For Good – 2014 Edition

I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason

Bringing something we must learn

And we are led

To those who help us most to grow

If we let them

And we help them in return

Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true

But I know I’m who I am today

Because I knew you…    – Glinda & Elphaba from Wicked

I did a post like this last year and it meant so much to me that I wanted to do it again. Not in small part because this year’s group of graduating seniors were even more special to me. I’ve known them longer. I’ve watched them grow even more. I feel like I was a little more part of their lives than last year’s group. And I wanted to share how special they are, how much they’ve taught me, and to celebrate their hearts.

You see, I have a unique opportunity. As the unofficial photographer for the music & theatre events, I get to stand back and watch. Watch as these kids interact with one another, watch as they grow & improve both in their skills as artists but also in their interpersonal relationships. I watch from afar, hopefully unnoticed, as they deal with huge successes, devastating defeats, nearly insurmountable odds and see how they handle themselves. There is no other word to describe my reaction except: IMPRESSED.

I am infinitely impressed with them. ALL of them. Yes, I’m singling out a few here, but every last one of these kids I’ve had the pleasure – no, the HONOR – to observe impresses me. From the ones who get the spotlight & the kudos to the ones in the back who might have to work a little harder to get it right. Every last gol’darned one of ’em. They are impressive.

And beyond that, I have had the blessed opportunity to try to give a little back. To impact them even in the smallest way. You see, I take a LOT of pictures of these kids I call my babies. I shoot them when they’re sweaty & sweatpantsed, without makeup and their hair in a hastily assembled bun. I shoot them in hats shoved down over their heads. I shoot them sad & happy & frustrated & disappointed & angry & silly & goofy & stressed. I shoot them gorgeously made up with perfectly coiffed hair. I shoot them giving 100% of themselves in a song or a dance, every bit of joy & exultation shooting out of their faces. I shoot them working on sets, with paint in their hair. I shoot them going over a tap step for the 85th time, brow furrowed in confusion. I shoot them in the background of a scene, certain no one’s paying attention to them, but they’re still giving everything they have (and having fun doing it). I shoot them doing what they LOVE. What they live for. And, in doing so, I get to see over and over and over again the absolute beauty that shines out of them. These young adults who probably don’t see it, are so. incredibly. beautiful. It shines out their eyes. Their fingertips are electric with it. And, for the most part, they have no idea. So I tell them. Again & again & again & again. Until they just wish the crazy woman would go away already. But I feel it is so important that they hear it. It’s not what they see every day on TV, in magazines, on their phones. They see that they don’t have a thigh gap (which….WHAT?!?) or a big chest & a tiny waist. They don’t have 6 pack abs or muscular shoulders. Their skin isn’t flawless and their hair isn’t flowing & perfect, so they think there’s something wrong with them. And there aren’t enough words to express how very much there is NOTHING WRONG WITH THEM. They are perfect & beautiful just as they are. So I will continue to say it.

Anyway. there are these kids. And, just as last year, just having the opportunity to watch them has giving me so much. They have changed me. They have given me insight that I didn’t have. They have shown me examples of what I strive to be. And, yes. I love them.

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Tessa is one of the wonderful kids from North that I’ve been photographing since Pippin. Tessa is a treasure. She really came into her own this year and blew us all away with her portrayal of Erma in Anything Goes. This VOICE came out of nowhere and she brought down the house every night with her show-stopping number. It was just a pleasure to see her get her due. She’s beautiful & has this head of hair that is amazing. I love it. But most of all, I love Tessa’s heart. It was Tessa that stopped me in my tracks by commenting on a FB post I’d made saying, “We love you, Mrs. Sturm!” Which floored me. Because I believed that, at best, they tolerated me. I was a necessary annoyance and while they loved my pictures, it never occurred to me that they might feel the way about me that I feel about them. She blessed me beyond measure that day, and she has a special place in my heart forever.

Shannon. I call her my precious little wood nymph. She is a tiny bundle of amazing. Another one with a head of hair that is breathtaking to behold, Shannon has a special something that radiates out of her that’s almost magical. She can, in the blink of an eye, change from so cute you want to put her in your pocket to uncomfortably sexy, but it all feels just honest. Her eyes are like the sky before a storm – this deep, meaningful blue that just makes me gasp. And she calls me “Mama Sturm”. I think she was the first one. That kind of acceptance of some classmate’s mom makes me weepy. I see so much inside of her – potential, yes, but something else. Like there’s something almost mystical that’s brewing inside her and when it’s ready to be released, it’s going to be powerful & explosive. I hope I get to see it. Oh, and she heard me singing “Carry On My Wayward Son” at the top of my voice when I thought my car windows were up and she didn’t make fun of me, so there’s those points right there.

