Returning to class is a learning experience | Our Corner

Last week, I participated in Bonney Lake High School's Career Day.

Last week, I participated in Bonney Lake High School’s Career Day.

Frankly, I knew that I was going to stand in front of a classroom full of teenagers and tell them about my career for weeks beforehand.

And yet, with all my (over) preparation and foreknowledge of this event, I was still pretty nervous. Scared, even.

And I haven’t been legitimately scared for a long time.

I wasn’t scared when I ran through the fireline during a wildfire to get a picture of firefighters putting out flames.

Was I stupid? Yes. But scared? No.

I wasn’t even scared when I pulled out my phone one day and saw that my mother called me multiple times, each call made within a minute or so since the last.

This should honestly strike fear into any person older than 16, because those kinds of calls mean one thing and one thing only.

So nervous? Uh, yeah. But scared? Not really.

But standing in front of a room of high schoolers? Teenagers? Yeah, that scared the crap out of me.

Even with a high-school teacher girlfriend (read: soon-to-be fiance) who for the last year and a half has inadvertently prepared me to interact with teenagers, my palms were sweating, my voice was shaking, and I was really glad I brought several bags of candy to encourage audience participation.

I was scared because, even though I graduated high school nearly six years ago, it still felt like it was only a year since I sat in their seats and listened to some old fogey like me stand up at the front of their classroom and give a presentation (read: lecture) about their career.

They may be a professional in their field of choice, but that didn’t matter when they stood in front of us high schoolers.

What mattered was whether or not they could connect with us, the younger generation that would grow up and run the world as we saw fit.

Many times, they couldn’t make that connection, and we would sit politely and listen to their words and nod our heads and ask questions but after they left, really, there were scarce signs that they had been there at all.

And almost by magic (read: a year in New York, three in college and one and a half as a reporter), I’m whisked from the desk as a student and transformed into the stranger standing in front of the classroom.

If this was a fictional tale, let me tell you, I’d have some choice words to exchange with my fairy godmother. She could have at least given me better shoes to wear.

But, no, there was no magic to blame for this abrupt transformation – just time.

And in the span of six short years, I was scared that I was no longer relevant to the next generation that looks hungrily at the world, knowing that their time is coming, and coming soon.

I left Bonney Lake High School with a feeling that my fears were unfounded, that I was not an obsolete part of society in the eyes of these ridiculously intelligent teenagers.

Sure, I was able to tell a few funny jokes, and when they gave me answers I liked I lobbed some candy their way (often unsuccessfully) but I wouldn’t attribute these cantrips to why I feel I was able to connect with them.

I stood in front of these teenagers, these budding adults, and I saw myself in each of them, and I remembered exactly what I wanted from people like me, who come into their world to present pieces of my world to them, like friendly offerings between two strange countries.

They want life. Real, unadulterated, wild, unpredictable life and the passion, the joy, the tragedy and the triumph, the fight and the fall and the redemption that comes with it.

They’re tired of having life parceled to them, chemically grown under sterile conditions, carefully tested and wrapped tightly with a bow.

And these teenagers, with wit in their eyes and fire in their hearts, they know the difference and yearn for something that won’t change with the constantly transforming world around them. Something tangible they can wrap their fingers around. Something real.

I think old fogeys like me forget that we, too, felt this way while we were deciding what to do with our lives.

So to those of you who I talked with, shared my jokes and experiences with, I hope I was able to give a little bit of that to you, and I hope other presenters were able to give it to you as well.

I hope that during these tumultuous times, you find something stable and strong to hold yourself fast to.

And I hope that whatever paths you decide to go down during your walk through life that you find the fulfilling happiness that only struggle and your strength of will can help you find.

Thank you for allowing me to come into your world. It really was a learning experience.


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Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
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