“To Love Another Person Is to See the Face of God”

6:27 pm. July 7, 2017. I pulled into my parking spot. The parking spot I had parked in for 3 years in the parking lot full of 14 years worth of memories. I was almost late, barely pulling in, annoyed at the traffic, and tired from a long day at work. To be honest, I wasn’t really in the mood for rehearsal. Little did I know that just a few minutes later, I would have given anything to be there. Afterall, today was my last day in the building I grew up in. I walked in, changed my shoes, and took my seat, as I had done for as long as I could remember on a Thursday evening. But something was different. There was a stiffness in the air. The head of the company stood before the cast. He said he had an announcement to make. Looking back, I don’t even remember hearing the words come out of his mouth. I was too shocked.

We would not be performing our show. Our show that we had been working on for months, that we had given up 4 evenings a week of our summer for. For the first time in 14 years, the rights had fallen through. The reason? “A troll,” as we had chosen to call this individual, who was not a part of the production, had taken the liberty of reporting the company on something that they had already cleared with the executives, had already made arrangements for. However, with an official complaint on file, we were given two choices: recast the show or don’t perform it. Two weeks to opening, the first was not sincerely an option. Not to mention the fact that taking parts away from people who had worked so hard on them felt insensitive and wrong on every level. After exhausting every option, the second was settled upon. There would not be any performances of Les Miserables.

That day, I was legally no longer a child. The people who used that against us had made that very clear. But my childhood ended that day in more ways than one. I learned that I was naive to think that people wouldn’t willingly hurt others, especially those they once called friends. I was wrong to think that people wouldn’t willingly take children’s hopes away for their own selfish purposes. I never thought such immaturity could come from adults with children, who would have ached to see their own kids in the kind of pain that was now painted across the faces of those in this production. And perhaps they thought they were acting in justice, that they were fighting against what they believed was wrong. I will grant you that things are far from perfect and there are certainly injustices. But I can guarantee you that victorious justice, done out of the goodness of a heart, does not look like this. I can guarantee you that anyone who was in the room that night would agree that those who willingly inflicted the heartache I witnessed were not looking out for the well being of others.

The tears started to fall all around me as reality hit us. And once they started, they didn’t stop. For almost two hours, we all sat together, talking and hugging. It was especially real for those of us who were performing for the last time in this company before going off to college or wherever life was leading us. One of my best friends, playing one of her dream roles in this show, came up to me and said, “That’s it. It’s over.” We had been slowly preparing ourselves to leave but suddenly that time was ripped away from us. There would be no final bow. After 14 years of blood, sweat, and tears, I, along with many others, would get no final performance. My friends, who had worked their butts off, would not get to share their amazing talent with an audience. The adults and parents who had given so much sacrifice and energy to this show, would not get to see the fruits of their labor.

And that was the last day I would spend in the building that built me. I had my first kiss in that building. I had my first heartbreak in that building. I attended my first prom. I made lifelong friends. I faced rejection that made me stronger. I changed from a tiny, shy, blonde piggy-tailed 5 year old girl into the 19 year old woman I have become. I found love in the experiences and friends that made me who I am today. But thanks to the selfish nature of a few, we would all leave the building that day with a memory that I wish we never had to have. And the worst part of all, is that these people put an end to a show that teaches lessons of hope, love, and true justice.

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

This quote is the central message of a breathtaking show that my friends and I will never get to share with an audience because some people’s pride took control of their hearts. And through this act, this reality has only become more and more devastating, as it has only become clearer that the world is in desperate need of this message. As Jean Valjean and the school boys taught us all in the last few months, true justice can only come from love and perseverance, not malice or hate. Vengeance gets you nowhere. It doesn’t fix problems or make you the better person.

So to those who wrote the letter that shut down a show about love: Did it solve your problems? Did it fix your hurting? Did you finally get enough? Is tarnishing the memories of 40 hardworking kids your version of justice and victory? Because it is most definitely not mine. As Les Miserable taught us all, victory is supporting and loving other people in this world, even those that make different choices than us, even those who hurt us. This is a lesson that the bishop taught us in the first ten minutes of the show, when he chose to love the man who stole from him.

We too have been stolen from, but we did not lose.

