Back to High School

Last week in Clinton, NY, I returned to high school. First in two senior creative writing classes taught by the phenomenal Deb Hepburn, Clinton High School. Her energy and enthusiasm are amazing. I don’t know how old she is, but I think she’s close to a contemporary of mine, and I’m 71. I’m tall-ish (5’9″) and she’s short-ish (I’m guessing 5′ even); I’m bountiful and she’s trim…physical polar opposites, but meeting her was like meeting an old friend. If I could be a high school teacher, she’d be my model. When she welcomes a visitor to her class, she rings gongs, over and over. I never saw her sitting down, and when she walks, she bounces. She introduced me to the kids and stepped back, letting me take over. The only time she spoke up was on the one or two occasions when no one was coming up with a question for me…she prompted her students and they responded immediately to that. When I appeared at Barnes & Noble the next day, she bought 21 of my books because she wanted to give them to her students. I’m still stunned by her generosity and dedication. She wants to teach until she drops!

My second experience with high school students was having dinner with the ABC Scholars of Clinton and the Mohawk Valley…seven young men: two freshmen, one sophomore, two juniors, and two seniors; four are from New York City, one from New Jersey, one from Connecticut, and one from Massachusetts. Their newsletter says: “Since its inception in 1972, A Better Chance of Clinton & the Mohawk Valley has graduated more than ninety young men from Clinton High School. They have continued their education at colleges such as Clarkson University, Cornell University, Columbia, Fordham, Gettysburg, Hamilton, Ithaca, Macalester, MIT, Princeton, Rollins, Siena, St. Lawrence University, University of Rochester, and Union.” The boys are welcomed into the community and assisted by students from Hamilton College. I had such a great time with them. Had one humorous exchange as a result of a generation gap: A young man introduced himself, “Hi, I’m O’Neal.” Simultaneously we spoke…he said, “Like Shaquille” as I said, “Like Eugene.” I know who Shaq is, but had to laugh when he said, of Eugene, “Who?” So a conversation ensued in which I explained about my love of O’Neill’s plays.

Then, over the weekend after I returned to North Carolina, I went to Banner Elk for a reunion with a senior high group I was adviser to at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Charlotte from 1977 to 1979. Those “kids” are now in their late 40s and early 50s…what a remarkable experience.

And yesterday I went to a senior honors English class, via Skype, at Charleston High School in Charleston, IL, with another fine teacher, Dawn Drake. I met her when she put a review of my book on youtube…another example of the internet bringing people together. The 40 minutes of Skype in her classroom sped by. The students had read the first four chapters of my book and their questions were great.

Bottom line is this. After my experiences in Clinton, NY, Banner Elk, NC, and Charleston, IL, I want more time with high school students! And would love it if I could follow up with them 30 or 40 years later…of course, given my current age, that’s not going to happen. But I never again want to deprive myself of their curiosity, their vitality, their thoughts and ideas. They live in a world of the future that I can never inhabit, as Kahlil Gibran notes in the poem, “Children,” in THE PROPHET:

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.”
And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

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