Years ago, as a very impressionable 13-year-old, I would run out to the driveway every Sunday morning to be the first to snag the Sunday newspaper. It wasn’t the morning’s headlines I was after, the comics or even the crossword puzzle. What I looked forward to every Sunday was the Parade Magazine. Inside there was a feature titled, “Fresh Voices," where author, Lynn Minton posed questions to teens. The questions asked ranged from, “Should parents control teenagers?” to “What are your dreams and aspirations?”
All of the answers were provided by teens, giving a voice to what I thought at the time was a voiceless group of individuals.
I loved reading what other teens my age had to say about certain issues, and often found comfort and validity in the way I was feeling.
At the end of each article, the author would post the question she was working on for one of her next articles. I often thought about writing a response to one of the questions, but always stopped short of doing so, until one question in particular piqued my interest.
It was at the summer of 1996 and I was just finishing junior high, about to enter high school. The question asked was, “What do you want your friends to say at your 10-year high school reunion?”
I had never really thought about this question. Here I was, about to enter high school. These were the people I would be reunited with for years and years to come. What did I want them to say about me at our reunion? Did I care what they’d say? Should I care?
The fact was, I did care what my friends would say, but what did I want them to say? I didn’t have any big aspirations at the time, but there was one thing that I knew for sure, and that was that I wanted to be liked — genuinely liked. I wanted people to say nice things about me, but I wanted it to be true. More importantly, I always wanted to be worthy of those compliments.
I had so many thoughts running through my head, but they all needed to be condensed down to one short paragraph.
So, with pen and paper in my hand, I wrote these words: “What I'd like to hear from the popular kids ... is 'I wish I'd taken time to get to know her better. She seems like a really neat person.' ... I'd like my friends to say, 'She's still friendly.'"
With that, I put my note along with a school photo in an envelope addressed to Parade Magazine and sent it off.
To my surprise, two weeks later I received a phone call from Minton, telling me that she loved my response and was going to use it in the upcoming issue.
When the magazine came out, I read mine and then all of the other responses. There were a few, however, that caused me to wonder if I had answered the question correctly.
“At my 10th reunion I want no one to recognize me. I want to be a completely different person. ... I want people to be jealous," one said. “Your house looked great on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," another one said.
Should I have written about what I dreamed to be? Should I want to be rich and famous? Should I care about what I look like, as to impress all those who made fun of my crooked teeth, short body and hand-me-down clothes?
The fact was, I didn’t care about those things. I wanted to be nice to everyone. I wanted nice things to be said about me, and I wanted to live a live worthy of those compliments. I didn’t want anyone to say, “Wow! You’ve changed!” I never wanted to change, because I always wanted to be me, and that “me” was going to be kind.
While I have certainly not been perfect and spotless in every way, I have tried. When I have been less than kind, I have done all I can to make it right.
At my 10-year reunion, I didn't have any grand accomplishments that were worthy of high praise, and I certainly didn't raise any eyebrows. I did, however, enjoy an evening with friends, new and old, just as I had hoped for.
To all you teens, or “Fresh Voices” as I like to call you, I challenge you to think about what it is you want your friends at your high school reunion to say about you, and ask that you strive to make kindness one of those things.