This week I received a wedding announcement that whisked me back to the days of oversized shirts, painfully pegged jeans, and poofy bangs. The reason is that I went to high school with both the bride and the groom.
I took the groom to Girls’ Preference my junior year. His twin took me to prom. I ended up being great friends with both guys.
But it’s the bride, Liz, that has got me thinking over the last week. Liz and I weren’t best friends throughout high school, but our paths crossed several times. We were friendly with one another, and we had several shared acquaintances.
One project we were briefly involved with together was the school’s literary journal, In Print, my first publication. It’s the one and only place people will ever see a poem written by me. (Let’s just say I’m not a poet, and there’s good reason for that.) The journal has a photo of the staff in it. Liz’s name is listed as they lay-out person, but she’s not in the picture (although her best friend is). There’s also a guy named John Fish. Nice boy, weird hair.
But the reason I’ve been thinking of Liz is something a bit bigger. It’s because we share a common bond of being losers. Seriously—hear me out. We both applied and interviewed to be the English Sterling Scholar of our graduating class. Neither of us won. Instead, we were both alternates. (Read: the losers.)
Even at the time, I remember thinking that Liz should have won. Of the three applicants, she was the person who had done the most with English while at high school. She had worked on the school paper and (I think; I'd have to double check) on the yearbook committee, for starters. I had been in creative writing. Sure, I had challenged the AP English test without taking the class (yea for me, I got a 5). But I didn’t do the other stuff she had, like learn the lay-out computer program that actually MADE the literary journal.
The winner was a good friend of mine, and I mean no disrespect when I say that I don’t think she deserved the honor. She was a great student, definitely. No question. But her school resume was loaded in other areas just as much as English. She could have just as well applied for the Music Sterling Scholar. She took the title, I believe, because she had a way of making the teachers like her. (Okay, I’ll say it. She was always the teacher’s pet.)
To be honest, until this week, I hadn’t thought about the Sterling Scholar thing for, oh, fifteen years, until another friend (Thanks, Sarah!) pointed it out this week as we chatted about receiving our wedding announcements in the mail.
Now for the kicker:
Here’s where the three English Sterling Scholar applicants are today:
The winner went on to get a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies.
Liz is currently a favorite English teacher at our old high school (ironically, teaching my nephew at one point).
And of course, I’m publishing books, freelancing magazine articles, and teaching at writing conferences.
Only the two alternates went on to do anything with English.
In some ways, I wish I could go back to those adolescents we were and assure them that you know what? The adults don’t always know best. Follow your heart. You really do know what you’re doing.
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