Create something real

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Two weeks ago, Dr. Temple Grandin came to speak to our Middle and Senior School students. Her film, Temple Grandin, won countless awards and she, herself, has earned accolades and honors among her peers in the field of animal science. Behind her fame, Grandin impresses many of us by being the person we aspire to be– brilliant, passionate, persevering, and successful– while, at the same time being the person many of us are afraid of becoming– eccentric, ostracized, and misunderstood. Any one of those latter qualities, on its own, could give rise to fear.  But Grandin owns her uniqueness in a way that radiates excellence, not exception. For a society that values individuality, we are so very quick to demand conformity.  But, as the title of her talk directed, we must embrace  “different kinds of minds.” Grandin encourages us to appreciate the gifts and talents of each individual because the only way to achieve great innovation is with the collaboration of individuals who think differently from one another.  Above all, her most important message to us?  “Do something real.” 

Flash forward a week to our Black History Month speaker, Mr. Terrance Hayes, 2010 National Book Award winner and English Professor at Carnegie Mellon University.   

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A brilliant, bold, and sometimes bawdy poet, Hayes selected his works carefully for our young audience. Hayes interspersed readings of his poetry with stories of the risks he’s taken to follow his creative spirit and the inspirations that feed his poetic themes.  From going against the grain of a military career family and leaving behind talents in basketball to choosing poetry because the tools of the craft were more affordable, Hayes connected with students in a way that acknowledged the opportunity and angst of adolescent life.  In speaking to an age group that, developmentally, is struggling with identity and limits, Hayes described the exhilaration of writing within constraints and seeing what he can do when “pushed up against boundaries.”  His words resonated long after he left the stage and the auditorium cleared, leaving even the youngest among them wide-eyed and inspired.  His most important message to us?   “Create something.” 

Both Grandin and Hayes faced limits.  And each, in his or her own way, found ways to embrace those limits and develop talents in ways that contribute to the world.  I took their collective message, “Create something real” as a call to action. As a teacher who is deeply committed to developing 21st C skills in my students, I found the messages of collaboration, risk-taking, and authenticity inspiring. I believe, for our students to embody the tools for success in a 21st C world, we need to celebrate and develop different kinds of minds and engender innovative thinking, by giving students opportunities to collaborate with others and contribute to their world in real ways.