I was not able to watch the America's Got Talent finale, although I caught up with everything on YouTube. I of course clicked on the video to see who represented the final two: Grace VanderWaal and The Clairvoyants. Grace deemed triumphant and won the $1,000,000 prize as well as the headline show in Vegas-- and as I scrolled down and read comments, I realized how critical of our youth some people are.
Those individuals should realize that not just any seventh grader can successfully step onto the stage of America's Got Talent. They should realize not just any 12-year-old can be a songwriter, let alone play the ukelele, and they should especially realize not just anyone has the charisma to captivate vast audiences. Grace overcame immense nerves and stepped out into the spotlight, which obviously presents challenges, but also demonstrates she is incredibly brave (and determined).
All of this led me to write her a letter-- she was the age of my students only two years ago, and I feel she needs to hear from someone who works with middle school students often. So here goes--
Congratulations on winning America's Got Talent. I am a fifth grade teacher and middle school Technology Club advisor in Florida, so essentially, I surround myself with people who are your very age who possess a plethora of intriguing interests. I am inspired by you not only because of your songwriting talents and courage to audition for a show that reaches millions of viewers, but also because you can be a guiding light for other tweens/teens who desire to pursue their hopes and dreams as well. I often tell my students it is most certainly not too early for them to chase after what they desire in their lives. I encourage for them to make professional connections, conduct research, and write action plans, especially when they have an idea for a potentially world-changing innovation. Ultimately, I hope they understand they do not have to wait for life to begin.
Most importantly, I want to teach them that being themselves is okay, to not let others change or discourage them. This world tends to be very jealous of creativity and uniqueness; I wish it weren't, though I lived through criticisms myself growing up. I know as the next few years unfold, more and more people will come to know who you are, and you will have to hold yourself back at times from internalizing peoples' opinions. You will learn to embrace the beautiful positivity that comes in your direction instead. You will have to be strong and graceful (no pun intended) as you face the stunning and mega-talented young woman you are becoming. You will have to hold your head high in a somewhat cynical world and realize there are many people out there who will embrace your talents. Your lyrics will encourage at least a few people as they endure a challenging time in their lives. Your presence in itself will be refreshing because people are seeking genuine, wholesome, and altruistic talents to make their way into mainstream music. There will be the people who purchase tickets very early to attend your concerts because they know they will hear lyrics that have been crafted from the heart, and you will hear so many stories from your fans over time, encouraging you to reach out to them in altruistic ways as well.
In light of what has just occurred, your life will very much never be the same. Yet as I reflected last night in my last blog entry, we are hybrids of our past and present selves. If we don't acknowledge our past, we may never realize who we have the potential of becoming. Never let go of the person who has gotten you this far, and never let anyone dull your sparkle.
Last, thank you for letting me know it's okay for even 34-year-old me to pursue some of my grandest passions-- that it's never too late to write the next chapter of our lives. Best of luck to you, and perhaps I will eventually see you in concert.