Because that’s what we will take with us: the love. That is what I took with me, as amongst the pain, we all stood strong together and took comfort in each other’s arms. That is what I took with me as I shut the lights off one by one, closed the doors, took the hands of my best friends, and walked out of the building I grew up in for a final time. I am heartbroken that we all have to carry such a painful memory. And thanks to hate, we did not get to take our final bow. But thanks to love, we have the memories. Thank you all for the love. This show will not be forgotten. We made so many new friends and memories and no one can take that from any of us. You were all beautiful…Correction. You ARE all beautiful. And what we created together was absolutely stunning. I am so proud to have been a part of it. And I will always hold fast to the lessons these characters literally died to share with the world. Stand up for what you believe in, but stand up with love. Let love fuel you and make you unstoppable. As for me, I will always hear the people sing. And don’t forget that, “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”

Ghosts

No. Not ghosts in the sense of the dead coming back to life to seek their revenge and haunt the living. But ghosts of the past, good or bad, regrets or loves. We all have them. The things that haunt us.

But recently, I am realizing that these ghosts aren’t always a bad thing. These ghosts teach us lessons and help us to grow. We learn from our past mistakes.

When people tell you to move on, listen carefully, because sometimes they are right. Don’t hold on to your ghosts so much that you forget about the future. Instead, take those mistakes and successes and learn from them.

In The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, a book I read in English, O’Brien uses war veterans to write about the fact that everyone carries ghosts. However, he does not view this as a bad thing, even in the hardest times. Instead, he shows it to be a very valuable thing. What would we be without our past experiences, without the people who have made a difference in our lives?  Whether they are still by our side or have moved on, in one way or another, they were important. O’Brien writes “by telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others.”

When you allow yourself to remember, you allow yourself to heal and understand. Do not make the mistake of dwelling, which we all so easily fall victim to. What’s past is past. But don’t forget when you forgive. Tell the stories over and over again until they don’t hurt so much. And don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed for remembering. Don’t feel stupid for telling your story more than anything else and feeling the way it makes you feel. One day, the parts that used to make you cry, will be the ones that you’re most proud to tell. What seemed, at the time, to be your biggest struggles, will become your biggest triumphs.

Sometimes the stories that are the hardest to hear are the ones that most need to be told.

And learn to listen when others tell their stories. Don’t be too busy. Don’t be annoyed. Have patience, because that boy talking your ear off, that girl crying on your shoulder, one day they might surprise you and return the favor when you need it most.

Love your ghosts, and hold them close. Cry when you miss them, and don’t be ashamed. Thank those ghosts and don’t forget them. Those ghosts made you who you are, good or bad. You would be nothing without them.

Finding Happiness in Other People

Now you probably read that title and thought that I either messed up or I have some pretty flawed logic. Most people will tell you that you have to find happiness in yourself before you find it in others.

And that’s true. But other people are important too. Because the people in your life are a part of the reality that you create for yourself. The people you surround yourself with should make you happy.

Starting college, I have met a lot of new people that I love. Lots of new acquaintances and friends that have made me so happy. And I’m not talking about best friends. I’m talking about people who I say hi to in the hallway or talk to in class. And I found myself wondering why in the world new random people could make me so happy. So I began to think of the things that made my life different recently. Want to know what I came up with?

“Good luck! Let me know how it goes.”

“I’m proud of you”

“I miss you.”

“You look pretty today”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

These are phrases of I had underestimated. When your world is small and you see the same people every day for years of your life, you lose touch with these small important phrases. These words get lost in the everyday life “what time will you be home?” “do you need anything from the store?” and “did you do the dishes?” But these small statements that often get lost in the shuffle are important, because they show us that someone cares. They aren’t professions of love or intense passion, but rather just small pieces of evidence that someone other than you is invested in your situation. And these words were ones that I had begun to not hear, and also not say. I didn’t realize how much I missed them and how necessary they are to being happy.

And of course, there are some people that, no matter what you say to them, cannot step outside of themselves enough to make you feel this happiness. People too stuck in their own world will not understand the importance of the words they say and will very rarely utter statements like the ones above. But these are the people who most often need to hear the statements they don’t give to others.

So say them anyways, even if you never hear them back.

