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  • Melissa Westemeier

a few words about the girls in room 212 this year

For the last couple of years graduation has loomed on the horizon and I've thought, "I'll never enjoy a class of girls as much as this year's." Caps and gowns get donned and summer passes, fall arrives and in files in a brand new class of seniors. I find out I do like the next crop of senior girls just as much as the previous year's.

But this year--this year these girls make my day job such a pleasure. They are smart. Nerdy delightfully brilliantly smart. They make clever observations and thoughtful insights during class discussions. They've pulled out subtleties in the assigned readings I've never caught before. They text each other pictures of the books they're reading over the weekend. They know all the words to Hamilton and have strong opinions on the founding brothers, the power of leading with a concession in an argument, the behavior of Abigail Williams in The Crucible. One girl spent hours researching breeding habits and temperatures for the Round Goby to complete her informative essay. Another switched her paper from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson because "I hate Jefferson, so I figure this will push me." (For the record, she ended up in love with Jefferson, too.) None of them require hounding after for missing assignments, the consistent effort they put towards English class impresses me. A lot of these girls read the commentary and footnotes. Yeah, they're that kind of girl.

They build each other up and blend together with less regard to cliques and social grouping than any previous year I've taught. They write poetry and play sports. They tease and admire each other's haircuts, performances, test scores and class discussion points.

Their long hair brushes the edges of trigonometry and psychology worksheets as they lean towards all the things they might know. They carry three-ring binders to class, this particular school supply is all the rage this year. Their binders are decorated and personalized with artistic expression and make me smile. Clip art, sketches, stickers and graphic designs bring flair to their organization.

Did I mention how they read? And they press these read books into my hands. "Have you read this yet, Ms. W? I'll loan you this one!" Young adult, history, poetry, murder mysteries, J. R. R. Tolkien.

And they laugh. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that my 7th hour in particular, which is all girls and only one boy, sounds like a party cruise when they enter and exit the room. This year's girl power blooms and throbs with energy. And they are fearless. They ask tough questions, blunt and honest questions. Most notably, after reading this article by Mark Edmundson, they prodded that poor sole male in the room about guys and their attitudes about homosexuality. (To his enormous credit, he enlightened us all.) These girls talk about failures and frustrations with so much frankness, their confidence makes me tear up. I think about how much self-loathing and insecurity I harbored at their age. How can they trust each other, love themselves, lack embarrassment to such extent? I don't know the cause, but if I'd have had a fraction of their moxie at age eighteen I think I'd have entered adulthood less damaged. God, if I could have believed in my self-worth more and doubted my prospects less!

I watch these girls--softball players, dancers, runners, clarinet players, drummers, singers, waitresses, cashiers, cattle-raisers, sisters, daughters, volunteers, sculptors, mentors--they gather together every day in room 212, brushing up against each other with so much mutual respect and humor. They wave and call across the room, giggle over their phone screens, puzzle out Spanish IV assignments. They settle into desks, some wearing sweats and Crocs, some wearing boho tops and rhinestone earrings. The bell rings. Phones get tucked away, those lovely three-ring binders hit the desks and those gorgeous faces, so bright and promising of a future run by strong, empowered and enlightened women, look up--ready to keep achieving.

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