Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A letter to my AP Biology students

A letter for my AP Biology students today for their contract signing ceremony:

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.
Galway Kinnell


Galway Kinnell is my favorite poet. Mr. Kinnell died last week. We met a few times, even shared a meal once, but I doubt he remembered me, and that does not matter, his words still profoundly shaped who I became in college and who I am today. With his death a door closed. I last saw Galway two years ago. I will never see him again. I miss him.

Senior year in high school is scary. Most of you do not know where you will be this time next year. Most of you are seeing doors close for the first time in your lives. Rejection is hard. Failure is hard.

Many, perhaps most of you, have too little time to do the things you want to do. I am not talking about playing video games or watching Scandal or rooting for hopelessly inept NY football teams. I am talking about the kinds of things you (and me) live for.

AP Biology takes time, a lot of time. If science is not your passion, AP Biology takes too much time.

I trust that those of you who are truly interested in science will chase hypotheses down the darkest alleys, and learn to love statistics and data and natural truths as much as I love quahogs and pesto. You do not need a contract.

Many of you are taking this course because you thought (for a variety of reasons) you needed to take this course, and you signed the contract because you were told to sign the contract.

If you are taking AP Biology because someone told you to take it, I pray that Kinnell’s prayer above will help guide you once you get beyond the traps set in high school, traps that will lie in wait your whole life, stealing time and money and faith. Write a contract about what matters to you, sign it, then put it somewhere safe where you can read it when things roll the wrong way, as they occasionally will.

The good stuff, the true stuff, the immortal stuff, is right there for you, on your path. You cannot map the path ahead of time, but you will see it as it grows. Each moment matters more than the day, each day more than the years.
Make the right, the just, and (I daresay) fun decisions along the way and you will be fine, so long as plants keep trapping light’s energy smush together CO2 and water, because, well, just because….

For the few of you who refused to sign the contract, you’re already a few steps ahead of where I was in high school. Congratulations!

My contract to you is to keep teaching how to take ideas apart and put them back together rationally and coherently, and to remember that as much as I love biology, each of you has your own path, your own dreams, your own life.

This as much for me as it is for them.

1 comment:

Kate T said...

So many doors closing. My twins are seniors and this is part of the eternal struggle - to know what matters before you are in the midst of it. To know how to choose a school before you know who you are as a student.
My eldest (she of the upcoming solstice) just posted an invitation on FB to a staged reading of a play that she is in. A new work by a friend of hers. She writes that we should "watch me play the only variation on a romantic lead that i'll ever play at this school!" - and I heard that door close as I read it.
Change is hard. Rejection is so hard. Death is hard. The crushing cold is hard.
Tonight we will try to warm the house and remember to live. This is is is this.