It all started with a pen. I was weeks away from graduation when my English teacher walked around class handing out pens. “A gift,” she said, “for when you go to college.” I looked down at the thin, plastic cylinder in my hand peppered with tiny neon images of Shakespeare and the words, “This above all, to thine own self be true,” from my favorite of his plays, Hamlet. I pictured Polonius imparting this wisdom to his son, Laertes.
Now, I didn’t keep many things from high school: a few worn yearbooks, scattered memories, a handful of friends and that pen. Without realizing it I’ve carried that pen with me through some of the biggest events of my life: in my dorm room as a scared freshmen thousands of miles away from home; as an even more frightened new teacher just wanting to make a difference but unsure how. It’s not so much the pen but what it symbolizes; what it reminds me. And after all this time, I believe that Shakespeare had a point.
As far as I can remember, all I’ve ever wanted to do is stay true to myself and the person I want to be. There has never been another option. Growing up, my parents taught my sister and me to be unapologetically ourselves. It’s a belief I’ve carried with me throughout my life and has never failed me. It has given me the confidence to face what scares me; to take the risks that have reaped the greatest rewards. It is what I hope to instill in my students now and my children in the future. If I teach them nothing else but to be their true selves in spite of all the pressures they face, then I have done my job. Because, in the end, as the late Janis Joplin said, “Don’t compromise yourself, you’re all you’ve got.”
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