Build A Nation

coffee

In high school, I was selected, at the end of my junior year, to be part of a group as a senior that was based solely on excellent scoring in standardized tests. I may not have been an A student on the daily, but apparently I tested well, so I was plucked from the comforts of my wonderful homeroom and great homeroom teacher, a guy who truly loved kids and understood each of us and our proclivities like no other, who passed away last year and, when he did, I was as sad as if he had been my teacher only three years ago, instead of thirty. I did not want to leave Mr. Nye’s homeroom. The people were normal and kind of fun and he was awesome and I was used to it. But I was told that my senior year, I would be part of a special mentoring program called SEEK, which stood for something, I have no idea what. In hindsight, perhaps Stupid Educators Ensuring you Knuckle under.

My mom and I found out I was in the program through a letter that came home. I told mom I did NOT want to be in this whatever club with a bunch of stuck up rich people, there was nothing for me in something like that and I did not want to leave Nye’s class. She told me to tell the teacher in charge of the program, a bitter, nasty woman who seemed to hate children and whose class I knew I had to take as a senior, and was not looking forward to it. I went to her in school and told her I didn’t want to be in it. She didn’t care. She said I would like it, and she would see me at the banquet the following week, which the letter had described. It was to welcome us to the program or some shit. My mom and I went up to the school that night and my mom went straight to the teacher, let’s call her Mrs. F as in F.U. She told her she really appreciated them considering me but that I didn’t want to be in the program, that it wasn’t a good fit. That the kids in this program likely were people who I didn’t like and who really didn’t like me either, and I would have nobody to talk to. There likely wouldn’t be any good mentoring options for me in town and I wouldn’t be able to do most of the off-campus stuff the other kids would be doing because we only had one car and she needed it for work. She basically said tough shit, it’s a privilege to be picked and your daughter should be honored. I was not honored. I don’t even think we stayed at the banquet, we were both so disgusted.

Her homeroom, which I was forced to be in as part of the program, was as miserable as I expected. I remember at one point she got so mad at me she demanded we go out in the hallway, where she tried to dress me down for whatever infraction. I argued back with her, and she said, “Do you want to go to the office?” I shot back, “Do YOU?” because I was ready, right then, to drag her fucking ass down to the office and tell them what a bitch she was being to everyone. But we just went back in the classroom.

The SEEK program was every bit as miserable as I expected. All the promising young doctors and lawyers and bankers were in there, and few of them people I could call close friends. My boyfriend was in the group; he wanted to be a plastic surgeon. He got paired up with a surgeon in town and took his car to the guy’s offices once a week, where the doctor explained all kinds of procedures to him and let him observe several surgeries, which he would tell me about in all their gory, fascinating detail. He thought it was awesome.

I was going to college to study theater. Very small towns are not typically known for their cultural excellence, and mine was no exception. My mom has always liked to say the only thing cultured in my hometown was the yogurt. They paired me to the manager of the single theater in town, a small, community theater where I had a small part in a musical as a child, but otherwise, I had no experience. I knew nothing about theater or acting, except that that’s what I wanted to do and that I thought I’d be good at it. You couldn’t even take theater classes or be in a play until you were a senior at my school. And I did go on to be in that single, senior class play that school year, in the lead role, and for which I got a small trophy on class day, and I think a couple hundred dollars in a scholarship. So I guess I was right. But the day I drove my mom to work so I could borrow her car and keep my appointment to go see this guy, I was pretty much a blank slate in terms of personal experience.

I drove to the theater, parked, knocked on the door and he let me in and led me to his office. He seemed very annoyed that I was there. The place was deserted. We sat down and I took out a pad and pen. “So, what do you want to know?!” he snapped. I didn’t know what I wanted to know. “Everything, I guess” I said. “I don’t really know anything, so whatever you want to tell me…?” He huffed annoyingly. “You don’t have any questions? I was told you’d have questions, like an interview.” I had never interviewed anyone. I had no fucking idea what to ask. How do you ask about something you don’t know anything about and have never studied? I stammered for a few minutes and came up with a couple questions, I don’t remember what. He gave curt, quick answers and was obviously irritated. “This is a waste of my time!” he said. “Unless you know what you want to ask, I don’t even know why you’re here.” I was so embarrassed. Then I left, and I was so, so fucking angry. This is exactly why I didn’t even want to bother with this whole fucking program. And then I had to spend the rest of the year in homeroom with these people who loathed me.

Occasionally, as part of the program, we would all take a trip somewhere or hear a speaker, like I think someone’s dad came in to talk to us who was a lawyer or something, and I think we went on a field trip to see some other dude, I don’t even remember. The whole thing was a complete fucking waste and none of the things they showed us related in any way to what I wanted to study, JUST LIKE I HAD TOLD MRS. F.

