Wednesday, May 30, 2012

for the graduate: yes and no.

Dear Ashley,

When I was a sophomore in high school, I got asked out on my first date.

The final school bell had rung, and I stood outside with a friend, waiting for my mother’s minivan to enter my line of vision. As I stood waiting, a classmate stopped to talk. He was, I am sad to say, the butt of many a high school joke and prank, not necessarily because it was deserved, but because in high school, it’s the opinion of the populace that matters. With his pleated jeans, buttoned-up-to-the-very-tip-top polo shirts, and an unfortunate eyebrow situation, he often made a rather easy target. Like me, he wore a backpack that was far too big and was daily filled to the brim with loads upon loads of extra material, causing him to tilt forward just a little; it’s a gait I still remember vividly, eight years after graduation.

This young man and I were friends. Not great friends, sure; I was a late bloomer, and until I was about 17, my friends consisted mostly of my own gender. But we shared a lot of the same classes, and our neighborhoods were fairly close to one another. Our friendship, though, didn’t stop me from being mortified when he asked me out on a date.

It was, looking back, such a small thing. In true, stereotypical fashion, he invited me to see Star Wars, and he did so rather publicly, as my friend stood nearby, giggling hysterically. I hate that she did that — I now understand just how much bravery initiative and invitation take — and I’d like to think my own response was different. I don’t think I laughed or giggled — I was too in shock, too nervous — but I also know this: I did not say yes.

At the time, I told him I’d think about it, but when my mother finally pulled in to pick me up and take me home, I got in the car and promptly pronounced I had been asked out on my first date, and I would not be going.

I was 15, and I was mortified, for more reasons than just being asked out by the school geek. I’m not sure I blame 15-year-old me for returning to school the next day and politely saying no, for rejecting a persistent young man I just didn’t have any romantic interest in. And yet, here I am, almost a full 11 years later, realizing: a yes would have been just as inconsequential as a no.

When you’re in high school, everything feels so much bigger than it ever really is. It’s a feeling that permeates almost every decision, every relationship, and every event. Homecomings and first dates and football games and class ring ceremonies all seem like they will hold eternal consequence, and the truth is: None of it does. And that doesn’t lessen their importance. It doesn’t make high school less meaningful. It just means sometimes, it’s okay to say yes to seeing Star Wars with a geeky boy you might not really like. I look back on that miniscule event, and I wonder, what if I had just gone? I probably would have had an okay time. It probably would have been fine, maybe even fun. I wouldn’t have married him, may not have even gone out on a second date. But I could have said yes, and even if things turned out miserably, I would have had a fine story to tell.

I know you’re almost done with high school. I know our experiences have been different, and in two days, it will all be over. I know you’re 18, not 16, and you’ve already had your first date, and you’re probably already realizing that some of this stuff that seems so major is actually pretty minor.

But I think the lesson applies to college just as easily as it does to high school: Don’t be afraid to say yes.

Say yes to cheesy things like social clubs and dance parties in your dorm room and $2 Tuesdays at the university dinner theatre. Say yes to cafeteria food and unlikely friendships and on-campus singing competitions (yes, those exist). Say yes to road trips and bonfires and late night runs to Walmart.

By saying yes, you’ll figure out who you are and where you belong. With every yes, you’ll embark on a journey of self-discovery; you’ll learn what makes you tick and why.

And — perhaps this is of most importance — the saying of yeses will eventually lead to the discovery of no.

My freshman year in college, I said yes to so many things I would never have said yes to before. Perhaps I saw, in my mind, that 15-year-old version of myself, saying no when I so easily could have just said yes. Perhaps the younger Annie wanted the older Annie to let go a little, to do things like dye her hair red (temporarily) and take off on random road trips to Atlanta.

By the time my last year of college rolled around, though, I knew I couldn’t say yes to everything. Those earlier yeses led to more responsible and careful nos. In college, I learned I don’t function well past 10 p.m. I get grouchy and frustrated and sensitive, and even though most people may not understand that, I do. I know because I spent many a night in college up well past 10 p.m., and you know what? It never really ended well. In college, I figured that out. I figured it out first by saying yes, and eventually, by saying no.

A lot of people will write you cards and send you money over the next few weeks. They’ll include passages from Scripture, verses like Jeremiah 29:11, verses reminding you God has a plan and a purpose for your wild and precious life.

Those are good verses; I’m glad someone is telling you those truths.

But I just want you to know you can let your yes be yes, and your no be no.

Our yeses and our nos reveal so much about who we are, about our goals and our ambitions and our life’s callings.

When I look back to those high school years, I see now how small everything really was. I understand that my yes could have been so easily spoken, perhaps even enjoyed. I look back to college, though, and I see that the yeses began to mean more. The nos too.

Say yes. Be brave and bold and adventurous.

Say no. Be deliberate and purposeful and confident.

Say yes in order to try new things, but say no to figure out who you are and what you want.

Both, I think, will be rewarded.

image from here.


jenna said...

I love this, Annie.
You have such wisdom and insight and a gift to be able to put it all in such perfect words!
(I posted this on my facebook for my graduating seniors to read.)
Love you!

Sydney said...

so, so great Annie! Even though I just graduated from university I really felt like you were speaking to me. thank you.

Kari said...

I have been reading these this week, and I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed this one in particular. There's a guy who asked me to coffee one time in college, and I said no because we would have been skipping class (horror of horrors) and I wish I had said yes.

I think a lot of teenagers who are raised as conservatively as I was are used to defining themselves by their "no." I knew who I was because I knew what I didn't do. Since then, I have learned that it's better to define myself by the things I do and the things I welcome into my life.