About Speaking in Schools

I look out at a roomful of young kids, bright-eyed, with their life still ahead of them; their dreams are this “Real thing” which has not been spoiled by age or outside opinion. Inside each and every one of them is a life just waiting to blossom. Ahead of them is a countless supply of tomorrows with only a limited supply of yesterdays behind them.
I see them. I see all of them look at me as I stand at the front of the classroom. I feel a pit in my heart. I feel a familiar sadness from my past. I feel an old feeling that comes from a time long ago when they were me (or I was them) and the fears of the crowd, the feelings of awkwardness, the fears of feeling alone or unlike anybody else, and the heavy strains of maneuvering through social structures of popularity was this constantly pressing thing. And I call it “This thing,” because I’m not sure how else to describe it.
I had this thing in my heart and thing in my head. I knew there were words to describe them; I know there are clinical terms such as depression and insecurity and so on and so forth. I understand what these words mean; however, they were just words to me. They were more like understatements to em and you, the person next to you, and anyone and everyone else could sit or stand right beside me and I would still feel alone and a million miles away.

I see the kids in the class and their social structure is very apparent to me. Nothing has changed. I mean, sure, the fashion is different. The music is certainly different. The technology is different and the way kids interact is not altogether the same. However, the roles are still the same and the feelings match. I know they do and I can see this when the room opens up to me.

I don’t run from my old feelings when I’m here. Instead, I welcome all of them. I welcome the pain. I welcome the hatred I felt, both internally and externally, and I invite the discomforts to come to the surface. I encourage the discouraged feelings I lived with, the depression, the detachment when wishing I could be attached, and the unaccepted feelings I had when wishing I could just be acceptable.

I don’t dress myself up to be something else. I look at the students and notice that look in their eye. They’re beautiful to me. Each and every one of them is beautiful. They are young. They are future lawyers or doctors. Someone in this classroom could be the next best thing. There could be the next top musician in the room or the next best author. One of these kids could be the key to a lock that has never been open before. They have the rest of their life ahead of them. Each of the kids in the classroom is so wonderfully young and all of them have their own unique list of potential.
God, I envy them. I admire them.
I see them as the “Me” of my youth; however, I also see them as hopeful vessels towards a better and brighter future.

I want to tell them all the things I wished someone had told me. I want tell them about the things they feel and the fears they have or might not have. I want to tell them all the things I wished someone had told me.

I have this vision I keep in my head.
I see them all on a day in June, dressed in cap and gown at an outdoor graduation. The sky is an enthusiastic shade of cloudless blue. The sun is this huge yellow spot with bright sunbeams reaching down and filtering in the background of proud parents taking pictures of smiling kids, eager to begin the next chapter of the rest of their lives.
They are young and hopeful. They have no idea how amazing and capable they are. They will do great things if they allow themselves to.
They will be the future of this country. They will be surgeons or perhaps they will be engineers or designers of the next best invention. I think of them standing at a graduation ceremony with flags of their school colors waving like personal banners of achievement. They will move their tassel from their graduation cap from one side to another; perhaps they will gather for an entire class photo. Maybe it will be an aerial view. Maybe they will throw their caps in the air with a celebratory cry.

I want to be a part of this. I want to see them achieve the next level. I want to see them succeed with the same drive I have to see the next sunrise in my life. I want to see them at their prom, young and in love. I want to see them after the earn their driver’s license. I want them to reach their dreams and defy the odds. I want to see these kids be the next best thing. And more, I want to see them get through this without the doubtful shame or nagging inner questions and confusion that comes with growing up.
I want to see them surpass the odds against them and watch them beat the struggles of teenage depression. I want to save them the curiosities of drug abuse and the agonizing purge of suicidal consideration. I want to keep them from self-sabotage or hurtful things like cutting because your words just can’t explain the pain in your heart.

I want to save them from the burden of uncertainty and lonesomeness. I want to expose my scars and explain what each one of them means. And I will not dress up my speech, nor will I moderate it to sound more acceptable to the powers that be. I will be painfully and brutally honest. I will show them every shameful moment I felt and every second of my despair. I will expose my struggles with sexuality. I will expose my fears of being unlikable and unwanted. I will tell them all my truths and especially about my lies because my lies are the things that almost killed me

I stand at the front of the room and I inhale every memory I have. I hold this breath in as deep as I can so that when I exhale, I will blow this classroom away with every bit of truth I can spare.
I ask the out loud questions I was not brave enough to whisper when I was their age. And I know I have them. I know I have their full attention. I know making them feel and I know without them saying a word, I’m exposing them by exposing myself.

It is not my intention to make them hurt but it is my intention to make them feel. I go in and say the things no one else will tell them. And do you know why they cry? They cry because they understand. They cry because no one else tells them these things. They cry because fuck it all, finally, someone is being honest and heartfelt with them instead of preaching or teaching them something.

When I stand in front of the class, I stand there to expose myself with hopes these kids can be that vision I have for them. I am not there to teach them anything except the one thing I wished someone had told me years ago.

I go back to that kid I was and sitting in that classroom. I go back to that kid I used to be, painfully intimidated by literally everything, afraid of my own shadow, eager to be wanted, wishing to feel “In” and wanted to be a part of something. I stand in front of the classroom and tell these kids what I wished someone had told me because maybe then it would have saved me a few trips around the wrong blocks. I explain what I wish someone explained to me.

I wished someone told me, “You’re alright kid.”

“You’re beautiful.”

“In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone as beautiful as you.”

At the end of the class, I am rewarded.

Kids cry. They hug me after class. Some hold on for a long time, but I don’t leave and I won’t leave until the last one drops their last tears. I love them more than you can imagine. And you ask why? I‘ll tell you why.
I love them because I never knew how to love myself and the love I give them is the love I wished I could have given me before tying a noose around my neck or putting drugs in my system or doing unthinkable things.

One of my biggest or more painful regrets is I never went to a prom. Before the class ends, I always ask if the students would be kind enough to send me a picture of them at their prom. I explain how this would mean a lot to me.

I allow the class to ask questions but they’re not always comfortable in front of their other classmates. I encourage them, but they often sob with a cry that I can only explain as a good cry because they are given permission to “Let it out”

During one of my last classes, one of the largest kids in the school (I swear this kid will be a lineman for some professional football team one day) he raised his hand. His eyes watered because it was clear he wasn’t trying to let it out.

I pointed, “Do you have a question for me?”

Broken in speech, he tearfully asked, “May I have your phone number please so I can send you a picture of me at my prom.”

Safe to say those who weren’t crying were crying now (me included) and of all things I’ve ever felt when lecturing, I have never felt a victory as warm as this.

Speak to your kids, folks.

Don’t speak at them

Break the gap between you

Trust me; it just might save their life

2 thoughts on “About Speaking in Schools

  1. As an educator, you bring tears to my eyes.
    And, as a mom of a recovering addict, more tears. Truer words have not been spoken.

    Love you, Benny-

    Donna

  2. Ben,this is your old friend from across the street your writing is beautiful it broke my soul,you see my daughter has issues with me,but she doesn’t understand how
    Was raised,I too dealt with hidden pain that no could understand and I too suffer from my own addiction 💝😢
    A

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