Monday, June 25, 2012


The spring before my junior year, I was invited to do something extraordinary.

A new residential magnet school for gifted and talented students was starting up in our state.  I had applied and was invited to become a part of this new venture.

In 1992, I graduated from that institution that I helped build with 141 of my classmates.

There are a few things that I've learned since that time about educating gifted children.  I've now parented four high-ability children for a number of years.  And mind you, these are strictly my observations of what I see as general trends.  Variances, of course, exist within individuals.  This is not scientific data.

Gifted children tend to be high-achieving procrastinators.

They are rebellious if rules seem arbitrary with unsatisfactory explanations.

They are compliant if they love the authority figure.

They don't make friends remarkably easily, as a general rule.  When friends are made, they are made for life.  Often friends outside their ability level are much older.

They read more than is probably healthy.

They do not wish to be rewarded for their giftedness with more tasks.

They sometimes have difficulty expressing their feelings but are also hypersensitive.

They 'think outside the box', preferring to believe that boxes are really just arbitrary constructs that may no longer be working models, if indeed they ever worked at all.  And yet a working model that they themselves generate will be cherished as a tradition for many years to come.

They save things - scraps of paper, ideas, material culture, people.

They compare themselves to other high-ability people, and they tend to negate their self worth based upon their personal performance.  This can sometimes look as if they are looking down on others when, in actuality, the opposite is true.

They play games and see debate as a sport.

They shame themselves for not being stellar students in every discipline.

They tend to overlook problems in others, mainly because they themselves struggle with appropriate social skills.

They appear to disassociate when, in actuality, they are making a connection or solving a problem.

They work better alone than in a group, and they will take on monumental projects just for the challenge.  If they work in a group, it is truly better for each person to take on a task and see it through to completion.  Alone.

They use big words.

They hate not knowing what something means.  They feel they should know what everything means.

They see incredible value in things that seem statistically or socially arbitrary to popular culture.

So, imagine 142 gifted and talented teenagers with varying degrees of introversion, self-aggrandizement, self-depreciation, and socio-economic backgrounds all being thrown together in what amounted to a two year melting pot of a summer camp.

Yes, we fought.  Epic battles of will and anger that only teenagers can call forth.  Well, teenagers and third-world dictators.

Yes, we procrastinated for the adrenaline rush of waiting until the last minute (and sometimes beyond the last minute) to finish a task.

Yes, we took liberties.  When our professor told us we could bring in a 3x5 card with notes for an exam, we brought in a 3 foot by 5 foot card.  Because scale wasn't specified.

Yes, we bucked the system.  If we didn't respect you as a professor, i.e. if you made arbitrary rules that you could not explain to us, we chose not to perform for you.  And if you're reading this, we probably talked about you.  Mercilessly.  And we still probably do.

Yes, we worked hard.  If we did respect you as a professor, we would work round the clock for days, shunning food and sleep to exceed your expectations.  And if you're reading this, we probably talked about you.  Adoringly.  And we will never forget you.

Yes, we dated each other.  Generally, this ended badly.  If you are wondering why, see the aforementioned attributes of gifted teenagers.  But unlike other teenage dating experiences, we chose to maintain people as friends.  Perhaps there was a hiatus.  A cooling off period, if you will.  But gifted kids can't throw people away.  We worried about these people and could never seem to permanently write them off.  They are part of our collection, and we are hoarders.

Fortunately, we matured and learned boundaries.  But we still maintained an appreciation for one another, regardless of how big the drama truly got.

Like most teenagers, we wondered if we had what it took to make it in this world.  But by 'make it', we wondered if we had what was necessary to make a difference.  Shake up the status quo.  

Yes, we were needy.  Yes, we were horny.  Yes, we were jealous of each other.

And yes, we've grown up.

We reunited this weekend after twenty years of being separated.  It's tough to get 142 adults in the same room together.  A few couldn't come because of scheduling conflicts or abject circumstances.  One of us has gone to his reward.  We missed everyone who wasn't present.

Thankfully, we've matured.  Well, at least enough to recognize that as lone wolf individuals, we aren't really all that important.  And yet we are incredibly important as both individuals and a collective.  It's a strange paradox.  I am not sure that I have my head quite wrapped around it yet.

My family lovingly dubbed this reunion NerdCon2012.  But this shouldn't be seen as disparaging. My children have benefited tremendously from their relationship with my Academy friends.  They are helping my kids prepare for SATs and choose college majors.  They have given my kids advice about life.  They have taught my kids to play games and to relax, something that was damned near impossible for us at their age.  Well, I mean we played plenty of games, but that relaxation part was something else.

As a reuniting class, it doesn't matter how much money we make.  It doesn't matter how many degrees we hold.  It doesn't matter what we wear. What matters to us now is that we are together.  That we see each other as quirky, crazy people who have a place in this world even if that place is only within our group.  We shelter each other from storms.  We love ourselves in spite of ourselves.

We're married and partnered.  We're falling in love. We have offspring.  We've changed careers almost as many times as we've changed colleges.  We've had tough losses.  We've been hurt.  We have missions in life.  We fight good fights. We are creating and achieving, and we are relaxing and laughing more instead of less.  We are still anxious, but we're healing.  We still read entirely more than is healthy.  We inspire each other to try new things.  We will never be finished with our life's work.

And like no other people on this planet, we understand each other.

I think we're far more compassionate than we used to be.  We're older.  Hopefully wiser.  We're gentler with one another.  We know that our time on earth is limited.  We're hoping to make the most of it together.

I'm really glad that I accepted the invitation to become a part of the Indiana Academy.  I thought I was just going to a school.  I didn't realize that I was choosing new family members.

I love you guys.  Looking forward to our next 20 years.