However, these are the people we must often let go of because they start to make us think differently. These are the people that can pull the happiness out of us, often without us even realizing it. I didn’t realize how many of these people I had in my life, how much I missed hearing these little important words, until I stepped out of my everyday life and met some new people. I didn’t realize how much I had retreated, how much I had pulled myself away from new experiences thinking I wasn’t worth it, fearing I was not good enough.

Because in our world, in our self-centered generation, small acts of kindness are so rare. Words of caring are too often signs of weakness, and we are encouraged not too rely on people because they are bound to let us down. In this way, we foster a culture of rejection. We are taught not to expect too much and therefore create low standards. We are taught not to find happiness in other people. We are taught to create our happiness, no matter the cost. I have always been told that I expect too much of people. When did an investment in other people’s lives and someone invested in mine become too high of an expectation?

So I want to say that we can and we do find happiness in other people. We find happiness in the joys and upsets of other people’s lives. We enjoy getting involved in other people’s experiences, even if it is just in the smallest ways. And meeting new people is the best way to appreciate this and put it into perspective. I’m not saying we have to neglect or throw out the people that have always been there for us. That would be a horribly mistaken viewpoint. I am saying that no matter how much we love our family and closest friends, the people that we are so comfortable with, it is important to have other experiences too. It is important to step outside our comfort zone. Because only when we do that can we truly appreciate the ones we have loved for so long. Our old relationships can greatly improve when we change and grow. The best relationships should never prevent you from changing and growing.

When you start to feel unappreciated, dejected, bored, depressed, complacent, or stuck, go out and find some new experiences. Find some new people and get involved in the lives of others. Show them you care and realize that you deserve to be cared about. Reevaluate the people in your life. Offer them the words you wish to hear. If you don’t hear them back, that’s ok. Don’t stop saying them. But make sure you find people that make you as happy as you strive to make others, that put as much effort into your relationship as you do. It’s ok to expect that from people. It’s ok to expect loyalty, love, and caring. It’s ok to expect to find happiness in other people. We’re human.

The Perfect Ending

“I would like to think that the reason life doesn’t have clear endings, the reason we don’t get a clean break, is because the messy, the unknown, the unpredictable, that’s what keeps us going. That’s what makes life exciting. That’s what gives us hope. “

We live in a world of classifications and labels. White. Black. Short. Tall. Even things beyond human characteristics, things that we take for granted, are labeled, like colors or numbers.

We are conditioned from a young age to find patterns and trends in the world around us. To classify people, places, and things. To recognize things like they are. Things like beginning and end.

Ever since we were little, people read us stories. Fairy tales began with “once upon a time” and ended with “happily ever after.”

It’s a beautiful idea really, that once a problem has been solved, that is the end. You know what happened and you figured it out and the contradictory troubles and joys of that particular plot line are finished. But the problem here is we come to expect this in reality. Of course we don’t really expect to live happily ever after, but without even realizing it, we start categorizing our lives like we do everything else. We recognize the highs and lows as a sort of plot line.  We remember certain moments as defining or life changing. Or we work towards certain goals, expecting those to be the beginning or end of a chapter of our novel. When times are especially tough, we look not only for that happy ending, but at the very least we wait for that moment that marks “the end” and tells us it’s time to move on.

How often did we take that “the end” for granted as a child.

Because life doesn’t work like that. There is no clean ending. We build up these expectations for people and situations and when we don’t get the confrontation or happily ever after we had hoped would come from it, we are disappointed. And at first I found that depressing. In so many situations I have spent time wishing someone would just reach out and turn the page, to have that big moment or conversation that I knew ended it all, good or bad, and then  finally be able to move on. I was ready for a blank page. 

But most of the time we don’t get that blank page. Things change. People leave. We don’t always have time to adjust or say goodbye. You find yourself saying “if I could only go back.”

But you can’t go back. And that’s why it’s so important to live every moment while you have the chance instead of waiting for the next blank page. Because no matter how hard you try to erase certain things,  you usually can’t. You can move on, you can refuse to allow people and places of the past to control your present, you can gain wisdom and strength. However, no matter how hard you try, your page is never going to be entirely blank again. These things in our past, they always leave a mark, like a story written darkly in pencil that someone tried desperately to erase: it looks like it’s gone, but when you shine a light on the page, you can see that it is in fact not blank and never truly will be clean again.

