I have spent 9 months out of every year for the past four in a high school that consists of one hallway. The class sizes range from about eighty to one hundred (rarely), but the love has no limits. Growing up in a small town, in a small area, has taught me that there is no limit on love and community is the single most important thing. High school did not only teach me what I was there to learn, but what I was meant to know.
I remember the first time I walked through those doors as an official high school student. I was terrified. On my walk to school I was praying for someone I knew to run into me, just so that I would not have to bear it alone. I was greeted with a large smile and the same mortified look. As we approached the doors and this new chapter in our lives, we paused. “Well we are going to have to go in at some point,” she had pointed out to me. And with that, the rest, as they say, is history.
That day, that moment will be something of great importance to me and something I never forget. Sierra Albus taught me bravery that day. She taught me that it is okay to be scared, to be terrified out of your mind but, at some point, you have to remember that soon enough, what was new to you once, will soon be as familiar as home. As Senior year has come to a close, I have started to feel less familiar with the place that, two weeks ago, I felt largely a part of. I reflect on all my moments of bravery in the past four years and know that, without Sierra’s encouragement, walking into high school would not have been one of them. With that encouragement, I gained the confidence I needed to float through the years I had here. I know her encouragement has helped build many a self esteem.
Patience is a virtue, or so they say. I think it is one of the hardest things to teach ourselves, we must learn by observing others. A certain English teacher taught me that it is absolutely okay to have different views, to learn in different ways. She spent every class period (at least) making sure that each student was learning to their greatest capability by approaching them with learning techniques that would foster their achievement. By watching her approach teaching with a smile on her face everyday, I learned that happiness can be an attribute of patience. I am not completely patient and the chances of ever being as patient as her are few and far between but I am trying and I have Mrs. Hall to thank for that.
I remember when my Sophomore year English teacher told us a story of his “out of body” experience. My class still talks about it to this day. His exciting approach at life taught me to always take risks and create my own adventures. I have lived by this, religiously, since Sophomore year. My life is full of countless adventure and risky situations. He would have never wished for me to be in a risky situation but I could never thank him enough.
That same year, in that very class, my knee gave out. Now, this is something that my class loves to joke about but, at the time, it was the most painful thing I had ever experienced. I remember a lot of laughter in that moment, but mostly I remember Mr. Slotegraaf wheeling an office chair towards me with a concerned look etched upon his face. His compassion watered mine to grow a little bit more. I will always have him to thank for that.
Spending ten days in a foreign country and three years in a biology classroom with the same teacher seems like it would be a challenge but I would not have chosen anyone else, given the chance. She taught me to not sweat the small stuff and especially to “not cry over boys. Ever.” Her endless story-sharing taught me to always share life experience because you never know who it may help. I will never forget the laughter, the lessons, or even the fainting of a young Austin VanderLaan on frog dissection day. Thank you, Wee, not only for the valuable life lessons and laugher, but also for being the “Mom”.
To the art teacher who challenged me and fostered my creativity, thank you. Without your encouragement I might not have even considered art as a future endeavor, and now because of you, Mrs. Stout, I am going to study it. Your relentless comebacks and strong stance have taught me to laugh and understand. You are not going to take it from anyone and that is inspiring in itself.
In the popular television series, “Boy Meets World” the most important of life’s lessons are learned within the four walls of a history classroom. This is true of my own experience. If those four walls could talk, they would have countless stories to tell. From the time Mariah Foster had our beloved teacher doing pushups on the ground to the time he handed Austin his briefcase. I think that he only encouraged all of our individual sarcasm and wit. We always had something to say in retaliation to his sarcasm within the last year of having him. I was one of the few lucky students who got to get to know this man as a teacher for three out of four of my high school years. Even though AP European History had us all pulling our hair out, I do not regret taking it, and I am sure many others feel the same way. Mr. Marshall, you taught us so many things but you especially taught us all, students and staff alike, that goodbyes are hard and you can never prepare for them. May retirement be kinder to you than we were! I am kidding (partially.)
And finally, to my best friend, to all of our best friends. Thank you. For standing next to us during the awkward years, the ones before high school. For holding our hands during our first breakup and for not allowing us to be sad about it for too long. For being ready for a road trip the day we got our license, even if the furthest we could go was Ludington. Thank you for being a friend. And especially thanks to mine, Marna, for putting up with my spontaneity and always making me laugh. I have a car and a rival shirt to wear if you ever want to attend a game together.
High school has created the adult-Rylee and I actually really like who she is becoming.