The nominees are in. No, not for golden statues, but for senior class superlatives at my daughter’s high school. The class has released the names of the four male and female contenders in a variety of categories. If you attended an American high school, your yellowing yearbook most likely contains a few pages filled with photos of seniors holding towering stacks of books (“Most Likely To Succeed”) or simultaneously cradling a basketball and football while balancing a tennis racquet on their heads (“Most Athletic”).
There have long been a few cheeky categories. (“Best Driver” is not a title you or your insurance company would actually like to have bestowed upon your 17-year-old.) These days, there are a few updated categories I had never heard of before, such as, “Most Likely to Host a TV Cooking Show,” “Best Bromance,” “Best Womance,” and “Least Changed Since 7th Grade.”
“Oh, that least changed one is not good,” I warned my daughter, shaking my head in disapproval.
“No, Mom. It just means you’re not tall,” my daughter explained.
Of course, I read more into the category than just vertical growth. Think about how much a person should be changing and developing emotionally, intellectually, physically, and even spiritually in the crucial years between 7th and 12th grade.
Then, I realized that I was a little bit of a hypocrite. Last week I was grinning with all of my receding gums when someone I had not seen in many years declared, “You do not change.” Clearly, that person did not see my gray hair, the knitting needle-sized furrow between my eyes, my tri-focal progressive contact lenses to correct for the fact that I can no longer see up close or far away, and a host of other age-related insults my body is revealing.
Sometimes when I see a photo of myself from a few years ago, I lament my body’s superficial transformations, and fret about life-altering changes below the body’s surface.
All of these yearbook honors got me thinking, though, that young people competing for yearbook honors do not corner the market on growth. As parents, we spend so much time and expense helping our children grow and learn new skills: Chess and dance and French horn lessons, soccer uniforms, tutors, bar mitzvah prep.
Then, somehow, as we become adults, with busy jobs and mounting responsibilities, many of us become stuck. We forget that growth and change doesn’t have to stop when we stop growing or graduate college or become a parent. Just as we would expect a 12th grader to look different from his 7th grade self, we, too, are supposed to mature. As the years move on, we can gather wisdom, knowledge, new skills, and a new depth of kindness and understanding about our fellow humans.
My daughter’s senior awards reminded me that each one of us is simply growing up. Our bodies change, maybe not at the lightning fast pace of the young people at my daughter’s high school, but we are maturing, too. And we can continue to nurture ourselves, like we do our children. We can subscribe to a new podcast or start one of our own.
We can take up a new sport or pick up an old instrument. We can learn to cook risotto from scratch, or learn to call for take-out when we need to spend our time some other way. And we can even reward ourselves a superlative along the lines of “Most Likely to Age Gracefully and with Wisdom.” Because that’s a pretty good one in my book.