Hot pink Converse high tops can really say something. But what do platform hot pink Converse high tops say? I’m not sure, but I like them! I wouldn’t have worn them in high school. Not my thing. I was too busy wearing my own version of strange…suspenders, a pink tie, and a press hat…but I like what those high tops represent. Individuality. Bravery. Happiness.
Last night I attended a comedy cabaret put on by my son’s high school. He graduated two years ago, but our family keeps coming back to support what was the best part of my son’s four years—his acting classes. This year’s show was just as unique as each year before. The comedy is always written, performed, and directed by the students. Students who wear pink, platform high-tops. Students who are a little shorter, or a little skinnier, or a little rounder…or a little “different” from the rest of the student body. The acting class at this school is what I’ve always called “the island of misfit toys.” (You know, the island Rudolph goes to because he is a misfit himself—a reindeer with a glowing nose. My favorite was always the water pistol that shoots jelly!)
As I watched the students dance around like crazy people on stage and take big chances with sketches…hoping they would elicit a laugh…I saw something else. These students were so brave…and happy. They’ve found a place where they can shine and be pushed by a teacher who cares about them above anything else—a teacher who makes a huge difference every day. She encourages and tells her students they have value—students who really need to be told. She’s created a program that values everyone, because she models that behavior. And she attracts students who need to hear those words. I’ve watched her talk to students in the hall and only optimism streams from her mouth. She is telling them not what they are today, but what they could be tomorrow. She ignores the flaws and shines a light on their obscure talents…talents she can sniff out like a bloodhound.
As I’ve watched these kids grow up and graduate, I’ve been amazed at the divergent paths they’ve chosen. Many have gone on to college, most attending part time to work their way through at places like Red Rocks Community College, Metropolitan State, or the Colorado Film School. Others have gone off to universities in other countries. And still others are finding their future in a different way.
All of the students who leave the island take their bravery with them…the kind of bravery it takes to walk around the stage like a goat, or sing off key …or dance around wildly (with no professional choreographer helping them make it perfect). Bravery to believe they have value and they are good enough to just try something.
One thing they have in common is they all come back. Each year half of the small audience is made up of alumni. They come back to support their fellow islanders. They come back to thank their teacher for telling them they were worth something.
Their experience translates into real world value more than they know. It is the courage of innovation and creativity. These will be adults who unify their colleagues. These will be people who take chances, start businesses, sell things, or make something new. These are future adults who will look out for others and make people smile. I’m sure of it. Their paths won’t be easy…but they will sparkle as they go.
Sometimes a toy pistol that squirts jelly is exactly what is needed to change the world. Thank you, Mrs. Ehrhardt, for being a teacher who, day in and day out, continues to recognize the value of jelly.