Back to School

I don�t know what it is about getting to speak at my former middle school. Maybe it�s the �West Ridge� smell that bizarrely still lingers in the halls, the sea of adorable faces or the mere recognition that I�m not nearly as grown up as I�d like to think. Regardless, few things have brought me as much happiness as speaking at my old school.

The reality is that I may be in my 20s, well over a decade from the last time I sat in that cafeteria eating my brown bag special, but I can remember it like it was yesterday. And the moment I walk into that place, the waltz down memory lane begins. I remember school dances and my first boyfriend (Tyler Duncan) who�d always share his �way better than mine� lunch. I remember running into the bathroom the first time a group of girls were mean to me, the volleyball games in the gym and my favorite teachers (to this day) that profoundly changed my life. I have to admit that when I walk into those halls, I miss it � all of it. For the moments I�m there, I revert back to the middle school version of me and it makes me smile.

You see I have the luxury of getting up onstage and challenging groups of girls to think for themselves, to dream fearlessly and to creatively author their own lives. But West Ridge Middle School is different because as I�m looking out, I see glimpses of me everywhere. I see hopeful, day-dreaming eyes, potential bursting smiles and wry grins that indicate more is going on behind the side smirk that only time will tell. It�s more personal because I remember so vividly what I was thinking back then, what I was struggling with and what I honestly wish someone had sat me down and told me.

While I may have felt I was a peer to the sweet, shiny faces staring back at me, the reality is that with me stood years of experience and that recognition was equally profound. While I felt so much like a little girl, I also simultaneously and ironically felt a sense of understanding, of perspective as only hindsight and compassion can provide with which only time gives permission. I had insight as well as advice for those girls and I felt the connection as though I woke up and was suddenly a big sister to over 400 girls.

I fought the insanity of wanting to spill the beans of every good, bad and ugly I had come across in hopes of them gaining even an ounce of wisdom to guide their path. I felt protective and begged them to speak their truth, to not cry (too long) over their heartbreak because so many more worthy heartbreaks await. I pleaded with their subconscious to take them off “autopilot” and to create their own definitions of beauty. And that’s when the magic happened and I witnessed 11, 12, 13 and 14-year-old girls step up to the plate and answer a bold challenge to think for themselves.

I always say that when I get to speak at a school, organization or event that I get to pour my heart into an audience, to dream up unfathomable possibilities and ask people to join me on a journey to discover their passion and identify their dreams. There really are these magic moments, however, when what I get from an audience far transcends anything I have to offer. Well, that was certainly the case last week. I opened my heart to a group of 6th, 7th and 8th graders and, sure enough, I was inundated with more love and validation that I could imagine.

From the girls themselves to the teachers to Principal Karl Waggoner — that school emanates the ability to surpass your potential and as a day guest, I was granted the same inspiration. What a school, and what a special group of girls. I am better for being a part of their community. It left me with a reverence as well as with the 20/20 vision to see just how precious that school really was and still is to me. My love goes out to my girls at West Ridge Middle School. Rock on, girls!Second image courtesy of

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