Sunday, December 9, 2012

Be Who You Are and Be That Well

Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy's motto, words burned into alumnae memories perhaps better than anything we learned in class, comes from a quote by St. Francis de Sales:
Be who you are and be that well that you may bring honor to the Master Craftsman whose handiwork you are.
For my senior Herndon Speech Contest, an annual event held in honor of Mount de Chantal graduate Judith Herndon, our motto was the theme. While unpacking boxes today, I found my speech. It begins with a monologue adapted from the musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. (Incidentally, I later played Lucy Van Pelt in a Towngate Theatre production of that musical, but for this contest, I stuck with Sally Brown.)
The only thing wrong with my big brother, Charlie Brown, is his stupidity, his clumsiness, his inferiority, and his lack of confidence. But Lucy had the guts to tell him like it is. And he said, "I'm not very handsome or clever or lucid. I've always been stupid at spelling and numbers. Oh how could there possibly be one small person as thoroughly, totally, utterly blah as me." And then she told him that there was still reason for hope because he's no one else but the singular, remarkable, unique Charlie Brown. As Lucy put it, "For whatever it's worth, Charlie Brown, you're you." So I guess all those things that I said were wrong with him are really what makes him Charlie Brown.
Like the characters in Charles Schulz's Charlie Brown cartoon, we must discover who we are and then how to be who we are without fear of what everyone else might say. In the six years I've spent at the Mount, my class dynamic has changed as we've lost and gained students and as we, ourselves, have grown. Still, in each of us can be found a little bit (or a lot) of those comic characters.
Although we might deny it at times, we can all be bossy like Lucy or stubborn like Sally. As Schroeder loves his music, every one of us has our passions, and while we may not literally have a blanket to cling to like Linus, we probably depend on some person or object to bring us comfort. And at least in my class, our inner Snoopiness shows itself usually more than once a day--that joking way of being to make someone or everyone smile. Finally, we are all Charlie Brown. We're trying our best to form our personality while overcoming all of the faults we perceive in ourselves. Meanwhile, we must be careful not to criticize the personalities of others because they're only doing exactly what we are in the search for self.
So, even if someone might be a little more Lucyish than we would like and take charge when we might want authority, we must remember that we, too, have our moments of Lucyness. Or perhaps, a classmate's passion for whatever topic she chooses does not particularly interest us, or it bores us mad. Either way, maybe we should recall that not everyone shares our enjoyment of our chosen hobbies. Snoopy, for instance, wildly loves suppertime, an idea Charlie Brown simply cannot comprehend, but he tolerates his dog's unusual antics because Snoopy just would not be Snoopy if he didn't celebrate his meal so much.
We all might benefit from listening a little more to the words of these characters who have such a firm grasp on what it means to "Be who you are and be that well" because they have learned to find joy in appreciating and loving one another for who they are and what they will become. They know that being who you are isn't about what other people think of you. It's about what you think of yourself and making yourself happy. After all, "Happiness is anyone and anything at all that's loved by you." Including yourself.
Flawed though it may be, this speech reminds me of the importance of accepting people for who they are, no matter how different who they are is from who I am. It also takes me back to a place that held so many happy memories. It puts me right back on that Music Hall stage at Mount de Chantal before a room of my teachers and friends, sharing the podium with half a dozen of my peers and listening as they shared their thoughts on our motto. I remember those traditions that are ours, moments that we hold dear, treasures that cannot be taken even though our building no longer stands on that hill majestic.

I am grateful for six years of being told day in and day out to be who I am and be that well because now, eight years after leaving those hallowed halls, those words still echo in my mind. They are printed on my conscience, reminding me that who I am is valuable, worthwhile, significant. Those words will always be there because the faculty, staff, and sisters of Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy refused to let me forget them.