Twenty-nine years ago, when I was 14, on a Saturday in September after a horse show, my parents and sisters dropped me with my belongings off at boarding school. I wasn't being punished. Far from it. I had actually chosen to go to boarding school because I had pretty much determined that it was going to be the only way I was going to get a decent education.
For four years, I thrived at that boarding school and learned more about myself, about life, about what it means to be a citizen of this planet than I ever dreamed possible. I am forever grateful for those four years and owe a lot to my classmates and teachers who loved me and pushed me and allowed me to grow. I also, of course, owe a great deal to my family who made it possible for me to go and who were not afraid to let me leap from the nest and test my wings to see just how high I could fly.
Last month I returned to my boarding school for my twenty-fifth reunion. I will confess that I returned with a bit of trepidation and even, I'll say it, nervousness. I hadn't seen a lot of these people since I had graduated. And I will be the first to admit that I had done a lot more growing and "changing" since our years together in those hallowed halls. In fact, I considered just skipping the reunion all together. Not because I am ashamed of who I am today, but because I wasn't sure I wanted to spend the time "explaining" it.
Here's the thing. The graduates of my class are quite successful. They're doctors. They're lawyers. They're CEO's of their own multi-million dollar corporations. And this makes sense. When you're given the type of first-rate education that we were given and then you go on to HarvardPrincetonYale, you are then practically perfectly groomed to be a SUCCESS in all caps. Just like that. Easy as the honors grades that you got in all your classes along the way.
For a while, as some of you who have been paying attention know, I was on that track. I was playing that game. I was headed in that direction. I was scrambling up the corporate ladder and was banging my head against the glass ceiling. But I think I may have banged my head just a tad too hard.
Anyway, facing my classmates, who ARE quite successful felt daunting. But my desire to see them after all these years was larger than my fears and so there I was last month spending the weekend with thirty of my classmates at our old school.
So here's what you learn when you go back after twenty-five years.
Some folks have aged really well. Some folks definitely look like they graduated a.long.time.ago. Your English teacher that you had a major crush on while you were in high school? Still looks TOTALLY HOT. How is that possible? Does he have his own "Dorian Grey" portrait hanging in a closet somewhere on campus? Your classmate that you thought was the most uptight and the most stuck-up of them all? Now, he's your absolute best friend. Seriously, you can't believe he's even the same guy. You also can not begin to fathom that you never invited the cute soccer player to your house for the weekend. Why didn't you invite him? You invited everyone else! Being there with your best friend totally makes everything seem completely silly and fun all over again. At one point, you even confess that it was you, YOU, innocent you, who stole K.C.'s school blazer all those year's ago. And you STILL have it! Also, when you beg your best friend to take a picture of you while you're standing naked on the stage of the performing arts center make sure she's not so nervous that she actually is able to TAKE the picture! She did take the picture, but boy oh boy are they dark!
Then the moment happens. The person you would totally never in a million years expect tells you that he's been to your website and he had to quickly close it because he was embarrassed by what he was looking at!
So that leads to the confession. The big confession. I found myself sitting in the dining room of the school with three of our most esteemed male classmates. Explaining, in excruciating detail the history of Nakedjen. I explain it to them in such detail that at one point, during dinner in the St. Andrew’s dining room, I get up and pull my dress off. And am standing there, in front of all three men, stark naked.
And it is while I am standing there naked, that one of them says to me, “Jen, I think that you are perhaps the most successful graduate in our entire class!” I nearly cried. Another says, “Oh yeah. Absolutely. You’re changing lives. You’re making a huge difference in this world! Instead of just making corporations richer, you’re actually helping people to love themselves!”
I could have kissed all three of them.
I confessed to them that I had been really unsure about how to even broach the Nakedjen subject. That I knew it wasn’t exactly the “picture” of a St. Andrew’s graduate that the school has for itself. But they all agreed that the school SHOULD be pushing its graduates to be more like me. That we don’t need more Fortune 500 CEO’s. What we need is more original thinkers who truly love themselves, the planet and their brothers and sisters. Who want to make the world a better place for every one.
The school's own mission statement currently reads:
We continue to cultivate in our students a deep and lasting desire for learning; a willingness to ask questions and pursue skeptical, independent inquiry; and an appreciation of the liberal arts as a source of wisdom, perspective and hope. We encourage our students to model their own work on that of practicing scholars, artists and scientists and to develop those expressive and analytical skills necessary for meaningful lives as engaged citizens. We seek to inspire in them a commitment to justice and peace.
If we tweaked that just a little and added in a bit about loving their bodies just as they are, loving their neighbors as themselves, and loving the planet, well then, yes, I think Nakedjen is a shining example of a St. Andrew's graduate. Even if she did graduate a very long time ago.