But, I have slowly come to realize, that’s OK.

I would like to think that the reason life doesn’t have clear endings, the reason we don’t get a clean break, is because the messy, the unknown, the unpredictable, that’s what keeps us going. That’s what makes life exciting. That’s what gives us hope. 

Because as long as things never have a certain ending, we don’t lose the hope that one day, they just might begin again, and maybe better than ever. 

Now, I’m not suggesting we dwell on that hope. In the wise words of Albus Dumbledore “it’s does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” But don’t let the ending ruin the rest of the plot. Dont think that just because something ended badly, it doesn’t deserve a place in your story. Don’t wait around for your “the end.” If you want something to end, then write that ending.

However, if you’re waiting for the new chapter, the new blank page and it’s not coming, that’s ok. You don’t have to force it. Maybe it’s not time. Maybe it never will be.

In the last year I kept saying “well it doesn’t feel over yet. I feel like there’s more.” And I was right. There was more. But that’s because sometimes there’s always going to be more. When people and things really affect us, we don’t just let them go. We will always remember the way they affected us and probably could still talk for hours about it years down the road.

But it’s ok not to have a clearly defined ending. Not everything in life is a story. Our lives’ novels aren’t nicely wrapped up for readers’ enjoyment. In real life, you can read multiple stories at once. Characters can play different roles in different chapters of our lives. And one chapter doesn’t have to end for another to begin. Life is your story and you get to write it.

So stop trying to define the people and events in life. You might not think you do it, but as soon as you take notice, I guarantee you will find that you do.

Stop trying to label people as the villain or the prince. Life isn’t that black and white and most people are a little bit of both.

Stop expecting certain things, because it usually just leads to disappointments. Life doesn’t follow a plot line.

And most importantly, stop waiting for plot points and character developments that may never happen. Stop thinking that stories have to be over. Stop searching for “the end.” Not all stories have to be finished. I guarantee you, yours is so far from over.

“And I keep trying to figure out who you are to me, but maybe all that we were meant to be, is beautifully unfinished.” -Ella Henderson

A Letter To the Boy Who Couldn’t Love Me…With Love, The Girl You Took For Granted

Someone can hardly know you and love you more than you’ve ever been loved. But the flip side? The person who knows you the best can not love you at all. That’s what hurts the most: when someone knows you better than anyone else and chooses not to care about you. When a person knows your biggest weaknesses and chooses to use them against you.

“We’ll be like best friends.”

You said that and I believed it. I believed it because it used to be true and I hoped that after we broke up we could get that back.

But I was wrong. Because friendship requires a kind of love. And you didn’t love me. You couldn’t because you don’t even know what that means.

Over and over again you invite me into your life. You share your favorite movies and music. You invite me to do things with you. You are one of the only people who will sit silently with me and just listen to music, look out over the town, and think. And so I continued to come back when you asked me to, again and again, as your friend, because I thought we were connected. Even though we didn’t always get along, we had shared history, and I think that is one of the most powerful forces between people.

But every time you invite me in, it is only to push me away again when something better comes along. You never stand up for me the way I stand up for you. You are so busy trying to find your place and purpose in life, so busy not knowing who you want to be, that you will throw me under the bus to find it.

And you think I would learn, but I didn’t. Because that’s who I am. I don’t give up on people. It’s one of my best traits. And also one of my biggest flaws. I am terrible at letting things go.

And you know that. You know my flaws and weaknesses. And that’s what hurts.

The problem we have in life is that we expect that the people who know us best are the ones who will care about us the most. But that’s the wrong assumption to make. Someone can hardly know you and love you more than you’ve ever been loved. But the flip side? Someone who knows you so well can not love you at all. That’s what hurts the most: when someone knows you better than anyone else and chooses not to care. When a person knows your biggest weaknesses and uses them against you.

You know I am loyal to a fault. You know I’m a perfectionist with a fear of being not good enough, of being replaced. Yet you continually replace me in your life, thinking that you can come back anytime you want to. You know I don’t give up on the people I care about and you take advantage of that and of me.

Over and over again, I would pick you up when you were down. When we were upset, we talked. Sometimes you showed up at my house with a movie. And sometimes we didn’t have much to say because we had already discussed important things and had lived through a lot of them together, as friends for years.

