CAMDEN Last time I told you about an essay assignment I gave my English IV class in Houston, Texas. After having them listen to the popular song by Janis Ian, “At Seventeen,” I had them write their personal feelings at that turbulent age.
Last November, I posed the same question to a few often-heard-from readers and former students. I asked them to look back in retrospect at their 17 year old self after several decades have passed. Do you remember how YOU felt at seventeen?
• To me, seventeen has always seemed an odd age, not in numerical terms, but in the sense that one is no longer a child, yet not quite an adult. At seventeen, I was a senior in El Dorado High School. It was a time rich with many friendships, close family, exciting expectations for the future, and one particularly memorable teacher. It was a time to have fun just for the sake of fun, to laugh just for the joy of being alive, and to occasionally shed a few tears. Seventeen was a pause, if you will, before real life began. At seventeen I felt safe in my world, and I assumed my tomorrows would be safe too. But things were coming that I hadn’t even begun to be prepared for. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t know that during the next year I would experience the best and worst of what life had to offer. I didn’t know that I would fall in love with a beautiful blonde boy who would later become my husband. I didn’t know that the world would take away the one true thing I thought I couldn’t live without–my father. But that was all yet to come, unthought of and inconceivable in my innocent state of suspension “at seventeen.”
Marylu Smith- former Arkansas student
• At seventeen life was good. My perspective of the world was narrow in scope. I was not naive and I was definitely aware of current events, but in my day to day life my world was defined around a total number of 200-300 people. I was fortunate to be surrounded by a loving family, church, and school which were my support. I was a popular kid–I’ll admit— full of confidence. Life was GOOD. If I tried out for a team, I made it. If I truly needed anything, then I got it. I knew that life was good, but I was also aware that through my efforts I played a part in making it good. Good choices were easy for me. I knew I would be “benched” in order to get my attention. I was taught how to graciously win and lose. An overall confidence in the sovereignty of a Holy and Righteous God was instilled within me. This got me through the crazy times “At Seventeen.” Tim Long- former Houston, Texas, student of 1978
• Dim memories flicker in and out of my mind when I struggle to think of myself at seventeen. I was an average white girl from an extremely modest family living in Hot Springs. My parents did not fit the mold of my local contemporaries, thus suggesting we were ‘outsiders,’ which we sorta’ were. For me, living in Central Arkansas was as likely as a blue-jay being dropped into a buzzard’s nest and making a normal life. Being an adopted child added another layer of oddity to my cultural story. I didn’t fit in and I realized that. I wasn’t accepted by the “clique,’ didn’t have much in common with the lower strata of my peers either. By acknowledging my differences, I was able to embrace those differences and there ended up mingling equally among all classes of my peers. Not wholly accepted by any, but not really scorned either. I developed a keen sense of humor, that being the accepted ‘armor’ people like myself adopt to get through life unscathed. Eventually it becomes a true trait and it helps if you’ve been tested and officially declared ‘near-genius’ on the I.Q. scale. Teachers are kinder to you. At seventeen, I was a telephone operator in the evenings, a class clown and an individualistic teenager at school, at home I was a very poor, young girl struggling to understand her position in life. Boys failed to impress me. I was always considered just a ‘friend.’ Upon graduation in 1964, I was awarded several ‘honors’ and scholarships, but I still didn’t know myself. When August rolled around, my scholarships languished because I had a good job at the telephone Co. I couldn’t see myself away at college while my parents struggled to cover my other needs. Thus, I ended my year at seventeen as just “an old gal in Central Arkansas” with little advancement made during this year of important events. I was still waiting to ‘bloom.’ Jeanie Brown–personal friend and reader, Manton, Michigan
• In recalling what I was like at seventeen, I remember that I lacked confidence. I was shy. Blushed way too easily and often I was embarrassed. I tried my best, though, to hide these insecurities with smiles and friendliness. I envied classmates who seemed to live a charmed life. But for me, it wasn’t about “beauty queens and clear skinned smiles.” It was about accomplishments. The musically talented, those who excelled in academic endeavors, sports and leadership. These were the ones who exuded a confidence that made them so attractive and enviable. So, for me who was an average “B” student, the age of seventeen was a wonderful time of self discovery…and humility. Gwyn Stuart - El Dorado-News Times reader.
(Brenda Miles is an award winning columnist and author living in Hot Springs Village. She responds to all e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)