Ms. Svoboda’s impact on me in 8th grade was colossal. There is just no other word for it. She made me believe that I could be a writer, that I had gifts to contribute to the world, and that my life could be extraordinary. Her influence on me was so tremendous that I hung her parting words to our class on every bedroom and dorm room wall I occupied between 1995 and 2004:

As you leave Jr. High, I challenge you to SEIZE THE DAY!!

You must make your life worth living. It doesn’t just happen. It is not so much about what you do as it is about who you are and how you live. If you go through life simply surviving, where is the joy and
what is the point? We each must find the verse that we will contribute and speak it will all the power and grace of Shakespeare. Our part will be measured into the entire script and we will be extraordinary.

Do not allow yourselves to become animals: surviving through the day, accepting what you are told, bowing to the television god. Instead…read and write poetry. Ask questions. Listen. Learn. Love. Laugh. Always laugh. Cry. Feel…What a great opportunity! To live! To really live and change lives. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t wish away your trials. Seize each moment. Take charge of it and learn from it. 

I am sure that as your English teacher I am supposed to hope that you all move on to the High School with a firm grasp on essays and deep literature. It is not that I don’t hope that to be true, it is instead that I desire more for you. That in my class maybe you learned to appreciate your life. To acknowledge beauty. To desire to know more. I hope that you leave with hope. Hope in your futures and faith in your dreams…

Enough said. The schpiel is finished as is the year. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives. You have been truly extraordinary.

I’m thinking about Ms. Svoboda today because it’s the end of the school year and Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go has made its way to the front of every store. The first time I heard the story was when Ms. Svoboda read it to us the last week of 8th grade. I was so moved by it that I begged my mom to buy me my own copy so that Ms. Svoboda could sign it. I then spent my summer committing her note—and every word of Suess—to memory.

oh the places you'll go
Today I ordered Landon (1st grade) and Evan (Kindergarten) their very own secret copies of the book, which I will keep hidden until they graduate from high school. Between now and then, at the end of each school year, I will ask their teachers and other important mentors along the way to sign the books.* By the time they turn 18, I will have collected a tangible reminder for them of the people who contributed something of value to their growing up.

That, I hope, will be extraordinary.

*It’s important that you know I flat out stole the idea from this lady, who apparently doesn’t take credit for it either.  🙂