Caleb. What an amazing young man Caleb is. Yes, he’s talented (and hearing his voice mature this past year has been a pleasure!), yes, he’s a very good-looking young man. But what grabs me about Caleb is his heart. There’s a quote in Sense & Sensibility where Elinor Dashwood is referring to Colonel Brandon and she calls him “the kindest and best of men”. I think of that quote when I think of Caleb. That’s what I see in him. He is kind. He is inclusive. He is sweet. He is open-hearted. He is an infinitely hard worker. Watching him and the way he interacts with his peers, the way those peers, in turn, view him – it’s heartening. There ARE young men out there who are kind and caring and giving and forgiving. Who are talented, but not egotistical. Who do their best work. And who, in their final musical performance, let out something inside them that nobody had seen before. Who took what could have been a simple fun song and took out his checkbook, paid for it, put it in his car, drove it around town, put a leash on it, nailed it to the wall and OWNED it. Like a boss. And I don’t know if any of us knew that was in him. But let me tell you – when he let it out, we all went bonkers because it was the dictionary definition of AWESOME.

Sarah. Sweet, loving Sarah. I see so much of your mother in you. Your encouraging spirit. Your leadership abilities. Your heartfelt love for those around you. But you are YOU, Sarah, not your mother, so you bring so much to all of that that is unique. You are innocent, but not stupid. (hee) You are kind beyond measure. You are thoughtful of others’ feelings and needs. You are accepting and welcoming and that smile of yours brightens every room. I still remember the first time I saw you perform in the VCab your sophomore year with your sister & your cousins. I knew then you had something special. You never just stood there and sang at us. Your joy in performing was evident EVERY. SINGLE. TIME I saw you do it. The sparkle in your eye, the smile on your face, the hitch in your giddyup. It was so obvious you loved everything you were doing and, in return, we loved you right back. You went above and beyond in your tasks – making sure people knew they were important. You set a bar for kindness that I don’t think will be matched in your absence. And, please go up a paragraph and read what I wrote about Caleb. Because everything I said about him is also true of you. Watching you blossom into the GORGEOUS young lady who was an angel in Anything Goes was just spectacular. You OWNED IT. And you deserved to own it. The music and theatre departments at WHS will be a little less without you. A little less bright. A little less shining. A little less sweet. Thank you for leaving a little of that behind for us.

Aubrey. I LOVE AUBREY. This girl – she is comedy. I knew from the first moment I noticed her through my viewfinder that I was going to love her. Just seeing her in the chorus scenes during Meet Me in St. Louis as she traded faces with her fellow partygoers – she had me in stitches. And she’s not afraid to be funny. I always found myself seeking out her face when I’d go to concerts or shoot shows. Her eyes are unbelievable. It’s like a combination of Carol Burnett and Imogene Coca and all those “old time” funny ladies who just steal the scene because everything is all over their face. I adore her. I got the opportunity during solo & ensemble contest to see a little bit more of her heart and I SO understood where she was coming from. I just wanted to pull her aside and tell her that it will come. Everything she was talking about, everything in her heart – I knew it. I’d been there. And I wanted to somehow psychically transfer my knowledge to her that it will happen. High school isn’t kind, necessarily, to those of us who don’t fit into the preconceived boxes. But high school ends. And people grow & mature & what was the ideal back then looks stupid & cheap in 10 years. There will be people who come into our lives who can see in us the amazingness that others couldn’t. It’s hard to wait, yes, but it will come. I mean, for crying out loud, if I could find someone who found value in my weirdness, loudness, quirks & humor, then there’s someone out there for everyone. And, just for the record, Aubrey – you are so very beautiful. You have eyes that are so many colors, I can’t name them all. Your smile is infectious, open & welcoming. I think you are just plain lovely.

Kurt. I am absolutely honored that I was able to get to know you this year. I think you are so unique and so talented. I mean, geez. Not only do you look like an Abercrombie model, you are fearless. Your absolute commitment to be exactly who you are takes my breath away. I’m not your mom, but I am so proud to watch you walk through life. You are your own person and you OWN it. When I saw you at last year’s Thespian Banquet, I was truly shocked. Shocked that a high schooler had the confidence, self-assurance, self-knowledge, and just plain cojones to show who you are and the talent you possess. You took my breath away and from that moment on, you had my respect and admiration. I knew you were a makeup wizard, but seeing your work during Fairy Tale Courtroom knocked me back on my behind. You are so incredibly talented. You are truly an artist – there’s no question about it. But, again, I have to talk about how KIND you are. You aren’t hateful or snide. You are loving and kind to everyone – even if you don’t necessarily want to be. You give your best. You don’t make apologies or excuses for who you are – if others have a problem with it, that’s on them. As it should be. You have so much to offer. You have so much to give. You are going to be a force in this world. I’m so glad you came to WHS and that you are important to my daughter. You have taught me so much this year and I thank you. And also, thank you for doing the musical. I adored watching you.