I thought that meant something to you. I thought you cared about me, too.

But I was wrong.

Every time, everything was just about you. It has always been about you.

You can’t love anyone else because you don’t love yourself. You can’t make other people happy because you can’t even make yourself happy. You are trapped in a mind that tells you no one cares, so you take affection wherever you find it. You find temporary happiness in the excitement of something or someone new. Until that new thing loses its excitement, until that person leaves you or changes. And only then do you come crawling back to me, when you are hurt or frustrated or bored.

But no more. I’m done.

Because all those times that I tried to be there for you and stand up for you, it broke me. And not in the way that you like to think. I wasn’t so devastated when you left, that I broke. You broke me because you broke my faith in you and in the people I care about to care about me as much as I care about them. You increased my fear of being replaced by consistently replacing me, trying to prove that you didn’t need me, and making me look like the needy, desperate one in the eyes of everyone else. And you don’t even know how much all of that hurt me because you don’t even give things or people a second thought.

But did you ever tell anyone you were the one that called me? Of course not. You have to look like the one that is needed, not the one that needs someone else. You have to convince your mind that you don’t want or need anyone else so that if people give up on you, it is that much easier to say you never cared.

I hoped that deep down you cared, that you were grateful, that you wanted me in your life like I thought I needed you. And I didn’t even want anything from you. I just wanted a friend who understood. Someone I didn’t have to explain myself to because they were already a part of a lot of the things that made me who I was. Someone I could just have fun with.

But if you can’t love someone, at least tell them the truth. You owe them that much.

And the truth is, you just needed to feel needed. You just needed a cushion to fall back on, someone you thought you could throw aside again and again because she was too nice and too desperate to give up on you.

Well she’s not.

I did it because I cared and it’s against my nature to let the people I care about suffer alone. When she hurt you, I wanted you to know that even when people leave you, it’s not the end of the world and that you can’t believe everything people say about you.

You taught me that.

You taught me a lot of things. And the craziest part is that you didn’t even mean to.

You taught me to stand up for myself. It’s best to say what I want to say and be honest with people, even when it’s scary or painful. Long term regret is worse than temporary shame.

You taught me patience, with myself and with others.

You taught me that I can’t control everything. The perfectionist in me had a very hard time with this one, but you made me just sit and breathe in the times when I was freaking out over the tiniest details. You told me to stop writing letters, because life isn’t letters (yet here I am still writing another one that I probably will never send, because some things never change).

You taught me the beauty of silence. It’s nice to have someone you can talk to all the time, but it’s sometimes even better to spend time with people you are so comfortable with that you don’t have to say anything.

You taught me I was beautiful and worth something, even when I felt like I wasn’t. When I had crazy hair and makeup down my face you told me not to worry about it. It didn’t matter.

You taught me that it’s okay to be alone, when we chose each other over the parties we didn’t really want to go to or people we didn’t really like spending time with. But then you left, and I also realized that it is okay to say no and take time for myself. Standing alone is what makes you stronger than anything.

You taught me that I am much stronger than I thought I was.

However, you also taught me that despite my own strength, I can’t change people. People only change if and when they are ready.

Most importantly, you taught me what love is. You taught me that love isn’t just being there for someone. Love is doing things. Love is standing up for that person when they aren’t there to do it themselves. Love is taking their hand and holding them when they are broken, at their lowest, and hardest to love, because that’s usually when they most need a reminder. Love is all the things I waited for you to do, as my boyfriend or my friend.

So I am giving up. Because now that I have learned these things, I refuse to be treated as anything less. I always thought there was strength in not giving up on people, but I realize now that there is a lot of strength in letting go, too. And it’s time that you taught yourself all the lessons you taught me. Because you can’t truly love someone else until you love yourself.

And you deserve to love and be loved. I still believe that.

And I don’t blame you for anything, really. I understand. And I don’t think you really meant to do half of what you did. Just because you couldn’t love me or her or the other one that broke your heart, doesn’t mean that you won’t one day learn what love really means to you. Sometimes you have to have your heart broken to find what makes it whole. I found what makes me whole and I didn’t find it in a relationship. I found it in the people and things around me that I took for granted when I was busy trying to find myself, when I was busy trying to find you.

