They called me Ultragorgon. Gorgons, I knew, were not so attractive. Ultragorgons must be worse. We were the smart class. We could create compound insults. It was sixth grade. We had studied Greek mythology. Medusa, Zeus, the Sirens.
“Have a nice summer, Ultragorgon.” It was in the yearbook more than once. And from one of the boys I kinda-sorta liked.
High school yearbooks were a bit kinder, if not generic. “Hey, have a great summer. It’s been real.” Translation: I’ll never talk to you again.
“Hey, remember when we said –in Mr. —‘s class?” Translation: I vaguely remember something stupid about you. I’ll never talk to you again.
“You were the BEST friend EVER!!! BFF!! I soo know we’re going to be BFFs for LIFE.” Translation: I’ll call you once. Then I’ll never talk to you again.
And so it goes. Now I teach. The high school yearbooks just came out. I’m signing them for students. I want to say something meaningful, unlike a few of the ones I received that would have meant a lot. I never write, “I’ve loved having you in class…I know you’ll succeed.” Translation: I signed 800 of these the same way. I write something personal.
I read the student’s signatures like a spy. I’ll be honest. Except for the fact that they spell far worse in yearbooks than in my day–text wasn’t invented yet, so I couldn’t put TTYL, LOL or U and be taken seriously–the message is largely the same. “I loved you SOOO much.” Translation: Who are you?
“It’s been so GREAT getting to know you.” Translation: We talked once. I asked for a pencil. I’ll never see you again.
I laugh. Yearbook day never fails to bring me back to my own school days as a Loser with a Capital L. Don’t worry. I recently read Paul Graham’s post “Why Nerds Are Unpopular” which cleared up a lot of this for me, reassuring me that it’s entirely my fault I was a loser–I could have been popular if I had wanted. I chose not to. It takes effort to be popular–all the time I spent, say, reading, could have been spent doing my hair, matching clothes, or hanging with the “right” crowd. I was too busy playing guitar and wearing all the teal the 80’s had to offer in one outfit.
It’s like that with a lot of things in life. The things we value we can become experts in. Then we can do something great. It’s not just a lesson for the students. It’s more important, I think, for the adults. Students are full of possibilities and wonder. It’s the adults who get stagnant, entrenched, bogged down, and full of fear.
Today, I feel a bit mischievous. I’m reading one girl’s signatures. “You know you’re never going talk to these people again?”
“Miss!” she says. I start translating signatures–I read them, and tell what they mean. The group around us laughs. “That’s SO TRUE!” It’s why I just sign my name.”
I look. There it is. First and last name only, like the autograph on a Hollywood 8×10.
“I’ll keep this friend,” she insists. She points to a signature. I look. I read. I know this signature.
“Yes, you will.”
We all keep a few. They walk with us through the journey of life, and make the world a better place–they keep it real. Play the “no bullshit card” when necessary. Someday, we’ll all sit on porches in rockers and reflect on how quickly life has passed. And I hope when we do, we’ll know we gave it our best. We made a difference. We changed the world.
I’m thinking of my few keepers now. I wonder what they wrote–or would have written–in my yearbook.
I think I’m going to go home and check.
Images are my own. Unfortunately for me. I had no fashion. If you want to listen to the famous Jonathan Coulton, visit him on his website. He’s a famous internet musician. A superstar. You can probably catch him on tour if you’re lucky.