Dear Teens, Please Survive

This past week was a frenzy of graduations — high school, college, even pre-school. During this same week, I officially withdrew my youngest daughter from public school for reasons most people who have walked the halls of middle school are familiar with.

In today’s society, the only people who ever seem to say that it’s okay to be different, are people standing in front of podiums receiving Oscars.

They’ve made it. They’re safe. They’ve not only survived being ‘different’, they’re able to lift their heads up and say, “Hey, this is why I’m here. My life is amazing because I survived being the kid who got belittle and insulted and stared at. I’m here because I’m unique. My mind doesn’t work like everyone else’s. I have an amazing imagination. I see the world for all its possibilities. I hear music in the wind and the rain. I hear characters whispering their stories to me. I care more about social injustice than I do about who will win the football game, probably because my life has been full of social injustice.”

We are a society filled with sheep. We’re told to think the same thoughts, to wear the same clothes and hair styles, to listen to the same music and believe the same beliefs. But that’s what society says and we, as individuals, are bigger than any society. We are individuals, each with unique minds, unique passions.

I was one of those kids who ate lunch alone in the auditorium. Not because I was anti-social, but because there was no clique– no table designated for dreamers.

My daughter has always been unique. She’s had characters and stories bouncing in her head since thoughts could first form there. She’s never really cared to conform but the pressure to do so has been crippling over the past year. The stares when she dyed her hair black, the boy who asked her if she was a satan worshipper because she wears My Chemical Romance T-shirts.

Graduation speeches are filled with fortune cookie advice. But here’s mine.

Survive. Don’t let society define you. Don’t be yet another sheep. There world has enough of those.

I won’t lie and say that it will be easy. The stares won’t stop. The whispering that happens both outside your head and inside won’t go away. But fight. Fight for the right to exist in a world made up of the vibrant colors of your imagination. Fight for a world with music that pounds in your chest and makes you feel something. Fight to stay different and alive so that one day you can touch the world with the magic that’s within you, because that’s why you’re different.

You have something others don’t have. I don’t know what your particular type of magic is — maybe it’s stories, maybe it’s music or photography or painting or creating new comic book heroes who fix social injustice or maybe it’s you fixing it. Whatever it is, it’s precious. It needs protecting. It needs to be safe.

So survive. Graduate not just with a diploma but with the freedom to be who you are and to leave your mark on the world. We need you so please, just survive.

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