I wonder how many people, years after the fact, remember the advice their high school graduation speaker imparted?

I certainly don’t, nor do I even remember who spoke.

It was 1974, at Skowhegan Area High School, and mostly what I remember is my senior chemistry teacher, Arthur Crowell, approaching me as I stood way at the end of the line of graduates about to enter the gymnasium.

He told me that I had a good brain and would do well in life. I was a little shocked, as I was likely one of his worst chemistry students.

Mr. Crowell once gave us an assignment I was not particularly thrilled with, and I announced for all the class to hear, “But Mr. Crowell, that’s not fair!”

He promptly responded with a statement I have not forgotten to this day: “Miss Calder, I think you’ll find that nothing in life is fair.”

His words echoed in my head well into my 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond.

It seemed a cruel assessment that nothing in life is fair, and I thought it a little over the top. But still, his voice and those words stuck with me.

There are other things I remember clearly about high school some 41 years after I graduated.

Mrs. Dubuc, my sophomore English teacher, walked into class one day and wrote “Variety is the spice of life” on the blackboard.

“I want you all to write an essay about this,” she said with her usual earnest smile.

Muriel Dubuc was a great teacher. She made us think, work and pay attention to detail.

She also was complimentary when praise was due — something I believe is very important to teens whose brains are developing and who yearn to perform well for a teacher who is a good and intelligent human being.

Years later when I did my own student teaching in pursuit of certification to teach high school English, I walked into the classroom and wrote that same sentence on the board with an accompanying directive to write an essay.

Fridays at Skowhegan Area High School were particularly memorable because in the afternoon we students were called to the gymnasium for a pep rally before the big football game the next day.

I hated pep rallies because all 1,000-something students, as well as staff, packed the noisy gym where there was a lot of shouting and yelling and screeching.

I abhorred loud noise, but more than that, I detested the way some teachers dressed up as “Indians,” complete with headdresses and war paint, and marched around the perimeter of the basketball court, acting like the characters in an old western movie, chanting what they believed the Native Americans would utter as they stormed down the warpath.

“Scalp the Bulldogs!” they shouted, referring to the Madison football players. “Kill! Slaughter! Burn!”

It all seemed very violent to me, and several of us students who disliked the practice sought help from Elizabeth Merrill, the chairman of the English Department, in convincing the principal to allow us to go to the library and read during pep rallies.

It took some doing, but she had the power and influence to get the job done and we were forever grateful. Later, I wrote an essay comparing a football pep rally to a war rally and garnered an “A” for my effort, furthering my view that Mrs. Merrill was a smart and perceptive woman. Plus, she loved to read and told us once that we should always be reading five books at a time.

I started writing this column with the goal of imparting some advice to high school graduates, not about what I think they should or should not do as they go out into the world, but about what worked for me as I maneuvered the long road to maturity.

Instead, I’ll take some pages out of Mr. Crowell, Mrs. Dubuc and Mrs. Merrill’s books and offer this:

Remember that much in life is not fair, and if you accept and work with that adage, you’ll find your disappointments less painful and your expectations more realistic.

Embrace the notion that variety is the spice of life, and experience all you can: Travel, learn about other cultures, try new foods, have friends from all walks of life, and explore, explore, expore. Life is short, but trust me — you won’t realize that until you wake up one day wondering how you got to be 50.

Fight for what you believe in, and seek advocacy from those who have more power if you feel outnumbered. There’s nothing so satisfying as knowing someone listened, understood and acted on your behalf. One day you will be the advocate.

And I’ll add one small piece of advice that has never failed me: Give to others, especially those who need it, whether it be time, money or a compassionate ear. You’ll never be disappointed, and be assured that one day someone will do you the same turn.

Gifts thrown upon the waters of life, as they say, return three-fold.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 27 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]

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