I hope one day you find the strength to dismantle your pride, apologize, and then say thank you to those who have loved you, those that you took for granted. Because there are a lot more than you even realize. And I hope one day you learn to love them.

But most of all, I hope that you learn to love yourself, because I didn’t fall for a fool. There’s so much of goodness in you. There’s so many things you do right, too. You are amazing and I hope that one day you can see it, too.

But I know now that I can’t be the one to show you.

So now, I will care from afar and I will wish you the best. But I can no longer afford to answer every half-hearted, one-sided invitation into your life. I will no longer be led to the belief that you care only to be replaced or left behind. If you ever needed me, I would probably be the first one at your door, but that doesn’t mean I will let you control how I feel.

If I could go back, would I do it again? Yes. Because, the truth is, I wouldn’t be who I am today without you. Because of you, I learned a lot of things about myself. But not everyone that comes into your life is meant to stay. So, as Stephen Chbosky wrote in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, “I would die for you. But I won’t live for you.” Not anymore.

Love,

The Girl You Took For Granted

Why I don’t want to be the generation of acceptance…

I am a proud member of my generation. A generation named the Millennials, we are characterized by more confidence, education, and acceptance than those who came before us. Sounds perfect. Sounds as if we would be intelligent, open-mided, active citizens, working to make our world a better place. But not all that glitters is gold, and we know that is far from the truth. We millennials have some major downfalls which are creating massive problems in our world. Our so-called confidence and our belief that everyone should be accepted has lead us to possess an enlarged sense of entitlement and strong narcissistic attitudes that we never quite grew out of. It’s an unfortunate cycle, as we strive to accept everyone, but also feel entitled enough to think we are the only ones who know best, leaving us close minded to any idea that might differ from ours, and therefore not accepting anyone who disagrees with us. Meanwhile, we strive to avoid confrontation altogether out of fear of not being accepted ourselves in a generation where the group often supercedes the individual. These are dangerous traits, especially in this fast-paced, constantly-changing world that is in need of our leadership. So, I thought I might point out the hypocrisy our generation is so full of, since a majority of us are too full of ourselves or too accepting to see it and admit that we might be at fault.

If we look throughout history, the word acceptance doesn’t usually lead to positive change. The modern world has created a new positive connotation for the word acceptance. I mean, what if the women of America had simply accepted that they weren’t allowed to vote? Or if we had continued accept segregation? Or what if I walked into a store and was charged twice the price of an item and someone told me I had to just accept it because it’s the way things are? And I want to be liked by the group of people who are ok with the new prices, so I don’t say anything. Well, this sort of thing is happening on a daily basis. We are learning to accept things around us even if we disagree with them just because we want to avoid confrontation and look good in the eyes of a group.

And we are supposedly the educated generation. Well, we might have the highest college graduation rate, but does a degree really mark your intelligence? In my opinion, true intelligence lies beyond the pages of a book or how well you pass a test. These things are important, yes, but a truly intelligent person has the decency to admit they are wrong, can listen open-mindedly to someone who might have a different opinion than theirs, and, if they cannot be persuaded, can agree to disagree and respect that other person’s educated opinion. However, this is uncommon in us millennials who, due to our own confidence, believe that we are the only ones capable of proper judgement, and therefore don’t trust others enough to value their opinion. But let me make something clear: just because I disagree with you, does not mean I am ignorant. I might have an educated reason that I hold a belief different than most other people. Just because I won’t give up on what I believe in does not mean I am close-minded person (also, I don’t know when conservative became such an insult).

I suppose that my point is that this thing we call “acceptance” should go all ways. In my opinion, it’s somewhat synonymous with respect. For example, I’m Catholic, which causes many people to automatically assume I’m against gay rights and abortion and that I’m very conservative. These are not all true, but it is, in a way, it’s own from of discrimination. People are quick to make me an outlier because I am ” not accepting.”  But aren’t the people judging me for my “non acceptance,” which is, in fact, a stereotypical label of their own invention, just as guilty of the same crime they are accusing me of? A gay man who calls a catholic man homophobic is just as prejudiced and stereotypical as any catholic man who might have the nerve to call a gay man a sinner.  This double standard occurs today because “acceptance” has a specific definition to this generation’s culture, which means accepting only certain minorities. I do believe that it is extremely important to accept minorities; however, what about people with different opinions? In my mind, acceptance means realizing that people are different and everyone has different opinions, not grouping us all into a singular mold and accepting those who fit the mold and teaching those that disagree that they are somehow their own minority. We have to remember that our differences aren’t a bad thing to voice. In fact, by not voicing our differences in a respectful and peaceful manner, they can grow inside of us until we ultimately explode.

