By Lauren Knapp '21
I’ve grown up with anxiety all my life. It’s something that took my family and I a very long time to adjust to, and will probably take a lifetime to heal from. My anxiety stems from lots of different things. It may be as simple as driving down the road or as overwhelming as who I want to be. I anxiously obsess over my relationships with peers and teachers, how they perceive me, and how that will affect my development. I’ll tell you this has severely damaged my pride and has beaten me down until I feel that I am worth nothing. I’ve heard many Senior speeches written by friends who seem to be a lot more confident and driven, so in the spirit of being your final Senior Speech of the year, and the last one I may ever encounter seeing as though I’ll be graduating soon, I’d like to address the impact a lot of these speeches have had on me. Most of these terrific speeches tend to be about doing better, improving, working harder. And though there is nothing wrong with that, my message to you is going to be the exact opposite. I often find myself at the end of these speeches feeling a bit anxious, as if now I have an expectation to uphold after hearing an encouraging speech about how I can improve myself. Now I’m completely willing to accept this reaction as just a reflection of my own faults and insecurities, but at some point I have to give myself a break. I did some reflecting hoping to find out why I have this reaction most of the time. I realized that always telling myself I could do better, was extremely harmful to someone like me.
I’ve been heavily involved in theatre for about eight years. In that time, while doing what I loved, I held myself to a pretty high standard. For years, my nights were filled with racing thoughts about how I could improve, not just in performance, but in my relationship with my teachers and peers, my role as a leader, and how I could be as perfect and involved as possible. I obsessed over my work, disregarding all praise and reassurance that I was doing a good job as a caretaker, as a friend, and as a performer. Recently, I was approached by a parent who thanked me for everything I had done in helping their child, who is a couple years younger than me, find a place in Theatre Randolph. I graciously thanked them, but for some reason I couldn’t help but deny the impact I had had. My refusal to appreciate my accomplishments had become a nasty habit. It took me up until this year to realize how sick and tired I had become. Any sense of confidence I had in myself was pretty much gone. I felt helpless.
"We constantly tell ourselves we’re a work in progress and ignore how wonderful we are right now. You are valid and worth it no matter what your list of accomplishments looks like."
A little bit into the year, I spoke to Mr. Townsend about joining his graphic design class. I hadn’t taken a visual arts class since I was a freshman, so I would be going in with almost no classroom experience. I knew that my desire for masterful work would be tested, and my first day there, as I began my first piece of work, I told myself I was going to allow myself to fail, while still getting sleep at night. I knew that this was going to be an exercise in allowing myself to be mediocre and to be content in that.
We constantly tell ourselves we’re a work in progress, and ignore how wonderful we are right now. We compare and contrast to anything and everything around us, but in reality, we don’t need to have an A in the class. You don’t have to be president, or vice president, or secretary, or treasurer. You can just be in a club, or you don’t have to at all, as long as you’re taking care of yourself, and knowing that you are valid and worth it no matter what your list of accomplishments looks like.
Something to also be aware of is that we can’t expect other people to be high achievers as well. Look to the person beside you and tell yourself that they are allowed to feel proud and happy for what they’ve done. They don’t need to fit into your definition of accomplished or smart.. And there is nothing wrong with someone not working as hard as you do. I mention this only because I hear these things often. It seems that all of us have a part of ourselves that base other’s worth on how driven they are.
"This is a time where a lot of people are asking the big questions, almost to the point where you barely have time to ask yourself them. You’re allowed to not know and to be proud of yourself for just being here."
I’m extremely grateful to go to this school, but what I strongly believe our culture has to unlearn, is that it’s not a race to the top. That is not what this is about. A student can end up at a community college or an Ivy League school. We are here to have the experiences we’re going to have, and there is no reason to ingrain this idea of power and perfection in our students and teachers, because that’s not what's important. You are important. What you think is important, what you feel, what you desire, and what you want is important. Even if it’s easier or simpler than what people expect from you.
My advisor, Mr. Townsend, has been one of the most influential figures in my life, and I am confident in saying that he always will be. He has taught me so much in the past four years and I know I wouldn’t be as witty, confident, and strong as I am today if I didn’t have him around. One day, I was speaking to him about the different experiences I wanted to have in my life, but I felt devoted to the path that had already been laid out for me - go to college, find a job, make money. He looked at me and said, “There’s no one way to live.” That one sentence, changed everything for me. I saw it as a wakeup call for me to stop taking things so seriously, and that I don’t have to be the most successful person ever, as long as I’m happy in my experiences.
I feel that this is what a lot of us need to be reminded of all throughout our lives, because you’re allowed to enjoy where you’re at and how far you’ve come, even if you’re 50 with a career, or 17, not knowing what you’ll do next. For the high schoolers, this is a time where a lot of people are asking the big questions, almost to the point where you barely have time to ask yourself them. You’re allowed to not know and to be proud of yourself for just being here. You’ve done a lot of living, and you’re going to do a lot more, so be proud of yourself for everything, big and small. Take a deep breath, and you’ll be fine. I’d like to end my speech with one of my favorite poems written by Wendy Cope called The Orange:
At lunchtime I bought a huge orange—
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.
And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.
The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.