages 12 and, like, 22 where everyone on earth is a major douchebag. They say high school is a microcosm of society but it’s way more like Survivor. You’re all stuck together on this island where there are no cellphones and you have to do awful tasks that make you want to cry. Also, if you’re fat you’re in big trouble and you’re probably going to lose unless you make alliances with either the athletes or the really conniving ones. (I figured this out early)

What I learned almost immediately after graduating high school is that being an asshole isn’t actually cool. And the older you get, the less cool it becomes. It’s kind of sad to watch those people who made their mark at school by being cruel try to keep it up after they leave. They still think they’re killin it and everyone else is just kind of like… Mmm, nah. No. Because the fact is that nobody’s stuck on that island anymore; you have to make a conscious choice to hang out with people, and you’re chewing into your own time. Nobody’s gonna choose the awful person, guys. Obvi.

Don’t be an asshole. It might be cool at school but the second that last bell rings, it’s totally last season and you can bet that anybody with substance is going to drop you like you’re HOT.

P.S. This goes for teachers, too. Some of my teachers were pretty damn cool and I wish I’d been able to interact with them on a human level rather than those really common exchanges where they berated me and then I laughed hysterically and then they were like “So you think this is funny?” and I was kinda like, “Duh?” (Sidenote: usually these situations were very similar to those times when somebody tells you about a death in the family or a tragic accident and you laugh really inappropriately and legitimately cannot stop even though you want to. My friend recently told me that according to SCIENCE this is actually a form of panic. Sorry, teachers). To be fair, some of my teachers were pretty awful and tried to shit all over my life but some were rad and I wish I’d been less of an asshole, especially when they would tell me that I had potential but was too lazy to use it. This has been a common thread in my life and maybe if I’d have listened at that age I could have changed the course of the future. Oh well!

2. Nobody Is The Person They Were In High School

When I was in high school I naturally assumed that we were all fully formed humans. Wrong – we were embryos at best. Dont get me wrong – the person you are at high school is not going to magically disappear. You’ll be the same person, but you’re going to change. A lot. And so is everybody else. That chubby girl with the really terrible skin who you threw paper planes at in Maths B last year? She’s going to be a model. (NB: lots of girls are going to THINK they’re models and upload whole albums of headshots to Facebook, but that girl will be an actual model.) That really irritating geeky girl that actually listens in class and gets good marks? She’ll be a politician, and she’ll probably change the world. You roll your eyes now, but it’s so true. I have seen girls from school blossom into people I never predicted they would be. And me – I’m not the same, either. I’ve not become anything grand or unexpected yet, but I think I’m different than most people would remember me to be. And I’m so glad for that. So before you make a lasting judgement about somebody, know that nobody is who they were in high school, and that girl you’re laughing at is probably going to be SO much cooler than you. And if you continue to ridicule her knowing that, I hope she wins an Oscar and absolutely sabotages you in her acceptance speech.

3.  Don’t Be Afraid

I think most of us spend most of our time being really terrified. Terrified of what other people think, terrified of being ourselves and terrified of what that would entail and whether it will be good enough. It will be. It is. The most truly precious thing I have learned since leaving high school is not to be afraid of being yourself. There is no greater thrill than sacrificing nothing in the act of being true to who you are, and I promise you – you are you for a reason. If you’re weird, or you’re different or people don’t understand you or don’t seem to want to, don’t worry; you will teach people. You will teach people tolerance and empathy and that is the human experience, to learn from people who are not you. And people will let you know that you’ve impacted them, and there is no greater reward.  During high school we don’t all think about this constantly because we’re not all sure of who we are. I know that I didn’t, and I wasn’t. I’m 23 and I’ve probably only been really comfortable in myself and the person that I am for a year or so. You’ve got to be in the real world to know who you are. You need to love, to learn, to hurt and be hurt. You need to see life and see death and feel what it’s like to be completely alone in the world with yourself. Then you will know yourself. Embrace who you are and never be afraid of it. It is beautiful.

4. Being Different Is Actually Really Cool

Seriously. At high school, the girls who were different didn’t stand a fighting chance. You had to fit in or get out. Now it seems like everybody is trying to be different. Granted, that means that most of us actually wind up being the same, but those people who are actually themselves and are different on their own terms are the coolest people I know. I think the parts of myself that I’m most proud of are the ways in which I differ from the people I know, and I’m willing to bet most people feel the same. Have you ever heard that song by Groove Armada that goes, “If everybody looked the same we’d get tired of looking at each other?” That’s pretty spot on, I reckon. And if we all thought the same and loved the same and spoke the same, we’d be really disgustingly bored. So please don’t hide your differences. They’re the only thing stopping life from being that game of Monopoly that drags on for 3 days until you start to really hate the faces of everybody around the board and kind of want to be dead. Awful.

