High School graduation was the beginning and the end of so much in my life. The end of those teenage years and living under my parent’s roof and the beginning of my somewhat mature young adult years and experiences of love, traveling, and education. I was an awkward teenager, someone who was a cheerleader one day and a hippie/punk rocker the very next day. I adored my strawberry shortcake winter hat all year long, along with my green doc martins, and wearing pantyhose under my jean shorts.  I also loved to put a nice dress on and go to church on Sunday. I declared my life motto at 15 years old “Why Be Normal” and this was the bumper sticker on my beloved blue Ford Tempo. This is still my mantra and here is why. 

For my High School graduation, all the girls were instructed to wear white heels and it was mandatory. You can imagine my sour face when I heard this news. Lucky for me, these were not a financial priority for my mom and I decided that I did not want to spend my waitress money on these dreaded white heels either.  I had a dirty pair of white lace-up shoes that I wore and everyone soured at these when I walked into the graduation holding room. I also had my coveted green doc martins in my backpack and they matched my graduation robe perfectly, the instant thought of these made me smile. So, when we were instructed to line up to graduate, I swapped my shoes for my doc martins and hid them under my robe. I felt like I was breaking all the rules and also living my authentic message, “why be normal”. Some of my friends realized what I had done and they were both scared for me and giddy with excitement.

As my turn approached to graduate I could feel the anticipation from my classmates and my heart beating. I proudly stood up and stepped up to the plate and it felt like the entire room gasped as they saw my doc martins. My heart was pounding and I approached the principle, we made eye contact, I froze, then he smiled a big smile and stuck out his hand. As I went to shake his hand, he looked at me, winked and said “why be normal, and keep changing the world” and it was in that moment that I knew I would continue to be a change agent. 

 To all of you awkward, different, and uniquely qualified for life high school graduates, remember that being normal is overrated and you are perfect in every way especially in all those ways that make you the best version of you. 

 It has been 20 years since that high school graduation of mine, and ever since I have been swimming against the tide and building my strength and resilience. I went on to get a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and Ph.D. and I am now an addiction and opioid researcher and college professor.   My abnormality allowed me to work with those suffering from opioid addiction way before it was a thing because at the end of the day it was the right thing and I knew change would come. My resume is not normal in regards to my career trajectory and that sets me apart from the pack, and I do not fit in perfectly with my jobs or friends, I am not a traditional mother, but my people love that about me and guess what I am learning to love and embrace that as well. I challenge the status quo, and for that, I believe my superpower is one of a change agent. So to all you high school graduates out there I ask you, Why Be Normal?  

Here are some tips on how to embrace you as you embark on your new journey ahead and beyond your graduation:  

  1. Some rules we all have to follow especially when it comes to safety and boundaries.  But some rules need to be questioned and those are about equality, equity, access. Some rules and the language used are for the most privileged and designed to keep others out or make others feel less than, in these circumstances be you, be the change, stand up to your beating out and speak up, and be patient because change will come. 
  2.  Brene Brown in her work about braving the wilderness states that it is hard to hate people close up, for that do not isolate yourself just because you are different. Be loud and be proud and surround yourself with people that love you for that. People will value you and love you.  Love others as well as you accept others on their path. Love and be loved. 
  3. Think critically, especially about rules, agreements, or suggestions that impact your world and life,  be an advocate for yourself and others (when you can). It is okay to question things-why do all girls have to wear white heels? Think critically after you do that-Is that oppressive or create a situation where people from disadvantaged homes are ostracized? How can we close that gap? 
  4. Offer solutions to problems. If you are going to point out a problem then be prepared to present some solutions and work with others to create a new path. No one likes the constant complainer. In order to be a change agent, you have to be a part of the change. 
  5. Stand in your authentic self, that place where you feel the strongest, brightest version of yourself. You can feel it in your walk and talk and breath. 

This path is for all the brave people out there. You have to brave to get out of the boat that everyone is in and decide to get into your own boat. But as you walk across that graduation stage always remember, you are worth it. Your ideas, your vision, your life mission is all worth it. Why Be Normal when you can be yourself?