WHITNEY CAIN, PHD

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stars

As I was culling old files, I found a Baccalaureate talk I gave at William Peace University in May of 2014.  Reading the speech reminded me of the colleagues and students I worked with during my time there.  It also reminded me how prominently stars sometimes figure in our lives.  This post is excerpted from that talk.  Shine on!

I heard a lot about stars when I was growing up.  If I was good, I got some.  My grandmother promised me stars if I would wear pastels, not get my ears pierced, join the Junior League, not cuss, not marry a Yankee, and always vote for the democrat.  (I refuse to say which of these I have or have not done.) 

I worked hard to get stars and felt genuine remorse when I did not.  Stars can motivate behavior and there are certainly times to use them – they got my daughter to use the potty.  But we can get addicted to earning stars and with them others’ approval.

Other types of stars are problematic, too.  We have more than enough people who are stars of some sort or another.  They seem to be able to do whatever they like, whenever they like, and without regard for most people.  Yet we put them on pedestals.  And here’s the thing: everybody I’ve ever known who stayed on a pedestal for more than a day got vertigo and went toppling.

Whether the stars are sticky or celebrity, they don’t make space for us to be our best selves.  These stars flicker and dim.  As the song says, they are “little.” They do not blaze through the sky like meteors or shine with the passionate intensity of the sun.  They do not make us want to be brave and bold the way the sages, scholars, rebels, and eccentrics do.

And we deserve to be our best, brave, bold selves.  We deserve to be feisty, sharp-tongued, insightful, original, or whatever else represents our custom-made selves.  We deserve to re-embrace the self that got lost under too much earning and watching stars.

One of my favorite beliefs is that each of us is a separate, unrepeatable miracle.  And, even if we lose track of this, for a moment or for years, we can find our selves again.  We can free ourselves from the layers of tradition and propriety threatening to standardize, homogenize, and normalize us.  What a waste not to take our miracle selves and do something miraculous with them.  And then help others be miracles, too. 

Whitney Cain