Which brings me to this sense of confidence that our generation supposedly has. To be honest, I don’t see confidence, I see entitlement. We are confident when it comes to standing up to our elders, or anyone we might see as below us or unworthy of opinion. (which is horrible, because who are we to decide whose opinions hold value and whose don’t?). But, when it comes to standing up to each other, we are not even close to confident. Peer pressure is more alive in this generation than ever before, perpetuated by our addiction to social media. I mean, our lack of confidence runs as deep as the oldest text book example. You want to party and drink? I have to accept that because this is the accepting generation. But are you going to accept me for my decision to stay home and read a book instead of going to that party? Nope. I will be called a prude or a nerd or worse, even though I am the one making an intelligent, safe decision. I see closed-mindedness everywhere in this so-called open minded generation. If we were really so confident, we would stand up and speak up, not sit on our butts, going along with what society tells us is right. We are all talk, tweeting and sharing our opinions online, only to back down or delete it when we are confronted about it or questioned.

It’s time to stop backing down, millennials. Not every mistake can be deleted as easily as your online profile.

Honestly, I think we are working towards the wrong thing. I don’t want to be a part of the “accepting” generation anymore, because we are accepting things that are not ok. Contrary to popular belief, acceptance has a limit. Acceptance can become synonymous with laziness. We have allowed acceptance to corrupt our sense of morality. How far are we supposed to let it go? Are we supposed to let everyone drink and smoke all day long because we have to “accept them for who they are”? Pretty soon, we will be accepting things that so aren’t okay just because we are afraid of being called ignorant or closed minded. Oh wait, we are already doing that. And, in fact, most of the population is closed minded to anyone with a different opinion than their own.

Accepting someone for who they are or what they believe, doesn’t mean that we agree with them and it doesn’t mean you have to compromise your own beliefs.

Speak up, millennials.

So do I want to be a part of the “accepting” generation? No. I don’t want to be accepting if that means I have to learn to accept things I’m not ok with and not speak up just so I am not labeled as an overly conservative person. I don’t want to be a part of the hypocritical generation that claims to have confidence, but doesn’t speak their mind. I don’t want to be a part of a culture of acceptance if this is what it means.

So, I will say it again: don’t back down, millennials.

If we want to become the truly the confident, accepting, educated, generation that we have the power to be, we have to learn to work together and put aside our selfishness. We have to turn our group narcissism into empathy. If we have to think selfishly, we should put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and if we wouldn’t want it to happen to us, we work to prevent it. We have to learn to “accept” that people are going to disagree. But if we want to make a difference, we have to learn to compromise, to find common ground, to listen to those around us, one issue at a time. It’s time that we start putting our educated, entitled qualities to good use, accepting love in all forms and stopping ignorance and pride from running our society.

It’s time to work together, millennials. Let’s work together towards a society where if you believe something, you can stand up for it, and your educated, open-minded peers will admire you and accept you for it, whether or not they agree.

So, for all of these reasons, I’m done working towards this modern day idea of “acceptance.” I don’t want to be a part of the generation of acceptance and double standards. I want to be a part of the generation of equality, education, confidence, and positive change. That will only come if we learn to accept our differences and peacefully, intelligently speak up for what we know is right. So listen when someone presents an opposite opinion, speak your own without fear, and love everyone around you. That’s how we gain the “acceptance” we are searching for. But it’s not acceptance, it’s equality.

Apparently there’s a problem with smart choices…

“I’m proud to announce that I will be attending community college in the fall.”
“Really? You’re way too smart for that.”

“Don’t waste your time on that.”

Yes, that is a conversation I have had multiple times. This is the culture we are raised in and this generation seems to think that the only way you are successful is by leaving home right at 18, traveling halfway across the country, and going to a full 4 year university. And there is nothing wrong with that at all! If that’s right for you, good for you! I mean it sounded pretty great to me too.

