Looking Forward

The grade 12 students at my school had their last required day of classes last week. Historically, this week would have been their reading week, their time to revise for exams in whatever ways best suited them.

In the present world, however, this week is different.

And we all know this. We also know by now that there is little purpose in dwelling on what might have been or could have been or should be. We know, as a guided meditation reminded me this morning, “This is the way things are right now”.

With this awareness, I have tried to uphold what I have always done when the time comes to say goodbye to my grade 12 students. In lieu of speaking with them in class, I recorded a video in which I told them what I wanted them to know. In the email with the video link, I added that there might be a blog post to follow.

Here is that blog post to follow.


The dates on the faded newspaper clippings tell me that I started my scrapbook when I was 13. In truth, that scrapbook was more of a phase than anything else. Its activity waxed and waned at various points but keeping it up was by no means a practice. The scrapbook probably looks like many scrapbooks by teenage girls: There are articles or comic strips pasted on pages decorated with stickers, attempts at calligraphy, and my commentary in the margins. There are pages of quotes culled from magazines and newspapers, as well as a page cut out of cardboard that may have come from the back of a cereal box. The middle of the scrapbook is devoted to quotes that I remember typing on my dad’s computer, each with a different font. I grouped them by category and wrote a few words of advice to myself on each page.

The change in my handwriting (unfortunately very little of this scrapbook is dated) indicates that time passed. What did not change through the years, however, is what mattered to me and how I understood the world. The comments in the margins of articles still make sense and the comic strips still make me smile. The quotations continue to move me in some way, though I have a more recent list elsewhere.

There is a quote by John Holt on a page that I titled “Character”. It’s typed in a font that I haven’t used in years and the smiley-faced stick figure at the bottom of the page suggests middle school. I just looked up John Holt for the first time and I think it fits.

The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do. – John Holt

As we learn to walk in the world, there are times when we know what is expected of us. There are times when we know who we are and where we are. We are confident and comfortable when we feel safe and at home and among friends.

Now, this confidence is not always a good thing. It might stop us from seeing another perspective or asking a challenging question. It might prevent a difficult conversation that could lead to a better understanding of who we are and the world around us.

Holt suggests that character, the way we are made, is best seen in the situations that make us pause. These situations might be uncomfortable or scary, or perhaps just new. We might be facing an unknown time in our lives or a person who is unfamiliar to us. This is when we do not know how to behave. And this is when we see not only who we are, but who others are, as well.

My grade 12 students are about to walk into a new and unfamiliar world full of new and unfamiliar people. This is true for students pursuing higher education, taking a gap year, going to work, or joining the military. This is true for all of us who step outside of what we know and welcome what we do not know. And this is true for everyone right now in this world that we could not have imagined.

This is a good opportunity to watch ourselves closely, carefully, and critically and learn who we are. It is a good opportunity to better understand those around us. Significantly, this is a time where we can look closely, carefully, and critically at the world around us and ask the questions that we might not have asked before when we allowed systems to flow unquestioned.

And once we have watched ourselves, once we understand how to act in the different environments that life presents and around the people we encounter and engage with, we can make a choice. We can choose to remain unchanged by what we see and to continue doing what we have always done. This is easy. This is what we know how to do.

Or we can do the difficult thing, the unknown thing. We can do the hard thing, the right thing, the good thing. We can look at ourselves, the people we know, and the world around us. And as we look, we can make choices about how to act, who to be with, and how to create the world we want to live in.

It is never too late to be what you might have been. – George Eliot

Interlaken, Switzerland – January 2020

One thought on “Looking Forward”

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