Associate Director of Counseling Lindsay Roznowksi, who is also a Class of 1999 alum of St. Andrew's, gave this Friday morning Chapel Talk on February 8, 2019.
In 1996, I was a sophomore at St. Andrew's, "The Macarena" was #1 on the Billboard charts, and Mr. Will Speers was my advisor. I've often acknowledged to students here that there are many differences between being a teenager then and now, but as an alum, I can also relate to many of the amazing and difficult student experiences here despite the time that has passed since 1996.
I know what it's like to do an all-out cannonball into Noxontown Pond.
I know what it's like to take Bio with Dr. McLean—and do the bird and leaf projects (thank goodness for the frequent geese fly-overs).
I know what it's like to be an enthusiastic participant in sports teams, but to hit your athletic ceiling as a starter on JV.
I know what it's like to experience the magic of a faculty member showing up to dorm duty with food (chips and salsa can really take a day to the next level).
I know what it's like to be in English class with Mr. Speers as he feverishly jots down each person's comments in his notebooks and implores everyone to "write into their confusion."
I know what it's like to be inspired by a TAD talk.
I know what it's like to stay up late on dorm laughing with your friends (sorry, Will Rob for acknowledging the occasional sacrifice of sleep).
I know what it's like to try to put together an edible meal before semi-formal (my go-to was breakfast for dinner). My cooking skills have not really improved since then.
I know what it's like to hear those seven magic words: we will have a free day tomorrow.
I know what it's like to step into an exhibition and hope that you are able to ask the right questions and make good points.
I know what it's like to lurk around campus trying to find a kind, willing faculty member to take you to town for food. (With her permission, shout out to Camille Strand '20 for her stellar lurking skills—respect!)
As a faculty member living and working at the same place I grew up from ages 14 to 18, I wanted to take advantage of my unique situation and reflect on what advice I would give to my high school self. And then cross my fingers that some if it would resonate with you. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 and I'm about to let you try on my glasses.
To my high school self—I would say:
Strive for authenticity and stop worrying so much about what other people think of you. This piece of advice is not always an easy one to follow—even as an adult. I fully acknowledge that social comparison and considering other people's perception of you is a natural instinct. When you engage in those things in a balanced way, I think it can cultivate empathy, compassion, and productive introspection that may lead to positive personal change. But when the social comparison and focus on other people's opinions of you becomes more and excessive, you end up putting your happiness, confidence, and self-acceptance wholly in others' hands. What other people are thinking, doing, and saying becomes the yardstick for your ability and worthiness. And one of the most problematic parts of this whole thing is that we are creating narratives based on comparing our insides to someone else's outsides. More specifically, we know what is going on in our own heads and we are stacking all of that up to what we think is going on for someone else based solely on our observations of them—how happy they look, how confident they seem without knowing what is really happening internally. This must especially be harder for you than it was for me in the context of social media—constantly observing others' curated lives. Because very few people post a picture of themselves on a bad day. Instead we see filtered selfies of people living their best lives—happy, successful, doing things more interesting than we could ever imagine. There were so many moments as a teenager when I was too busy defining myself through someone else's vision of success when I wish I would have taken a deep breath, let it go, and made room to figure out what my own unique, authentic vision was for success and thriving. Disengaging from the constant worry about what others think and how you compare to them requires consistent and intentional practice. As Brene Brown says so well: "Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are."
My second piece of advice to my high school self would be: challenge how comfortable you are, stretch past your boundaries. High school is all about self-exploration. Who am I? Who do I want to be? We often answer those questions by finding people we love to be with and things we love to do. When you find those people and things, it feels amazing, but looking back, I wonder if I got too comfortable in that sweet spot. I wonder if being comfortable turned into complacency—could I have had more transformative experiences if I challenged my comfort level more? I developed deep and abiding friendships at SAS—the people I found here are still some of the most important people in my life now. One of my friends, Jessie, was a bridesmaid in my wedding. My roommate, Emmy, and I still get together and laugh our heads off the same way we did after light out in our dorm room. Another one of my friends, Dave, just had his first child a few weeks ago. And my friend, Suli, who moved to Saudi Arabia right after college came to visit me on campus this past summer after not seeing each other for almost 20 years and it felt like nothing changed. Bernadette Devine, who works in the Advancement Office, was in my class at SAS and has been one of my best friends since then. These days, she comes over to my house, sits on my couch, and we spill the details of our lives and give each other advice—just like we did as teenagers—except now our conversation is interrupted by my kids every 90 seconds asking me for juice or the all-too-common exclamation: "Mom! Mom! Look at this!"
I have never doubted the connections I formed here, but I do wish I got to know even more people outside of my social circle—pushed myself to have conversations with someone I normally wouldn't, been intentional about connecting with someone on a deeper level who was just an acquaintance. I also wish that I would have taken the risk of trying new things—I wish I would have tried out for a play, tried to learn an instrument, signed up for a painting class, joined more clubs, and gone on more camping trips with Dr. McLean. You never know what you're missing until you take the risk of doing something different.
