Talk about an embarrassment of riches: The past month has been so hectic, mostly with great stuff, that I completely neglected to write about how moving and amazing my induction into the Beloit Memorial High School Hall of Fame was. It was really one of the most gratifying and deep moments in my life. Raymond Schoenfeld, who first taught me to be a journalist, was there, and had apparently nominated me. My alma mater looked beautiful. And The Increscent, the oddly named and historic newspaper I edited, had a lead story about LGBT students, in which named and pictured students talked openly about their experiences at Memorial. Progress happens.
The next day, there I was on the cover of the Beloit Daily News, next to Fran Fruzen, the man who facilitates the hall of fame — and who, as vice-principal, once sent me home for wearing a mini skirt. Below is the draft of the speech I gave to students who really listened, and even thanked me afterwards. My actual speech veered quite a bit from my prepared remarks. I’ll post my letter to the BDN shortly.
Beloit Hall of Fame Speech
Thanks: Fran Fruzen, for this incredible honor. I’ve received a few awards in my life, this one is really a validation.
It’s funny, because some 31 years ago, I was in Mr. Fruzen’s office, being suspended for the inappropriate length of my mini skirt. It’s a long story, and I’m not saying you should all go wear mini skirts and get suspended, but I do want to say that the road to acceptance and success in life is not necessarily straight and narrow and short. Your teen years are a time to sort out your place in the world, how you will be as an adult, and sometimes that requires breaking the rules. Granted, even while I was experimenting with punk fashion – playing the bad girl — I was also a good student. In fact, last time I spoke here, I was delivering the graduation speech as my class valedictorian.
My theme was something like don’t just exist, but live. I think I’ve followed my advice, and that that’s why I’m here now. I’ve always tried to live life without a script. That means questioning authority yes, but it also means choosing your path, not just following your peers. I knew in fourth grade that I wanted to be a writer. It’s been an incredibly glamorous life, not in terms of money earned, but because I have been able to travel, meet people, steep myself in art and music, advocate for social change, and express myself.
I didn’t necessarily realize it at that time, but I received an education here that has stayed with me at least as indelibly as the one I was later to receive at fancy private universities. I always say that growing up in Beloit grounded me, and by that I don’t mean that it didn’t let me fly – though there were certainly times that it could feel like that – but that it gave me a firm base in the rich soil of the American heartland. It’s a college town, an industrial town, a town in the middle of farms, a river town. At Memorial classes and races mixed in a way that’s sadly unusual even in many public schools. I had some of the best teachers in my life here – Raymond Schoenfeld, Lloyd Page, etc.
Let me be clear: I was not the popular kid. I didn’t go to the prom not just because I was a rebel, but frankly, because no one asked. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s really true that popularity in high school means nothing about 20 minutes after you get that diploma. Three decades later and on Facebook, it’s as if the cliques never existed. The cheerleaders friend the nerds and no one thinks twice. The Increscent editor in the mini skirt gets inducted into the hall of fame, go figure.
Thanks to: Parents, for teaching me not just the value of education, but that it can be fun
Brett, for being a role model of skeptical but compassionate intellectualism. Next year, maybe he’ll be here speaking to you.
Cole for being here. I hope he, and you, follow your own dreams.