“The greatest gift this school has given me is not knowledge, but courage.” This was my favorite – and the truest – line from my graduation speech last Friday. As I proudly walked across the stage and became a St. Francis School alumna, I realized just how much this school has meant to me and how much I’ll miss the people who make it so extraordinary. (And as I proof-read this piece, I realized I go back and forth between the past and present tense over and over; I still can’t believe high school is over!)
At one of my first field hockey practices freshman year I mentioned having two moms – knowing I was in a pretty safe environment – and the girls on the team unanimously responded, “Wow! That’s so awesome!” It was a revolutionary idea for me: things that make us different don’t have to ostracize us, but can in fact make us even cooler. After that day, I was more and more open with my classmates about my family. In middle school, I was scared for my parents to come to school because I thought more kids might find out I had two moms instead of one. In high school, Jillian and I have always been excited for them to visit – Audrey/Mama especially spends a lot of time there as a sub and tutor. All the kids love her, and I wanted them to know she was my mom.
But as I said, I knew I was in a pretty safe place. St. Francis is so diverse that you have to be a Wiccan to be a religious minority (and we are proud to have one of those)! We are accepting of all views, and only the Republicans have to keep theirs a secret. 🙂 (Not kidding, we have a two-man Secret Republicans Club.) While there were a few kids who didn’t believe in marriage equality, they were SO outnumbered that they’re the ones who felt intimidated, not me. This year, we had a “Keep St. Francis Queer” day fully dedicated to raising awareness about marginalized sexual and gender identities. With that said, feeling brave enough to tell my classmates about my parents was not THAT large of a feat. St. Francis accomplished something much bigger: making me brave enough to be myself, not just within the safety of its walls – but anywhere. Not just with people who already agreed with me, but with people who I knew didn’t.
Last week I was a volunteer facilitator at a youth leadership conference in Lexington, Kentucky. After a powerful exercise about diversity and dismantling stereotypes, I talked to my group of sophomore participants – who I knew were mostly conservative Christians – and told them about my family and my difficult journey toward authenticity and honesty. In the thank you letters they wrote to me on closing day, many thanked me for sharing my story and said it helped make them brave enough to share theirs. Two years ago when I first went through this program, I wasn’t courageous enough to do that. In the years after, when I have shared, I’ve done so with butterflies in my stomach and a knot in my throat. But this time, to my surprise, the story rolled off my tongue and my heart rate didn’t speed up at all. It felt like telling them about any other important, but not defining, aspect of my life. In some ways it was harder to admit I was a vegetarian! The more times I tell my story, the easier it becomes. The more often I am fully myself – not just the “daughter of two moms” part of myself, but every part of myself that might make me feel different – the less effort it takes to do so.
My parents always remind us, “Practice doesn’t make perfect if you’re doing it wrong!” But practice does make permanent. The St. Francis family let me practice being real, seven hours a day, five days a week, for four years. It gave me enough practice to permanently make me braver, even after I trade its halls for the real world – or at least, something a little closer to it. The greatest gift this school has given me is not knowledge, but courage. Thank you, St. Francis. I’m strong enough to be myself at Stanford and anywhere – even among the not-secret Republicans.