“Iris” and the Senior Year Philosophy Council Process with J.R.

“And I don’t want the world to see me, because I don’t think that they’d understand. When everything’s made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am…”

In 2005, when I was 17 years old, I took a class my senior year of high school that changed my life. Philosophy with J.R. out in the portable wing of my overcrowded and overpopulated 3,000 student body public high school is still one of the best things that has ever happened to me. At one point or another during the semester each student has what is known as a “council” — for a whole hour, you sit in the hot seat of a big reclining lazy boy chair, while 30 something of your peers drill you with questions about anything and everything. Nothing is off limits. There is always the option of declining and not answering, but that must show weakness or something, because choosing to not answer a question just never really happens. Every council begins following a personal statement answering the question, “Who am I?” — we all attempted to tackle this in a writing exercise the very first day of class.

Having been used to always going first for everything because of the “Ab” in my last name (not just “A” — it HAD to be “Ab”), it shouldn’t have been a surprise when I was the first to go. Even though students were randomly selected and apparently had nothing to do with the alphabet… but really, what are the chances? I can still argue that I wasn’t ready, but how can anyone prepare themselves for that kind of vulnerability? The hour in the chair is sort of a blur. I put on my tough face and was probably more honest with my classmates that I was even used to being with myself. It was such a revelation, but it took me a while to see that because my only reaction after the hour was absolute terror. I had never known that sort of bravery. I spent the next hour or so crying in J.R.’s classroom on his couch after school let out. It was around this time that maybe I began to learn that there are always going to be questions and maybe the questions are more important than the answers.

The fact that we even ask ourselves questions shows that we’re living curious and aware lives. I guess I always thought answers were about proving something, but that’s not it at all. There’s always gray area and never any complete absolutes. If there were, we would all be living very boring stagnate lives — I’d be that same girl I was at 17 now at the age of 23. I’m a firm believer that answers only make more questions (thank you for that, Dixie Chicks) and that defining who we are is an ever evolving journey. We live in a society that is all about succeeding with unique individuality and setting ourselves apart from the crowd, because nobody is ever recognized for being like everyone else. It is a bit ironic and almost contradictory, because at the same time, we all strive to be loved and associated with others — but it’s sometimes the things that make us all different that ultimately bring us together.

Following the council, everyone must do some sort of self reflection. It can literally be ANYTHING. The walls and even the ceiling of J.R.’s classroom can no longer even be seen, because they’re covered with years of students’ reflections and stories told. It was around this time that I turned to a band and a song that lifted my heart and really captured for me what I had gone through during those 60 minutes. The Goo Goo Dolls are one of those bands I will remember whenever recalling my childhood and some of my first musical memories. It is around the age of 10 or 11 that I feel like you can at least begin to gain a sense of personal preference and musical taste. And it was at this age I was lucky enough to have a totally awesome babysitter that let me watch VH1 and countless hours of “Pop-Up Video” — oh, nostalgia. It really doesn’t get any better than the 90′s. So back to the council reflection… that Friday afternoon I finally pulled myself together, got ready for some high school football Friday night lights with the crew, and then spent the majority of my weekend just sort of pondering. Everything I was feeling seemed to bring me to one song: Iris.

I finally had the privilege of seeing the Goo Goo Dolls in concert last year at the Michigan Theater in downtown Ann Arbor. I think any avid concert goer can confirm that no matter how many places you travel to for a show, there is absolutely nothing like seeing one of your favorite bands and hearing one of your favorite songs right in your hometown. The lyrics touch close to home, in so many ways that it seems only fitting to witness these songs live, where so many of my stories took place. Ann Arbor will always hold a special place in my heart and that show in our intimate, yet electric theater is a night I will never forget. Cassie, who is one of my best friends attended this show with me and we were both there for each other crying in our cars in the school’s parking lot following each of our councils. There was definitely a feeling of coming full circle at that show. You think you know what it means to be inspired, but then you hear a Goo Goo Dolls song… LIVE.

Council: A Senior Passage  This is an incredible 28 minute documentary about the philosophy council process at Pioneer High School, as experienced by a class three graduating grades behind me. This group of students, just like every group of students that has gone through this far from standard academic journey are forever bonded and forever connected. Here is their journey as they observe and learn from one another:

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