It’s not fair to make assumptions about people before getting to know them.
Even assumptions about high school and college kids.
I’ve always kind of been an advocate for young people, pretty much ever since I was one. I told myself I wouldn’t grow up to be one of those adults who looks at teenagers and says, “Kids these days!” or something of the sort. And, for the most part, I feel like I still have that same attitude I did back in the day.
While I taught high school for seven years, I was able to interact with a bunch of those individuals I always promised to defend. I learned a lot about them—and a lot from them. I think it’s easy to forget that we can actually gain wisdom from people who are younger than we are. I know it’s a crazy thought, but we still don’t know everything we think we do as grownups. It’s a painful reality I deal with daily. And, even now that I’m removed from the everyday high school world, I still believe that some of the most promising individuals aren’t even old enough to buy alcohol or have their own health insurance.
From an adult standpoint, it’s really easy to look at younger people—including college kids—and be instantly annoyed. They’re too loud. They’re immature. They overreact about everything. They’re selfish. They gossip too much. They’re not independent enough. They don’t care about others.
I can tell you right now that, not only are those assumptions not always accurate about everyone in that age range, but a lot of those things are true—at least at some point in time or another—of just about any human who ever existed. I’m loud at times. I sometimes act like I’m still in high school. I’ve overreacted once or twice (or more, whatever). I’m not always selfless like I wish I could be. I’ve said not-so-nice things about others. I sometimes still ask my parents for help (I mean, my dad drove me to my race—and even the expo the day before—last weekend). I try to put others first but sometimes fail. Perhaps you can relate, too.
But people still give us chances we don’t deserve—and even the younger ones should get the same.
My teaching career led me to some of the relationships I value most in my life. There’s a handful of girls I was able to teach for their entire high school careers, and I am now lucky enough to act as their mentor/friend as they make their journeys through college and into the “real world.” One is even about to enter in her last semester ever and has a pretty little engagement ring on her finger. (How the heck did time pass this quickly?!) I cherish the times I get to spend with them and consider it an honor that they devote time to spend with me when they come home on their breaks. We keep up through texts, emails and phone convos the rest of the year, and those regular communications really are so important to me—because those girls are important to me. They are years younger than I am, but they teach me so much every single day.
They know what it means to love. They know what it means to serve. They know what it means to trust. They know what it means to work their a$*es off. They know what it means to chase dreams. They know what it means to celebrate successes. They know what it means to learn from failures. They know what it means to experience heartbreak. They know what it means to be judged. They know what it means to feel scared. They know what it means to be brave. They know what it means to care. They know what it means to be independent. They know what it means to forgive.
And they know what it means to show the world that there is no age limit to being someone who can truly change others’ lives for the better.
There’s Hannah, who is the epitome of persistence. She has a genuine heart for others and doesn’t give up on people (including herself) ever. Her selflessness continues to inspire me as she puts her passion to use.
There’s Courtney, who shared a first day of high school with me (hers as a student, mine as a teacher). She’s one of those people who will support you through everything and make you smile every chance she gets. She’s solid through and through. If we had grown up together, we would have been best friends for sure. She’s become one of the most confident and caring people I know, and she understands and appreciates the things about me that some people think are weird.
There’s Fritzy, who has one of the kindest hearts of anyone you will ever meet. Ever. I don’t think she knows how to be mean. It’s not in her DNA. She has the biggest heart for individuals with special needs, and I admire how adamantly she is pursuing a career in that field. She has become a strong leader in so many areas of her life, and she continues to amaze me with her wisdom and understanding of things that people generally assume those her age don’t know.
There’s Anna, who never fails to let me know when she uses her AP style skills in college. She has shown over the years how valuable her creativity is, and I’ve enjoyed seeing her put it to such great use. She also really knows how to show people in her life how much they mean to her. She’s the keeper friend you want in your life.
There’s Kelsey, who has seriously transformed in a number of ways since I met her in her freshman year of high school. She’s a college sophomore now and might be the best definition of a Jesus feminist I know (along with her sister, Courtney, of course). If you want to sit down and have a quality heart-to-heart and talk about all things life and guys and dreams and fears and Taylor Swift, then you should go get froyo or coffee with her.
There’s Bennett, who will always be my “running daughter.” I can’t even express how proud I am of her. She has overcome so much and has become the kind of person I would want my own daughter (if I had one) to be. Her independence and assurance of who she is are things I hope other young women see in her and become inspired by. When she is grateful for you, she lets you know—and does so in a way that touches your heart and makes you want to cry, even when you’re not sure you have tear ducts that function. She’s a gem in every sense of the word.
I don’t think we should overlook people because of their ages. Younger people are going to be adults someday, and some of them act more like adults than real grownups, anyway. The thing is, they’re people—just like you and me. We were once younger, and I know I didn’t want people giving up on me or treating me like I was an annoyance just because I was a certain age. All people deserve to feel valued. All people deserve to be loved. And all people deserve to know that they matter.
And that’s something I learned from a bunch of high schoolers who will always hold a special place in my heart.