Beginning this week, we will introduce a new series to the Be Distinguished blog. “Sweet 15” will be a collection of posts written by past participants of the Distinguished Young Women/Junior Miss program reflecting on their 15-year-old selves. Get ready for some wise, witty and seasoned advice from women of all ages and backgrounds. They have gained perspective on their teenage years from diverse life experiences and will share with you through this fun new series!
By Michelle Rodgers
America’s Junior Miss 2009
When I think of myself at 15, the first image comes from the ceiling, an aerial view. I’m lying flat on my back on the grungy white carpet in my room, soccer shorts and a t-shirt, bare feet, hair splayed out like a wild-eyed child. My hands are pushed down against the floor, my eyes are huge, and it’s unclear how much I was actually breathing. The stereo in my room was playing Jewel’s Pieces of You album at top volume, and for the first time in my life I was listening to music. I mean really listening. And, let me tell you, it shook my world. I was so completely wrapped up in Jewel’s light, cobwebby voice that I couldn’t even move. I mean, come ON!This was music. This was perfect. This is the first moment in my life when I can remember music really taking hold of me, scooping me up and holding me tight. (Shania Twain when I was 7 doesn’t really count, although that’s also pretty vivid.) I savored every word Jewel sang and labeled each song as some profound commentary on human existence.
Ok, I was a little intense.
While the lying-on-the-floor-can’t-even-breathe intensity has dulled (somewhat), music has threaded through my life ever since as the way that I root myself to the ground, and learn something while I’m there. Music has followed me up and up, dappling the days throughout high school and college. Unfortunately, so have a lot of other things: the nagging self-doubt that comes with growing up, the comparisons to peers that do nothing but stress you out, and the overwhelming feelings of not being good enough or smart enough or popular enough or even just enough enough.
But the thing I’ve been dazed into realizing is that everyonehas those feelings. We’re all just humans. We all feel those things.People are just people, like you. There is so much common ground, and even though it’s hard to see it through all the anxiousness that we’re not enough just the way we are, the amazing thing is that everyone feels that. That girl in your science class who always looks so perfect and makes everyone laugh? She probably wishes she was better at sports. And the girl who always gets the lead in the school play probably wishes she had someone she could really call a best friend. No one’s perfect, and I’m constantly amazed by how much common ground I find with my peers, especially those who I admire so deeply.
It’s like, have you ever listened to a song, and thought ‘That’s exactly how I feel! I didn’t think there was anyone else who knew this feeling, but man, this song really nailed it.’ For me, music reminds me that we’re all human, and we’re all going through the same things. I still believe that everyone can find a song for every time they’ve lost, and every time they’ve won. Rock and roll might just save us all.And really, we don’t need to worry so much. We’re all there in the thick of this together, and if we’re considerate, open, patient, and kind, that will wrap us up better than any song ever could.
Everyone has the things that keep them human, that keep them rooted in their bones. For me it’s music. For you it might be books or family or your dog or friends or the morning or the night. Learn all you can learn from these things, and remember that people are just people. You are just people. I am just people. Don’t worry about the things that make you unhappy or stressed or dissatisfied. Don’t compare yourself to others – it’s a losing game. And don’t wait for someone else’s permission to be happy. Today is the day. Vienna waits for you.
Michelle Rodgers has just begun her senior year at Northwestern University, with a major in Social Policy and minors in Business and Theatre. After graduation, she plans to move abroad for a time and work with Education Policy through after-school programming. Michelle is originally from the tiny town of Winchester, Kentucky, and gets a particular tug on the heartstrings from Bluegrass music. She was named America’s Junior Miss 2009 during the 52nd America’s Junior Miss National Finals, now known as Distinguished Young Women.