But then I didn’t get the money I needed to make that four year college affordable. I was going to spend my last summer at home working my butt off just to help my parents cover the crazy tuition. And for what? To go to a school I would graduate from with a cumulative debt of $60,000-80,000 to pay off fresh out of college? And really that is understandable for some people if that’s really where you feel you need to be. But for me, that didn’t seem like the way I wanted to start my life.

My parents mentioned staying home for a year and getting my GE done at a college nearby but I was hesitant because at school, community college was kind of a joke. Many students teased about it and thought of it as the suggestion that counselors made when your transcript wasn’t up to par for the schools you actually wanted to apply to. And everyone was going away and I didn’t want to be left behind. But let me rephrase my question: Should I go off to a school I would graduate from with $60,000-80,000 of student loans to pay off fresh out of college, just because I felt pressure from my school and peers?

And let me say something, not to brag but to make my point. I had above a 4.0 GPA, I was in the top ten percent of my class, was a runner up for valedictorian, and got into the schools of my choice. But that doesn’t mean that I wanted to launch myself straight into more hard-core academics at such a high cost, both monetarily and emotionally.

We have to stop telling our students that leaving is the only option. Stop putting everyone in the same category. The college system has become more and more competitive. It’s all about who can get in where. Acceptance letters are posted at schools and all over Facebook. And it’s great to be proud of your accomplishments! I love to celebrate my friends’ successes with them. But to me college is a personal achievement.

And personally, being able to do everything I want to do instead of forcing myself straight into the most academic, competitive program in the country after working my butt off for four years, is more of an accomplishment than anything else. And I shouldn’t feel shame for that. I shouldn’t feel the need to have to explain to my friends and family why a “gifted student” like me isn’t leaving for school right away.

Our culture is so hypocritical. We are supposed to be the educated, accepting generation that is open to change and progress, yet we continue to fall into certain pressures of society. Want to be accepting? Stop using acceptance to excuse and allow stupid behavior and try to instead respect intelligent decisions, even if they differ from popular culture. I want to be a well-rounded, happy person. I want to be successful in my eyes, not just the eyes of others. We all deserve that. And that is why we have to stop telling people that one type of education is better than the other. Someone once told me that comparing colleges was like comparing artists. How can you compare the Beatles to Mozart? Both extremely talented and successful, but different. Different doesn’t mean unequal.

So my mom had a friend who worked at the local community college and I agreed to go check it out. The counselor there told me that with my AP credits, I would only need about 3 semesters to finish my GE. So with a year there and a few summer classes, I could transfer to the private four-year university of my choice as a junior, when I’m really only of sophomore age, saving me about $65,000 and getting me out of college a year earlier. Still think I’m “too smart” for community college?

Also, with some of the money I save, I can take dance classes, travel to visit friends, and, for a refreshing change, have time to do the things I want to do, not just things I have to do: get a job I love, read a book, play piano, write a story. Not to mention the fact that I get to stay home with my family and friends another year, which in this teenage culture is also somewhat frowned upon. But it’s a plus in my mind.

And the best part of all–Want to know what my diploma will say when I graduate? The name of my four-year university, just like anyone else. Except mine will cost a lot less in both money and stress.

So, I am proud to announce that I will be attending community college in the fall. No, my attendance doesn’t mean I’m not smart. I got into multiple well-known, four-year universities of my choice. My decision to stay at home another year doesn’t mean I’m immature. It mean I am mature enough to make decisions for my future, not just for the instantaneous excitement. It means I’m happy, I love my hometown, and I have good memories here. It means that I want to save money and start my life in less debt. And I’m not going to miss out on the “college experience.” I’m going to have a great one, and just because it’s different from someone else’s doesn’t mean it’s inferior.

So I’m not “too smart “for my choice. I’m smart BECAUSE of my choice.

Want to know what happens? Check in with me in 10 years. I plan on being be a successful, well-rounded, happy individual.

*Update, for anyone who was wondering (12/1/16): I am on track to transfer to the university of my choice in the Fall of 2017 with my GE completed. I have also played the lead in two musical theater productions, traveled to San Diego, Portland, and Nashville to visit friends, and I have a job at the book store of my choice, making money and building a perfect resume for an English Major. I wouldn’t have traded my choice for anything.