Reflecting on Urban, 5 Years Later

Lindsay Welch (Urban Class of 2011), Guest Writer

It has been 5 years since I received my Urban School diploma, as I proudly shook Charlotte’s hand onstage at Stern Grove. I remember little about that day, other than the sundress I wore, the bouquets of flowers I received, and the pictures I took with my friends.

When I was in high school, I told myself I would remember every fresh experience. Being a teenager feels monumental. As we leave childhood, we start to value privacy, shutting ourselves in our bedrooms to listen to forbidden music or write bad poetry. We are suddenly possessive of our memories, as if we must preserve them for examination later in life. Someday we will need them, when we struggle to remember the moment we became truly ourselves.

Today, as a college graduate living in Boston, I remember few details about my years at Urban. I cannot recall every novel I read in English classes, or every conversation with my friends in the Old Library. I have long since forgotten the name of the character I played in the spring musical, and the essays I labored over late into the night. What I remember are the things that endure, within and around me.

At Urban, I became a writer and an educator, and I remain both today. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories and Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, works I first read at Urban, remain central to how I define “great writing.” My experience poring over Abraham Lincoln’s speeches in LeRoy’s Civil War class influenced my decision to become a history major in college. Today, as I continue to write every chance I get, these adolescent encounters with beautiful literature and rhetoric still inspire me.

As part of a Project class at Urban, I tutored students at 826 Valencia, a wonderful nonprofit organization in San Francisco’s Mission District. 826’s aim to help underserved students develop their writing skills deeply resonated with me, and I committed myself to working in education. Throughout college and as a recent graduate, I have gone on to tutor and mentor students in New England. I still see excellent writing instruction for all as an integral part of achieving equality in education.

In high school, I often thought about what I would remember. Today, I realize that we do not curate our memories. We only choose the parts of our past that will define us. Our country is obsessed with adolescence. Films like The Breakfast Club, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Mean Girls teach us that we will always be a version of who we were in high school. As teenagers, we believe we will look back on our triumphs with nostalgia, as if the touchdown that won the big game (or a solo in the Urban Jazz Concert) will remain a highlight of our lives. Similarly, we agonize over every bad grade or romantic rejection, when these mishaps will soon be forgotten.

I am only 23, and I am not wise. I am not sure where I will be living in the next few years, and I do not know the precise shape my career will take. There is only one piece of advice I will give to Urban’s graduating class: seek to transcend the limits of your high school self, but do not forget who you have become in these four years. It will surprise you what you learned at Urban that remains important later in life. Do not reject these things simply because you associate them with your youth, but seek to make them meaningful in new ways.

In a college English class, I re-read The Sound and the Fury, using the same heavily annotated copy I cherished in high school. I laughed as I reviewed the passages I had underlined and the comments I had written in the margins. I made new (and better) observations, recording them in a different color of pen. I realized that although I would never fully make sense of the novel, I somehow craved a “final” interpretation. I longed to be satisfied with my understanding, however incomplete.

But then I thought, how boring. Wouldn’t life be mundane if we tired of the things that perplex us? I remember few details about high school, but I have carried the things with me that matter. These are not moments, or even feelings. As teenagers, we do not discover who are. We stumble upon the ideas we will spend our lives mulling over, the questions we will forever seek to answer.

In high school, college, and even in our 20s, we know little about ourselves and the world around us. What we need are not answers, but questions. We need only the essay prompt, typed in italics at the end of Jonathan’s carefully crafted email. That is purpose. And it is happiness.