I vowed that if I had a child or children, I would do better by them, and I’m trying to do that already with my son. I talk to him wherever we go about the jobs people are doing at the places we visit, and what kind of work that would be like. He thinks he wants to be a lawyer, because they make a lot of money. Or a landscaper, because they get to be outside and be physical. That’s if he can’t be a pro basketball player, which is what he really wants. Sigh.

We have a high school intern visiting us at work this month. Mostly, they are giving her a lot of busy work, like filing and opening job bags. The CEO is friends with the girl’s parents and they asked her if the girl could do her internship here. It’s a really, really small company and learning how we do things at our company, like, giving her specific job training, seems not very helpful since she doesn’t even know yet what she wants to do, and is still figuring that out. She thinks she wants to do something with writing, but isn’t sure what. Or science, which she also likes. She’s also been active in the arts. So when my turn around the horn came, we left. I’ve taken her out now twice to spend time with her at a coffee shop, learning about her and her interests and background, and talking with her about what types of jobs she could get and how those jobs work. I talked to her about how to get a job on campus and what types of jobs are good to get, and why, because the experience could help you later on in life. Instead of having her sit next to me and drone on for a few hours about how to open a file and where we save things on the server or whatever, I told her all about my different job experiences, working in large companies, public companies, private companies. Working as an executive assistant, working in a university as a department secretary, working at the 4th largest PR firm in Los Angeles. She said that sounded like a really great place to work, and it was. I loved telling her about how we approached pitches company-wide at that place, and how they encouraged fun and creativity. They offered a monthly bonus to anyone who generated a solid lead for the company to pursue as a new business opportunity, based on articles we had read or news we heard. I was not only the only secretary to ever get the monthly bonus, I got it twice.

Today I taught her all about press releases, and how they are used as a sales tool, and how I approach writing one. How they flow, paragraph to paragraph, what the boilerplate is, how wire services work and showed her a few of our clients’ websites with press releases on them I had written. I gave her a template and some information about a new product and let her try to write it on her own. It was so nice to just sip some coffee and hang out while this young girl tried to figure out what to do and how to do it. Her release was pretty darn good for a 17 year old! I edited it using Track Changes and showed her how that feature works, and again, said sometimes you’ll have people give you changes like this, sometimes they won’t, and you can do a compare to see what they changed, if they didn’t track the changes. I explained why I changed what I did and put in some notes in the voice of different bosses I’ve worked for – some nice, some nasty, about the changes I wanted her to make and explained these are all the different ways people might give you feedback. Don’t take it personally, just edit it to the best of your ability, taking their corrections and feedback into consideration. In the end, everyone has a certain way they want things to sound and they’ll end up changing it anyway, so just give them as solid a draft as you can so they have less work to do.

We talked about project management and managing deadlines, and how I set reminders on my calendar or my phone for different things that are due.

Then I took her to lunch. We talked about theater, and all the theater things. We talked about boys, birth control, safe sex, drinking, drugs, and what she can expect while living on campus the first two years. Her mom has already covered a lot of this and she has a good head on her shoulders. But it never hurts to hear from someone with whom you don’t have a personal bias or history, to get an unvarnished version of events. I talked about some traps I fell into and how she could avoid those. But also not to be too hard on yourself if you’re struggling the first year, it’s a huge adjustment and all that #adulting stuff is really a big deal to learn to manage.

I told her how to follow up with all of us when she’s been in school for a few months to let us know how she is doing. I drew a picture with 8 dots representing each person in our company and spokes going out on all sides; that is your network now, I said, and we all know people that can help you, and they know people. And then, when you’re older, we might need help from you or someone you know, and that’s how networking works. She’s excited to keep in touch. She said the two days we’ve spent together have been so amazing, better than she ever thought it would be coming here, and that she has learned so much. She couldn’t wait to go to school and tell  her teacher that she actually wrote a press release, and about some of the other stuff I told her. She’s a smart kid and I’m sure she’ll do well.

All I have thought about in the back of my mind is, what would I have wanted someone to show me, if I had been able to have a good mentor? What would I want to do with my time, and how could I have learned the most if I was a kid and had this internship. Is filing really teaching you anything? Is opening the mail or organizing our magazine room going to teach her anything that she can use in life? Is scanning trade magazines for mentions of our clients the highest and best use of this bright young woman’s time? No. But a Mexican mocha and some time away from the office can really make an impact, I think.

That’s what I would have wanted.

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