Sunday, September 26, 2010

College Night at Cleveland. Or, how I faced my demons at 40.

Two years ago, I had a “face your demons” night for sure. I left my high school in June, 1986 and I didn’t look back.

At all.

Until two years ago, when I spoke at Cleveland High School Humanities Magnet’s College Night. It’s a long story how I got there (not really long, but not funny or interesting) but suffice it to say the first time I felt old is when I was told that I’d be speaking to the PARENTS. Yep…almost 40 and that means…you get to speak to the parents.

I spoke about how the program prepared me for college, but more about how parents can help their kids get ready to make that transition etc. They were pretty vague about what they wanted me to talk about – which is how I like it. I can speak extemporaneously. Turns out this is one of those times, I wished I was recorded. It was a good one.

But I had to earn it.

So…after what was a very tough day at work (also not getting into it, but suffice it to say that my ego was pretty bruised and I didn’t feel very successful in my career or life when I left the office at 6) I drove what didn’t feel all that familiar route to Grover Cleveland High School in lovely downtown Reseda.

Now – I knew that part of the reason that I was doing this was to exercise (in the Catholic sense not the fitness one) some let’s just say, leftover demons, that exist for me from High School. So I was honest about why I was doing this. But as I got closer, that knot that used to form in my stomach in high school began to reform – lovely. (Maybe high school is when I developed my 2, count ‘em, 2 ulcers).

News flash – I didn’t love high school. It was tough every day of all three years (also a sign of my age – high school was not four years then). I struggled not only in all the areas that everyone does: social, finding yourself, learning about your identity, etc. but also with academics. It wasn’t until my Junior/Senior year in College that I learned about how I learn and my grades shot up into the A range.

So, given those struggles, last night was about sweeping those demons away. Finally.

I pulled into the parking lot and walked onto campus. O.K. so far so good. Nothing bad has happened yet.

I found the room where I’d be speaking (E10 for the people on this note that know the campus) – which, incidentally, I didn’t need directions to after 22 years – and walked in. I had taken classes in this room 22, 23, 24 years ago. Mr. something-that-started-with-a-K taught in that room. I had about 10 minutes before the program would begin so I walked around a bit.

I headed down the hallway of the E building. This is significant in that if you were in the magnet program, this is where you spent at least 2/3 of your day. Chances are, your locker was in here and all four of your Core classes (the cornerstone of the program) were in this building. It’s a one story building with 9 classrooms and the Magnet Office in it. I began to walk down the hall slowly – and no one else was there.

Physically at least.

I heard voices for sure…I heard the sound of my high school class. I heard the sound of an old friend’s voice laughing, I heard the teachers voices (one of which still teaches there!) booming to “think more critically!”. I heard the silent sound of panic – of that panic in a 16 year old head that says, “my life is over”. I heard the sound of a kid who is simply trying to find out who they are and this building isn’t helping.

I found my locker.

Seriously. I found my locker and stood there for a moment.

And I felt tall. Granted, I was in 3” heels, but I felt tall outside of that. I felt like the building was stepping to the side for the “grown up”. Yes! Some demons – gone!

I walked outside and took a walk down the middle of campus to the quad. I saw that they moved the bench that I used to sit on with a few friends between E and D buildings (C. Choo – remember our bench?). Other than that, the school looks pretty much the same. More vending machines, but not much else.

I walked back through E building and noticed that where there used to be classroom doors with small windows, there were now cell looking doors. No door knob, just a lock for a key and a handle to pull the door open with.

Wow…keeping them in or keeping people out? Was this an after effect of Columbine? Even in 1986 there was a shooting at Cleveland , but wow – these look like cell doors. (I did ask later, and the doors were installed before Columbine. I decided I didn’t want any other information.)

So…now…back to the speaking engagement – which is why you’re still reading this.

