Teenagers Need Grace

Photo by Sammie Vasquez on Unsplash

It’s the end of the grading period and my high school students are scrambling to turn in late work, which I always allow them to do, pandemic or no. And this is why.

I was a terrible student. From an early age I frustrated my parents and teachers because I was always on the verge of failing. Though capable, I was unmotivated to do anything that did not interest me. Nothing the adults in my life tried could make me more responsible.In 10th grade I was failing so many classes that my parents made an agreement with my guidance counselor to have all my teachers fill out a weekly progress report so they could monitor me more closely. One day I picked up the report from my counselor and she had written a note for my parents: “Congratulations! Melissa got the highest score in the school on the reading PSAT.” Instead of feeling proud, I was filled with dread. I knew the note alongside that F I had in English was going to get me in big trouble.

By the grace of God and the kindness of my teachers, I graduated high school with a decent enough GPA to get me into college, though my performance at UGA was less Summa Cum Laude and more “Laude Daude, we like to party.” Somehow I managed to earn a degree and talked my way into graduate school. Once I began studying topics that interested me, I became a motivated student with the grades to match.

Today I am thankful for the gift of being a lackluster student. When I look at my own struggling students I don’t assume they’re lazy. I look at them and see myself, and know there is always more to the story. Just because a student is capable of doing well does not mean they will. There could be a variety of reasons for this: trauma, lack of support at home, social issues, learning disabilities, or simply feeling unchallenged by the work, just to name a few.

So here’s how I roll: YES you can have more time on that assignment. YES you can retake that test. NO you do not have to explain, grovel, or beg.Over the years I have learned only students who are already motivated to learn get upset about zeros; those who don’t care about grades are unaffected. So giving them a zero because they didn’t turn in the assignment only teaches them that I am inflexible. It does not teach them to do better next time or be more responsible.

In the end, this is the lesson I hope to instill in my students: grace will come to you, even when you do not deserve it…because people are good, and the universe is benevolent. It was the grace of my teachers in high school and college that helped get me where I am. And now it’s my turn to pay it forward.

*A version of this piece can be found at Grown & Flown.

It took two weddings to make this marriage

Today is the anniversary of our second wedding. My wife Chantal and I had to get married twice because it was not legal the first time, and we had to travel to California to do so because it was still not legal to marry in most states at that time, including Florida.

Our LGBTQ forebears had asked politely for their rights and were denied, repeatedly. They grew tired of the social discrimination, abuse, and arrests (for such things as violating gender-appropriate clothing statutes) so in 1969, in response to a police raid at Stonewall, they rioted. For five days. Our people were so hurt and angry that they were ready to burn it all down. That was the catalyst for the gay rights movement. It took almost 50 years more but with the help of the Supreme Court and a couple more brave queer peeps (thanks Edie and Jim) we all finally have the right to marry.

It is because our ancestors and allies refused to accept injustice and were willing to fight for their rights that we are able to enjoy the legal and societal benefits of marriage today. I am so grateful. Regularly I am also reminded that we have so far to go. We can still lose our jobs or be denied housing because of who we are. LGBTQ people are at higher risk of dying by suicide or homicide than the general population. And there is a case currently before the Supreme Court that will determine if it is legal to bar LGBTQ folks from adopting.

Today I stand in solidarity with folks who are part of another historically marginalized group in this country: my Black brothers and sisters… not because I understand exactly what it feels like to be them, but because I believe we have a long way to go as a society in learning to fully accept those who do not look, believe, or live like the majority. We are all brothers and sisters, regardless of our politics, skin color, or orientation. And until all of us are free, none of us is free.