Last week I had the opportunity to speak to the students at Truman High School (pics courtesy of Jennifer Moody). For those not familiar, Truman HS is an “alternative” high school, and each student attends Truman for their own unique reasons (bullying, attendance issues, social challenges, etc).
I was invited to tell the students about my story and show them my artwork but, as I began to speak, I realized that I had an opportunity to deliver a message that was far more meaningful and, ironically, less about me… and more about them.
As a society, these kids are often marginalized because they look or act differently than what’s deemed “normal.” It’s no wonder they feel so isolated and, in many cases, they think no one cares about them and they’re alone in this world. As a result, they’re often emotionally guarded and don’t trust others easily.
I could tell that many of these students were artists themselves, so I used that as our common ground to build upon. What I found interesting is that these kids really cared about what I had to say for the simple fact that I was a “good artist.” I was one of them and, because of that reason alone, my words carried a bit more weight.
I told them stories from my childhood, stories that I’ve never told anyone. I wanted them to know that it doesn’t matter what has happened in the past – everyone has their own challenges that they’ve overcome. The only thing that matters is right now.
I truly believe that anyone can achieve anything if they’re willing to make the necessary sacrifices. While others are watching tv, partying, sleeping, whatever… that’s time that could be used to work towards achieving a goal. I wanted these kids to believe that they, too, can achieve anything if they’re willing to work for it.
We talked about dedication, perseverance, work ethic, entrepreneurship, passion, having a positive attitude and, most importantly, helping others along the way.
The students listened quietly the entire time and then we had a great session of Q&A. However, I wasn’t sure if my words truly connected or if I was a complete bore and they couldn’t wait for this to be over.
But then something amazing happened.
As I concluded my talk and thanked them for having me, I began to gather my things and head for the door. But before I could even grab my bag, I was surrounded by a wall of students.
Since this was all new to me, I wasn’t totally sure what was happening… until the first student stepped forward and asked if they could get an autograph and take a picture with me.
What?!?!?! MY autograph?!?! WHY?!?! I thought to myself.
I stayed an extra 45 minutes and talked with each student. They were so eager to show me their work, and I could see their eyes light up as we discussed their art, which ranged from drawing to fashion to creating stuffed animals, and more. I was truly blow away by how much talent these kids have. Seriously. Really amazing stuff.
I noticed a girl in the back who I could tell wanted to meet me, but was simply too shy to come to the front. One of the teachers took her by hand brought her to the front of the room. I shook her hand and introduced myself, but she wouldn’t make eye contact as she blankly stared at the floor. I asked her name, but no reply. I could tell she was way out of her comfort zone, and the teacher interjected to help bridge the conversation.
Then her teacher handed me a folder with some of her artwork. As I reviewed her drawings, I told her all the things that I really liked about her work. She remained silent and continued staring at floor, but I saw that she had a huge smile on her face.
That moment was the highlight for me.
The next day I received an email from her teacher. Here’s an except:
“Yesterday, she joined my voluntary book circle, made four new friendships as a result. This after nearly two months on campus barely if ever speaking a word to any other student on campus.”
Wow. Not gonna lie… reading those words made me a bit emotional.
Another excerpt from the email:
“Like I always say to my students, the real power of a voice is in convincing others to join the choir. And you sure did that by coming to campus, telling your story, having that story to tell. Virtually all of campus has an incredibly valuable, relevant focal point now…. to push passions, to use time and resources more wisely, to give attention more intentionally, to say thanks more easily, to be more real and human and curious and… the list goes on. And on. And on. Today, campus feels like sacred ground where a new blend of positivity, purpose and productivity would make anyone proud.”
To the students at Truman High School: keep your heads high and be proud. You’re surrounded by amazing teachers, and you’re more talented than you realize. Share that gift with the world. I cannot wait to see the amazing things you all do in the future.