I get into E10 and it’s starting to look really full. Lots of parents sitting in those high school seats – chair and desk attached with a small basket beneath. I am one of 3 speakers. First is Ginger (?) the 25 year old admissions counselor from UCLA. She is there to tell the parents all the ins and outs of applying to the UC schools and specifically UCLA. Ms. UCLA goes through her slide presentation and after her 30 or so minute speech, I am so thankful that I don’t have to apply to college again that I want to run through the hallways cheering. You need 120 units of this and 300 units of that. You better take 20 AP classes if your school offers 30 or don’t even bother applying. You must have held leadership positions in your outside activities – not good enough to have simply participated. It goes on an on (those of you with high school children who will be going to college, my heart goes out to you). I don’t know when kids have time to be kids these days…holy cow.

Then she finally finishes.

And then this lovely young woman who is approximately 31 (but looks 20-something for sure) gets up to speak. She is a Cleveland Alum as well.

It’s important to note that I am now standing on the side of the room at the front next to what used to be the chalk board and is now the “white board” in a room that is filled to over capacity with parents. People are standing on the sides of the room and spilling outside the classroom. I think we’re talking close to 70 people. Maybe over…can’t be sure. But I’m up there to the right of the other Alum. Be thinking about what my body language, facial expressions and internal communication might have been when I tell you what her speech consisted of.

So…she begins by telling people how long it’s been since she graduated – 1995 and a bit of blah blah blah about what she liked about the Magnet program. Then she talked about how she went of to Penn for undergrad and how she used a lot of what she learned in the program. Then (start to think about my expressions…) she went off to Penn again for her Master’s…o.k. (I begin to think, I’m going to have to make these parents laugh)

Then…she became an elementary school teacher for first and second grade. (Yep, really going to need to make them laugh)

Then she did this and then she did that and then she invented Cold Fusion and then she worked with Bono on saving all the children in Africa and then she worked to reinvent the telephone and then she consulted with world leaders on clean water and then and then she created sustainable this and that and then and then and then…(O.K. it’s for sure…I need to make them laugh but not so much they don’t take me seriously)

And then she became a PhD student at Harvard – which incidentally was the “right school for her” after an exhaustive search. (Yep – guffaws for sure)

Oh holy crap!!!


She was valedictorian of her class here at Cleveland .

“Ugh!” came out of my mouth.

Audibly, I think based on the two faces that looked at me.

O.K. I need to make them roll in the isles…but in that way that they do it inside their heads and not look at me like “does she think this is open mike night at the Improv?”

I usually feel badly for people that follow me in public speaking – not to sound too egotistical, but I do that pretty well and following me is sometimes tough.

Um, people have run screaming from a public speaking engagement for less than this girl.


THUD!! Went my stomach and I wondered if it was too late to make an escape.

So, it’s probably a good time to explain that I was not the best student in high school. I think I eluded to this earlier, but it’s as good a time as any to reiterate it.


Hello demons…you were waiting for this, right?

So…the host says to the crowd: “do you have any questions for our speaker Penn-Penn-Harvard?” (O.K. he didn’t call her that, but for the duration, that’s what I’ll be calling her…)

Not one hand went up.

Oy – rough crowd.

“Now I’d like to introduce Dena Loverde – another graduate of the Cleveland Magnet program. Dena graduated in 19…96?” the host says.

“No…I graduated in 19…86” I said. And a wave of “ohhh, ahhh” came over the crowd.

And then I began:

“And now for something completely different! (cue laughter – they actually laughed) It’s true, the last time I was on this campus was 22 years ago almost to the day.”

I then spent the next 15-20 minutes talking uninterrupted to a rapt audience. They seemed to hang on every word I said. I’m not being conceited, I am telling you – they were interested in hearing from me.

Much to my total surprise.

I have a style of public speaking that I describe as a combination of preacher-motivational speaker-comic-teacher. So, it’s pretty engaging. And it better be, because I needed to grab them from the first minute I started speaking so that they didn’t concentrate on the fact that Penn-Penn-Harvard was not speaking to them any longer.

