24 August 2012

School Accomplishments

This is about to get really real, y'all.  Serious blog post with sprinklings of embarrassing facts about me ahead.


It's Back to School time.  I just moved.  I just read this blog post.  These events have converged and resulted in my thinking about what I accomplished in school.  I spent 17 years in school.  I attended public school, a Catholic prep school, an evangelical Christian school, homeschool, and a public university.  I've pretty much done it all.  I was very good at school.  Straight As.  Total number of classes in which I received a B: 4.  Ever.  I got great standardized test scores, I was a National Merit Scholar, I'm in Phi Beta Kappa.

True story: I got really into DC Talk's album Free At Last when I was in 6th grade.  There's a song on it called "Time Is...".  One of the lines goes, "Get busy like a schoolboy makin' an A / 'cause time, my brother, is tickin' away."  I was truly, deeply perplexed by this as a sixth grader.  In my experience, those who made As where those who did not have to do any hard work, while those who worked hard did so in order to receive Bs or Cs.  Honest mistake.

When I look back on my school career, there are very few things I am truly proud of.  And thanks to some gentle encouragement from that blog post, I decided to take those things out of the box I had stored them in and display them on my wall.  As I was putting them up, I realized that it's not just that these are the kinds of school projects that can be displayed on a wall, but that they are nearly the only things I did for school that I still consider worth displaying, sharing, or looking at.

Here they are.

Embroidered Scarlet Letter

The story: I had an English teacher for a year and a half in high school who came up with some pretty interesting projects to require of us.  Each year she had us write a short story (both of mine involved portals), she had us write poems (I still have both of mine, though they aren't very good), and she had us do artistic projects, like this one and the next one. 

After we read The Scarlet Letter, we had to pick one of four artistic projects to complete, and one was to create your own embroidered "A".  I chose this, as did my friend who I was in the process of "breaking up" with.  I was determined that my letter would beat the snot out of her letter.  There's metallic thread in mine, y'all. Metallic thread.  Well, mine definitely did beat the snot out of hers.  Because hers looked like she didn't even try.  It was approximately as satisfying as beating a 4-year-old at checkers.  At which point I realized that it shouldn't be about her.  I love my letter.  It's beautiful, and I spent hours working on it to make it just right.  I had hardly ever put that much effort into a school project.  Since then it has come to mean even more to me, as I often find myself identifying with and empathizing with Hester Prynne.

 Thoreau quote collages

The story: This was another assignment by the same English teacher.  We were to create illustrations of two Henry David Thoreau quotes.  I took that opportunity to rifle through my craft supply box, and also include my own inside joke.  (The faces of the two sirens are the faces of Brian the Backstreet Boy's wife, and David Duchovny's wife Tea Leoni.) (It was an angsty, jealous time, okay?)  At the time these assignments were assigned, I thought they were a good idea.  Because they gave the artistic, non-academically-minded students a chances to be good at school.  Even as I had so much fun completing them, I didn't realize that I was one of those students.  I got to be good at school.  Not sufficient.  Not checking off a box.  Not skating through.  Good.  Engaged.  Passionate.  Thank you, Mrs. Olson.

Ballet shoes (and a photo of Julie Newmar)

The story:  I went to college on a full scholarship.  I took that opportunity to take whichever classes I wanted (Guitar), especially since I came in with 24 hours worth of credit from AP tests.  By senior year, it was time to buckle down and finish the Honors portion of my degree.  I was in the Honors College, I had taken Honors classes.  My parents wanted me to finish it.  But schedules were such that I needed to choose -- finish my Honors degree, or take Ballet (and Creek [the Native American language]).  I picked the crazy classes.

Ballet was hard.  Really hard.  It took a lot to swallow my pride and wear that leotard in front of 12 other people three days a week.  I was so bad.  So bad.  I know this because halfway through the semester, our teacher filmed our class and then made us watch it.  So, so bad.  I taped the photo of Julie Newmar up in my changing room locker to inspire me.  She is so graceful, so provocative, so female.  She got me through that class.  (Ballet was one of my Bs.  I didn't study for the vocab tests.)

I can only think of two other projects from school that still make me smile to think of them.  One is my senior thesis ("capstone").  I was so done with college.  It was becoming clear that I had zero professional ambition.  I had to write a capstone in order to graduate.  I had started watching The Monkees, and quickly became obsessed.  I watched all the episodes and bought a bunch of their music. And by golly, I turned that ridiculousness into a proper paper.  I wrote on American slang in the 1960s and looked at why some slang sticks around in a language, and why some disappears just as quickly as it appeared.  (You can read it here if you want.)

The other was... Oh, how to explain?  Let's start with Embarrassing Fact Number One about me: In high school for about 2 years I was obsessed with the Backstreet Boys.  I went to two concerts.  It was serious.  Now I don't know if you remember the late 90s, but at that time there were two rival boy bands -- the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC.  I loved the Backstreet Boys.  My good friend since elementary school loved NSYNC.  Well, we were in speech class together, and it was time to give a persuasive speech.  We drew names for the order in which we would present before we started working on the assignment.  I was to go directly before my friend.  We decided that our speeches should be on the same theme: My Boy Band Is The Best.  We even traded teenie bopper magazine photos so we would both have good visual aids.  It was so silly and so fun.  Perhaps the best part was our evaluations:

["Great enthusiasm! Really drew me in" "Good eye contact" "Very well thought out and strong outline" "Great visuals and strong conclusion; kept everyone interested"  God bless you, Nate Madden.]

That's right, our speech teacher totally played along and decided to grade us on skills rather than content.  Thank goodness.

Those are my accomplishments. And now, finally, six years after I graduated college, my school stress freak-out dreams have transformed into dreams in which I find myself at a school, expected to attend and take classes.  I look around, and invariably say something to the effect of, "Screw this! I'm leaving. I don't have to be here." It's about time.


Unknown said...

I believe I still have my silly drawings I made from that artistic quote project. It was probably one of the few times I actually enjoyed english class, when we were able to incorperate artistic projects into what we were studying. (I also remembered your embroidered A! I always think about it any time I catch "Easy A" on tv. Yikes. Or when I wish someone could teach me to embroider.)

I cringe every time I think about that speech class. It was funny at the time and now looking back embarrassing! :P SO glad for that teacher.

Unknown said...

So I finally came across the singular English assignment I saved from High School. One of the very few moments I was excited about English class. :P
It's certainly nothing ground breaking or awe inspiring but it was fun.

Jessie said...

I don't remember that one, but I do remember your drawing of Pearl, Hester's daughter in The Scarlet Letter. I liked it.