Posts

Six things I've learned ...

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A year ago today, the 650 Blog began with Molly Morrison’s post “Directionless Floating.”

To mark the one-year anniversary, I first made a word cloud of all of the posts that have appeared in the blog.  See above.  The larger the word, the more often it appears in the writing.  Is it any wonder that "school" and "life" are so big?  After that, I went back and read all of the posts with a notebook at my side. I was looking for themes, motifs, common issues and concerns. What follows is a highly subjective list that amounts to “Six Things I Have Learned” from a year’s worth of 650 blog entries. The blog already contains some good lists of this sort: Lauren Lilly’s “Five Things I Thought in High School that Turned Out Not to be True” or Alex Deddeh’s comical “Six Ways to Succeed in College,” or Alex Santiago DiBiaso's “Go All In.” This is my list, what I have learned, and it is complete with links to the referenced posts for anyone who wants to pop around the bl…

Confessions of a floater ...

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Louisa Frahm graduated from high school in 2008 as a certified floater.

A lot of the posts on the 650 blog make the case for embracing your true self. It’s great advice, but practically speaking it can be a real challenge. How is it possible to “fit in” and “be yourself” at the same time? The term “fitting in” implies that you would make yourself into the shape of the thing that fits -- which in this context would mean emphasizing and deemphasizing specific parts of your personality in different social settings with different people. This is common, natural, and mostly normal, in high school and everywhere else. The problem comes when the desire to fit in becomes your North Star -- and you look in the mirror and nobody looks back … because you are playing a role for everyone.

Louisa writes here about how being a floater can allow you to do an end-run around this need to fit in. Rather than worrying about being accepted by this or that group -- in high school and beyond -- she boun…

The voice inside ...

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Cassidy Lichtman graduated from Parker in 2007 as the most decorated volleyball player in school history. She talks about volleyball in her post, but she really gets at something bigger and more applicable to everyone: listening to the voice in your head.

Cass’s piece reminds me of a poem I love, Mary Oliver’s “The Journey” (here’s a link if you’re interested). Oliver writes about the process by which we quiet other voices as we begin to embrace our own identities. “But little by little,” Oliver writes


as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own.

Cassidy writes about recognizing and then trusting this voice in your head. For Cass, it is a voice that has certainly not led her astray. After graduating from high school, she went on to Stanford where she graduated in 2011 with a BA in Political Science and an MA in History. In terms of volleyball, Cass has achieved just about everythi…

House of cards...

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In 2015 the senior awards ceremony was the Olivia Ghosh Show. A fantastic student who had earned the respect of teachers in all disciplines, she walked away from that assembly with a stunning array of medals, plaques, and awards. With a perfect transcript, a wagon full of trophies, and an acceptance letter from Columbia, Olivia had more external validation than she knew what to do with. Everything was perfect.

And yet….

Things weren’t perfect. Olivia’s post is all about the “yet.”

I will let Olivia tell her story, but I am struck by how many of our Superkids have struggled and continue to struggle. To the world, they project confidence, self-awareness, even joy. Behind the well-practiced smile, however, they are often engaged in intense struggles with loneliness, self-worth, and depression. Look back over the 650 blog posts. A good number fall into this category (see Natalie Schmidt, Rickey Leary, Emma Moore, Victoria Ralston, Molly Lavin for a few examples).

Olivia went to Columbi…

Learning how to adult...

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Vanessa Otero graduated from high school way back in the last century (1999). She was in my first-period AP Language and Composition class where she stood out for her sense of humor, levelheadedness, and analytical insight.

Her post is about “adulting” and one of the things she talks about is taking advice from the right people. My first thought here is that Vanessa would be a really good person from whom to take advice. Why? Because in twenty year’s time Vanessa has chalked up a lot of life experience.

Vanessa graduated from UCLA, where she earned a degree in English. Since then she has changed direction a number of times. Early on she thought she wanted to go to med school, but instead jumped into the world of sales (pharmaceuticals, real estate seminars) where she worked for several years. She then started taking law school classes at night (University of Denver) and eventually pulled off something that few have the temerity to do: a complete career switch. She is now a patent…

Embracing risk ...

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Jeremy Kahan graduated in the class of 2014. I didn’t have him in my English class, but he was part of an epic Nature, Writing, and Solitude class.

The photo below was taken in the San Jacinto wilderness, moments after we aborted a mission to summit Tahquitz Peak because it was too icy. Well, most of us turned back. Jeremy (on the right with the headband) and a few others made it to the top.

We were about a half mile away from the summit when all of a sudden the trail was unbelievably icy. We were completely exposed, over an enormous dropoff at 8000 feet, and very quickly the situation had turned dangerous. Mr. Aiston and I started helping people retrace their steps. One kid wearing Vans (Jimmy Thompson) grabbed a tree and wouldn’t let go. We came to find that two or three of the faster hikers had separated and were out of yelling range, so Aiston went after them while I helped the rest of the crew shuffle-step back to safer ground.

Jeremy summitted that day. He reached the fire lo…

Four more years...

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Grayson Lang graduated from high school in 2015. He was a strong student and a good class citizen, but the thing I remember most about him was the depth of his love for nature. When he was in my interim class (“Nature, Writing, and Solitude”), he ran the trails like a deer and yawped for all the world to hear on the top of Garnet Peak. When he was a student in my Honors English 12 class, he completed a capstone project about the role of nature in the contemporary world that included dozens of hours of video of his beloved Laguna Mountains.

Grayson has not written a piece about nature here -- but, in a way, he has. The way I read it, he is writing about embracing your natural self. Transcendentalism 101. He has written the post in verse (a first for the blog), so the message is up for interpretation, but one thing that ties it to some previous entries, and indeed the entire 650 project, is the emancipation that comes with freeing yourself from the expectations of others. The day…