I told them about the program and how it had an effect on me with regard to what we learned, how I referred to it over the next 20 years in art that I saw, college (both BA and MA) and conversations that I had. I told them that way back in the dark ages, all you had to do was raise your hand and you were into a magnet program – that I went to an elementary school, jr. high and high school with magnet programs…it was easy then. But that when I told people over the last 20 years that I went to Cleveland ’s Magnet, they were all very impressed. I explained that the director of this program, Neil Anstead was ahead of his time – that what their kids (Ms. UCLA and Penn-Penn-Harvard kept calling their children, “students” – how impersonal – these are PARENTS of CHILDREN) learned here was like nothing other kids learned at other schools. I told them how lucky they were to get to experience this with their kids.

But I also told them that this program is hard. 20 years harder than when I was here. That they need to support their kids, assist them, help them with the work. Participate with them in their learning. That their kids were being asked to come up with original thoughts – previously used thoughts, not good enough. That they were being tasked with way more than current events and that they were being challenged to go way past what these kids thought was their “top”. They were being asked to take it even higher and be more than they think they can.

And that’s really hard when you’re 15, 16, and 17 years old.

Also, it’s super hard when you’re trying to do all that stuff that Ms. UCLA said you have to do to go to college! (I was more polite, but you get the gist.)

I told them about the teacher that is evidently still there (Mr. Linn – philosophy/critical thinking) and how sorry I was that their children would not get to learn from my art teacher, Mrs. Montrachet.

So I went on and on – telling them about my college career (leaving out some social and academic details that were not relevant) and about going to CSUN for both my BA and my MA.

And then the questions came…

Tons of them. Some of the gems and my answers were:

“Does it matter if you go to a ‘good’ or ‘not so good’ college?”

No, it doesn’t. I have interviewed a lot of people and to me the issue is – go to college and finish. Now, that being said, if you are specialized in something and there is a college that is known for that specialization, having gone there will carry more weight. (needless to say, Penn-Penn-Harvard and Ms. UCLA weren’t thrilled, but hey, that’s real life baby)

“What did you major in?”

I was a business major for almost 4 years because I thought I was supposed to. My dad and mom were business and econ, so I thought that was what I was supposed to do. But, in my 4th year, I took an econ class that made me think that I would jump off the Sierra Tower if I took another one. Then I took a speech class and the rest is Training & Development history.

“If you could do it over again, would you still go to CSUN or go to UCLA?”

I’m not going to answer that question as you would like me to. The fact is that if I went to UCLA in 1986 I’d only be doing it because my parents did. That’s it. Your kids need to choose the college that speaks to them. College is not optional – where your kid goes, is.

“What should we do when our kids want to go to one college because it is popular and prestigious and they don’t want to hear about going anywhere else?”

(I simply LOVE when they asked me questions about how to RAISE THEIR CHILDREN!!!)

Well…I’ll give you an analogy to answer this question – let’s say, I come home, as your daughter and tell you that there are these jeans that I MUST have – that my life will be incomplete without them and that everyone has them and that life will be practically perfect if I have them. Oh, and the jeans are $175,000! So, what do you say to me parent? (lots of beginnings of grumblings…) Not so much? Right? Same with college. It’s your job as their parent to open their eyes that there are thousands of colleges out there and that there are options and that they should review all the options.

So…I know this is long winded, but it was a good night…I got a ton of good feedback at the end – the individual comments kept me there for an additional 25 minutes. The guy who lead the evening took my card because he wants me to speak to the kids. He said that they couldn’t have scripted it better and they think that the kids need to hear that the program is tough and they’re not making it up. One mom came to me and thanked me for telling them how hard the program is. Her daughter keeps coming home and telling her how she and her friends are struggling and the mom thought she was making it up. Does that sound similar to, “well, maybe you’re not applying yourself”? Right.


No comments:

Post a Comment