Cautionary Tale about the Price of Not Giving a Shit (A GODAWFUL Commencement Address)

One time when I was in depression and also, 8th grade, I had a penpal.

He was cool, you guys! Wanderlust and hormones and crazy and living your life like no one is watching, because most of the time, they aren’t! The worst and best part about junior high is that everyone is soooo terribly into themselves and clueless that you could dress like a chicken and just leave off the head and literally no one would say anything. Around this time, I was total bitch and convincing enough to try to be Queen Bee, and I liked to just do whatever the hell I wanted. I’m not saying I ever had any bad intentions, seriously, I did not. But, social tact was a well earned prize that is still something I willfully abandon when it no longer serves the common good. If I can get you to laugh when you need to laugh but absolutely will not laugh by making a fart joke by the Macy’s perfume stand and then doing a Jenna Marbles face in rapid tandem? Fuck yeah, you drive.

Ehh, but younger Haley was often too numb to give a shit about not putting bad jokes on Facebook. Admittedly, that made me pretty ballsy. I look back and it makes me laugh, because it is so true to how growing up happens. I definitely made jokes about vomit and brushing my teeth as a cause and effect event. Now, many bastard adults and fellow bastard pre-teen-teenagers-bastard-children-worksinprogress would also pick on me for that. But you know what? I still think it’s funny because of the amount of weird spunk that would have took. That, and a lot of numbness.

The first time I really wrote for funsies was around then. My eighth grade English teacher was my favorite person period. She died her hair a different color of bright red often. She has a lot of emotions, and that is great, because me too! She was destined to take an interest in my life then, and it was really really great because it made all of the difference. She was the one to tell me to just give band a shot in high school, and that’s how I survived everything else. See how that happens? Just be a decent person and it ripples the fuck out.

But this penpal was an idealist idiot child from half way around the world. I had “no friends” a lot like I have friends but just don’t know how to ask for help all the time now (that is withering, let me tell you). We talked about of stuff, he had a lot of ideas like me.

Now, when I was going through a lot of shitty things, he thought it would be good to lie to me. Not sure what happened, but basically he told me “I love you” when I was upset, and to this day, I have absolutely no idea whether or not he did it for my supposed psychological benefit (like he said), or he was just too chickenshit to take ownership of his words and mean them.

Words are dangerous. They just are. If you can drop 3 very important words and not mean them, then you should be a lot more sly and maybe start an advertising business. But if you say those three little words (let alone, in English, which is the language I best understand them in), you should mean them.

I know that it could have been a mis-translation. Looking back, that seems like the most logical choice. But words can be dangerous, because words can also make you more numb. If you don’t mean what you say, you should not say it. It’s like King Solomon and the Psalms and all of Ecclesiastes. There is a reason that Ecclesiastes is right before Song of Songs, and honestly, I think it is a warning to not be an idiot and take your love life (and happiness) very seriously.

Now, I was gonna be depressed for about five more years, and that happened right after the crush that really made a lot of this insecurity bitter. He was in my gym class. His girlfriend was soooo obnoxious, and she read my planner (including the dangerous bits about him in ink that I wrote during my classes out of sheer boredom). She tried to play dumb. I had to hide in the library several days running because the fall out and bitchiness was so epic. Think Harriet the Spy, but with a lot more blonde, preppy idiots, a dash of band, a pallet of depression bricks, and a lot of bad hairstyles, emo lyrics, and barf. Welcome to Junior High.

I don’t know about you, but my town is about 100,000 ppl on average. Well, that isn’t that much. We still have our stupid squabbles about boundary issues and differences. It may have changed in the past 5-15 years, but in my day, there were some very set differences. Hillcrest was my elementary school, we were the only truly functional ESL school and had a weird, idealist world of diversity, collaboration, and happiness, at least until that all changed due to school politics and the bad ass teachers retiring.

West had kids from about half of Hillcrest and Sunset and Deerfield. We pretty much stuck in our cliques, except for those of us who never had a clique to begin with (Holla at cha girl, never got actual friends until 6th grade). Eventually, all of that simmered down and away in minor and major explosions about race, privilege, socioeconomic differences, and uniting against the teachers that generally didn’t value us as humans. But it took some time, and some of us were seriously depressed (and often).

We made due, but not all of us made it out. Some of us got pregnant. Some of us sold drugs. Some of us were raped. Some of us were coddled and consistently lied to. But most of us wanted to leave, and in that, we were basically all the same.

I want to work in schools like mine, because it matters. If writing this decreases my odds, so be it, I’ll go to where they need me more than an attitude adjustment. Apart from that, this is true. If you say words you don’t mean, you really shouldn’t. They catch up with you, even if your odds are shaped by factors you can control to begin with. You have choices, but not all of them are going to amount to a happy ending for you in the eyes of the world, unless you redefine what that means. You have to decide what a happy ending is to you, and fight for it, and then just accept the costs and limitations that will come with it. But this is still a pretty normal story for any one my age or younger, and there is still a lot of work to be done to help fix it. Personally, I believe that people older than me need to be asking people like myself and my peers how to help, because most of us were paying attention even when we weren’t supposed to me. The funny thing about being right and young is that the people that care enough to listen will and the people who would just dick you around will be made known to you from the very beginning. Which is why it is important to choose your words carefully, because if you make them explosive and work backwards, its almost always a better litmus test than keeping things safe and just coasting into your future.

If you don’t piss some people off, you aren’t doing it right. Seriously. I’m not saying you should burn bridges you can’t replace, but not every person is going to be worth having around, in terms of differences, happiness, and moving forward. That isn’t to say cut people off, but do keep your options open, anyone who is reading this and would like to absorb that (because it’s true).

I don’t care if you are older or younger than me, I believe teachers are just people who share knowledge they care about for the common good and the benefit or needs of another person. It should be broad. Jesus was like that. Why can’t we all just try? Seriously, I’m not an idealist because I’ve seen to much (as a kid, mostly), but I do strongly believe that it is not nearly so hard as everyone makes it to get along and not be assholes. I believe it can happen. I don’t believe it can always happen as we’d like it to. But I believe it’s worth it to try, even if it’s just an exercise in recovering from failure. Bill and Melinda Gates didn’t get to be one of the biggest Foundations in the world by playing it safe, and they also care a lot about Education and other global issues that kick ass. Who says we can’t try? It matters.

If not, things will just continue to happen. It just is that way. There is no colossal force that changes things unless we’re talking about God, and the way that choices simmer down to individuals. Apart from that, do your best, but seriously, just go with it. If you do it well and confidently in whatever direction you want, you will probably “succeed”. Now, what direction is your success? Follow that, even if other people (me included) tell you it’s terrible. The Natural Selection of goodness and not demented shit will take you out eventually, even if it’s just suffering alone and being miserable. If not, let God decide that. That’s life. There’s no way I could have condensed that into a graduation speech without calling out all of the assholes that made me numb before, but yes, imaginary audience and scattered homies, you should pursue your dreams. If not, what the actual fuck?

^^And that is why I did not even try to write a speech, because to this day, that is how I would still end it.


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I am a teacher-to-be who loves people. I am not afraid of many things. I like to explain my thoughts logically on a very birds-eye view level--I was born thinking that way. I follow Jesus Christ, and I accept only that label to describe my identity--that I am a child of God, as are infinite others, regardless of their other identities. Christ is my one thing.

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