So—that's my advice! It might be hard to picture the adults in your life as once-upon-a-time teenagers, but seriously, we have been in your shoes. Look around at the adults in this room. They were all 16 once! And because I'm just one person with one experience and there is so much wisdom in the room, I couldn't rob you of the advice they would also give to their high school selves. So here we go!
What I need you to worry about is this: I need you to love yourself.
I need you to love yourself.
No, really, listen: I need you to Love. Yourself.
Here's what I want you to do: every time you say something hateful to yourself, about yourself, pause, take a breath, and then tell yourself the opposite. Flip that script and say something loving to yourself, something positive about yourself. When you begin to tell yourself you're so fat and ugly, stop and think: I am beautiful and strong. When you begin to tell yourself that no one is ever going to notice and desire you, ever, stop and think: I am worthy of attention and affection. When you begin to tell yourself that you shouldn't speak up because you don't want to come off as pushy or brash, stop and think: My voice is just as valuable as a boy's voice.
Think it and say it and think it and say it until you believe it.
You need to learn to love yourself, because you deserve that.
Mr. Torrey: Your desire to change--to lose weight, to become a better student--is a good one. But the people who love you most and love you best don't care about what you look like or what you've accomplished. All that matters is kindness--to yourself and to others. Make people laugh. Pay people complements. And take pride in all you do.
Mr. Foehl: In college and beyond, surround yourself with people who are going to bring out the best in you.
Mrs. Honsel: At the end of the day, nobody is thinking about you as much as you think they are. They aren't thinking about the fall that you took up the steps, they aren't thinking about your new hairstyle, they aren't thinking about how you played the game, they aren't thinking about your performance in the play, they aren't thinking about how you did in class...they are thinking about themselves and all that they have going on. So put yourself out there, take a risk and follow the beat of your own drum. Quit worrying about what everyone else is thinking about you—because they're not.
Mr. Honsel: Every day is a gift. Read good books, listen to good music, laugh with your friends, make time for play—it all goes by so fast.
Miss Duprey: I spent most of my high school years waiting for my life to start happening. What I wish I knew then was that my life, arguably the most pivotal parts, was happening right then and there. I'd fantasize about the person I wanted to be. What she looked like, what college she went to, what career she would have, and how much people would like her... I was completely unaware that during all that dreaming about who I would become during my 4 years at St. Andrew's, I was becoming me. Life it is providing you with the the core materials that will build you into your future self. Care for yourself, be patient with yourself, challenge yourself. As exhausting, confusing, and stressful life may be right now, know that "future-you" needs "present-you" just like "present-you" wouldn't be here without past-you.
Mr. Meier: Time goes by really, really fast. Faster than you could ever imagine in the present. Don't think that all good things will come in the future, or say, "one day, things will be better." Don't wait to do the things you love or think you need permission to go and be who you want to be. Your life is now, be present, don't waste time. Also, you're going to go bald so you should really grow your hair as long as possible.
Mr. Terrell Myers: Don't be afraid to dream BIG!
Mrs. Hutchinson: Don't worry so much about what other people think. Focus on the inside of yourself and others rather than the outside. And, love is the most important thing, hands down! Oh, and it gets better!
Mr. Speers: My advice would be to listen more to those around you, and be a little more skeptical of both your insights and even those of people around you. (Also, it's ok to get a little crazy once in a while and end a sentence in a preposition.) I added that last part to Mr. Speers's advice, but I'm sure he would agree that it would have been good for him.
Mrs. Carroll: Don't take a single game or contest for granted. And remember there is always someone else, somewhere working harder than you.
Mr. Carroll: Take care of your body. When you're young, you think you're invincible and don't necessarily focus on getting the right nutrients, getting sufficient sleep, preparing the proper way, ultimately hindering your ability to live pain-free (in your thirties!) as you age.
Miss Amanda Gahagan: Stop worrying about what other people think of you. Just be weird! Weird is way more fun.
Miss Pierce: Your teachers are your greatest allies. Be open to mentorship and guidance. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Mr. Mastrocola: Really get to know the adults in the community and try to make friends with more kids outside of your social circle.
Miss Grace Gahagan: Let your freak flag fly
Get weird and get psyched
Own it and dive in
Talk to adults - coaches, advisors, teachers
It's not about you
Let it go
Mrs. Brownlee: Be gentle on yourself. Don't compromise your values. Listen to your gut!
Ms. Furlonge: Spend more time with your friends being silly. After SAS you won't necessarily see the people who help to shape you in ways that you won't even imagine, so spend more time making those memories.
Mrs. Roach: Find people who make you a better person.
Mr. Roach: You need to read more. You need to realize that your education and your career must be tied to an abiding passion in your life. You must search for that passion and commit to it as soon as it becomes clear. You need adult role models.
You need to become more empathetic, generous, and kind. You need to talk to your grandparents and parents about the meaning of life. You need to know that life is short, and you have no time to rest. You need to work, read, live, love, and share with more attention and intensity.
Oh and—marry Elizabeth Montesano, even though you have barely spoken to her.
I don't know about you, but I'm inspired by all of that advice. I love living and working with this faculty and with all of you. I love how much fun we have together. I love the fact that we have the opportunity to learn from each other every day. I hope our short time down here in the chapel this afternoon was one of those opportunities.
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