As another school year begins, I find myself reflecting on several summer conversations I’ve had with so many wonderful young girls. They’ve enjoyed months of play and sunshine, adventures with family and friends, and making memories to last a lifetime. As they say good-bye to days of sleeping in and indulging in slow mornings, there’s an excitement to reconnect again with friends and usher in a new year—and alongside, a new season in their life.
Not too long ago, I sat in conversation with a high school student who was remembering with me the changes she’s experienced in her life over the summer. At the end of last year, her grades had plummeted, apathy had entered her life, and she had built a reputation among her parents as “lazy.” She herself, felt like a failure in school and in life. She questioned the quality of her future and struggled to find her own value in the world.
This summer, change came. Significant change came, deserving of celebration. There’s light in her eyes again and hope for possibilities of a new beginning—where she now knows of her worth in the world, the significance of her life, and a renewed sense of commitment to a fulfilling future.
Amidst the excitement of such change, she worries. She has worked hard to bring new perspective to her life and to bring change where need. Over the past several months, she has come to know herself to be a different person than she knew at the end of the last school year. The summer months have been an ideal time for reflecting on her life and creating meaningful changes—yet it’s a time of isolation from the community that knew her former ways of being. And so she wonders, “will anyone notice she wants things to be different this year?
Often when change unfolds in our life, we have a “new story” of ourselves having experienced difference in our life. Former thoughts, emotions, and behaviors have been distanced or dismissed in order to invite more desired aspects of experiencing ourselves. For those closest to us, they often have the opportunity to know of these desired changes and to witness their unfolding in our lives. In walking more closely and intimately in our lives, they are able to support and encourage this “new story” we seek for ourselves.
The people in our lives who don’t share in our daily journey may have a challenging time letting go of a former reputation and thus an “old story.” This can be incredibly challenging and discouraging for an individual who has worked hard to experience a new sense of him/herself. For when the “old and the new story” clash, it can be discouraging and difficult to sustain changes in one’s life and their new sense of self. We must hope and believe in the what is to come.
Inspired by the desires of the young people I sit with each week, I would like to encourage us all to enter into the new school year with the intention of riding beliefs or past reputations about another, and perhaps about ourselves. Instead, I’d like to invite all of us to eagerly await the “newness” being created around us.
A specific note to teachers, you hold a valuable place for young people. Time and time again, I hear how you’ve been a priceless tool in helping to create the ways our youth come to see themselves and their place in the world. It’s my hope you will enter the school year refreshed and will continue to passionately inspire new perspectives of identity into the lives of your students—especially those who have known a former, or present, destructive or discouraged experience of themselves.
In the spirit of welcoming this new school year and celebrating the changes young people have claimed this summer, I’d like to extend best wishes to those returning to the classroom. May students, families, and teachers be encouraged by a year full of promise and preferred ways of living, both in the classroom and in the journeys waiting for us outside. Here’s to all “new stories” coming to life!