5. Take Risks

This is an extension of not being afraid, I guess. When I was in my second year of uni, I lost interest. This wasn’t surprising, necessarily, because I had never been one for academia. I was never stupid and I like to learn things but I never had any inclination towards homework or studying or putting anything more than minimal effort into my assignments. So when the wave of apathy washed over me, I didn’t resist it. Until my parents sat down and told me that something had to give. That maybe I should drop out of uni, or maybe I should take some time off and move to New York City. I’d never been there but I had friends there and I’d always felt a draw to cities, so I did it. And it changed my life. People told me I was crazy for going alone and going without a job and with hardly any friends there and just leaving with no plans and no prior experience of New York. And I probably was. But it was arguably the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and if it taught me anything, it taught me to take risks and to test your comfort zone and to do things that are scary, because that’s a way overused cliche for a reason. Risks need not be so large-scale: talk to someone you don’t know even though you’re debilitatingly shy; wear that quirky outfit even though you know people will stare, just because you love it; tell that boy that you think he’s cute even though he might reject you; tell somebody that you like girls even though you’re a girl and that’s weird. Life will almost always reward you for taking risks, unless it’s something reckless like riding a skateboard down a hill when inebriated in which case life will punish you with copious bodily grazing.

Here are some other important tidbits I’ve learned since graduating:

– Be nice to your parents. They are the most important people in your life and the most constant. Also, you’d literally be dead in the gutter without them. Don’t h8, appreciate.
– Wear whatever the hell you wanna wear.
– Rarely is anything personal. When people do or say something that hurts you, it’s usually about them and their own insecurities, not you. So don’t worry.
– Try to learn how to save money. Preferably BEFORE you’re living on the poverty line in New York City and teaching yourself how to survive by splitting one sandwich between lunch and dinner or eating falafel for every single meal.
– LISTEN to people. Not enough people know how to and you will vastly improve the quality of life on earth if you do.
– Coffee.
– Try really hard not to lie. It’s dumb.
– Don’t burn bridges. (See: Don’t Be An Asshole)
– Look after your body. It’s mega cool to be on drugs but it’s also cool to not choke on your own vomit.
– Give compliments often. But not too often.
– Seriously please learn how to use manners. I really believe there is almost nothing more fundamentally important to being a good human than knowing when to say please and thank you.
– And on that point, learn how to say sorry. It’s one of the hardest things in the world to do, but it will save your life (and other peoples’) on several occasions.
– Read books. Lots of them. They’ll make you a better person.
– Travel, if you can. YOLO.
– Forgive. Forgive as often as you can because life’s too short and well – YOLO.

That’s about it. Thanks for not inviting me, GUYS. Actually, in retrospect, there’s probably good reason why I will never, ever be chosen to stand in front of a hall of 17-year-olds and tell them about life.

Still… a girl can dream.


11 responses to “the speech that nobody invited me to write

  1. Annabelle,
    Every year I conspire with graduating students who are charged with writing speeches. We draft, plan, edit and, in the end, we quite often sacrifice truths for ‘best fit’ cliches or sentimentalities. The pages I printed this blog on will live out their days pinned on my wall with all the other truths too honest for formal private school pronouncements – but just perfect for the young minds who stand in front of my pin board and soak up the truth. Cheers.

  2. Annie, sorry I made you get out of the car in 33 degrees when you were 9 and arguing in my car. Can you forgive me? Your loving aunt!

  3. Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’d add another ‘tidbit’: pursue what you love and what you’re good at. In your case, keep writing.

  4. Annabel, as one of those teachers,(not sure which category you would put me in and I will quite happily remain clueless) who was often telling you and anyone else who would listen, that you had potential which your were wasting, I’m impressed. This would be an amazing speech for Senior Graduation or more particularly Speech Day, because it would be wasted on the girls leaving.
    Very entertaining and probably better written than any piece you ever submitted when you had too.
    You certainly have done everything we said, lived up to your potential, as we knew you would one day do. I think many of us knew that you were one of those for whom school was just a stop on the path to better things.
    Well done you!!!

    • Lynn,
      Thank you so much for your comment. It resounds particularly with me, thinking back to our interactions at school. Your words are so encouraging and very generous, I appreciate it! 🙂

  5. Hi Annabelle
    This article appeared in my local paper yesterday and I was so impressed I searched for you on the internet and found your blog. I have added it to my favourites and I will certainly check in from time to time to see what you have posted. PS : I was even more impressed when I saw your age in the article.

  6. So, I was totally a fat girl who played gross amounts of tetris and rarely lived up to her writing potential. And now I’m the treasurer of Hoonsville. You’re the president. And I’m so happy you wrote this. The 16 year old inside of me is feeling so much wiser.
    ❤ Mel

  7. This is so good. I too, was a St. Hildas student- a boarder in fact. My oh my, the stories i could tell. Hahaha.

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