Karla. You little angel. You talk about work – this girl is the hardest working girl I’ve ever seen. Watching her in Macbeth – being an amazing witch – while also knowing she took on the role of costumer on top of being a performer in an extremely difficult show, I was gobsmacked. She is focused, determined, artistic, kind, giving, loving, accomplished and absolutely drop-dead gorgeous. What she did during that show should have been commended in a big, big way. But she just DID IT, you know? She didn’t make a big deal about it or demand attention. She just did the work that needed to be done and she did it with excellence. As she has done behind the scenes in every show I’ve seen her work on. My mother adores her. I adore her. That smile of hers? Is like a prize you’ve won for being in her presence. I saw her at the final performance of Anything Goes. I hadn’t seen her in a while – apparently she’d gotten a job and was working hard trying to make money for college. And it was obvious that not being a part of this show was physically painful for her. It was killing her to have to be there as an audience member. But she didn’t resent it. It just WAS. She was so happy for her friends, so supportive, so encouraging. She was an adult. She handled it better than most grown people I know. She came, she supported her friends, she gave them all the love they deserved. And I’m sure it was so, so hard. But that’s just how strong her character is. Another person who taught me just by being who she is. Her strength just comes off her in waves. SO IMPRESSED. I will honestly not be shocked to hear about her becoming something absolutely powerful in her life. Because I don’t see her letting any obstacles slow her down. Oh, and thank you for your love of me, Karla. It means so much.

Abby. Sweet, sweet Abby. Abby is another of my North kids. I’ve been shooting her for over 2 years, but because she goes to the other school, I haven’t had the chance to know her as well as I would have liked. But Abby showed me this year what character truly means. I’ve always thought that Abby was outstanding. I see her as elegant and poised and confident. Gorgeous, yes, but that’s just a tiny portion. She’s funny and sweet and kind. All her performances have been spot on. She’s like a rock – you know? The constant, unwavering thing you can count on. Which is amazing. And can be rough, too. When you can be counted on to just be consistently good at your job, to give your best and be steady, trustworthy & solid, you don’t necessarily get seen like others who might be more shiny or more sparkly. You might get overlooked. And that’s really, really hard. When you think that your time to shine might have come…and then it doesn’t, that’s character testing time. Impressed is not strong enough a word to describe how I felt when I saw how Abby handled disappointment. You see, I’ve been there. There have been shows and roles that I worked my butt off preparing for – increasing my vocal range, preparing a strong monologue, working up a dynamite song, making sure I looked right.  I would go in, give my well-prepared audition or performance and get nothing. Or at least not get what I wanted. Those are the moments where you truly see who you are – as you wade through the difficult disappointment, trying not to drown in it. I only WISH I could have had the character and fortitude to respond the way Abby did. As always, Abby showed up, did excellent work, didn’t cop an attitude (which I TOTALLY would have to hide my hurt), worked through the hard moments and gave one of her typical strong, confident, elegant performances. As I took pictures, I never saw one moment of sadness or bitterness or disappointment. I saw professionalism far beyond her years. I was so very impressed that I had to pull her aside one evening and tell her. Because she became an example to me. An example of how we are supposed to have faith in the plans set before us. That we are to put aside our bitterness and anger and do the job we’ve prepared for. And how, in doing so, we are refined like silver. And let me tell you something. Abby SHINES. She GLOWS. And I am so proud to have known her, even a little bit. I cannot imagine that I’m going to go back to North for a 3rd year and she’s not going to be there. That I’m not going to get to photograph her face again. It breaks my heart. But it also gives me hope because it means she’s going out into the world and the world can only get better with her in it. Thank you for your example of character, Abby. I won’t forget it.

These are just a few. Not nearly all of them who have affected me. I will miss all of them. Sam, with the turquoise eyes and smirky smile that looks like he knows something about you  that you don’t want him to know. Who made a point to thank me for my work at every final function I was at. Jack and his beautiful smile and amazingly expressive personality who also was like a rock in North’s program. Danny, who I hardly knew, but I was so impressed with both vocally and personally. WHS’ cheer team will be less without him. Elizabeth, WHS’ valedictorian, who I always looked forward to seeing because her grace and presence was always just so calming. Her beautiful soprano voice and uniquely beautiful smile will be missed. Alex, WHS’ resident composer who accomplished so much this year, not the least of which was his 1st place state prize in composition. Another one who always had a smile and a kind word for me. Alden with that stunning bass voice, mahogany eyes and super friendly smile. You two will definitely be missed.

I am so lucky. Lucky to be allowed a small glimpse behind the scenes with these talented, kind, loving, giving, supportive and amazing kids. Saying goodbye is incredibly difficult. In spite of myself, I’ve come to care about each one of them. I care about what they do, how they do it. I care about what they care about and what affects them. I care about what the world has for them and what they have for the world.

Know this, you gorgeous senior babies: no matter what, no matter who, no matter how, no matter why, there is always home for you here. A supportive word. A loving hug. An encouraging kick in the pants. I am always here to remind you of how beautiful you are inside & out. Of how much you are loved. And when the world hurts, and it will, come get some. You are never a burden or an annoyance. I will be happy to tell you how amazing, beautiful, precious, stunning, worthwhile and treasured you are. Okay? Now go kick some butt.

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