Teenagers may get on our nerves with their sharp tongue in a fresh mouth, they enjoy overflowing wastebaskets in their room, dirty dishes by their beds, a phone within their reach. But there is another world beyond their green hair, late assignments, and chips for lunch attitude. There are many powerful teenagers who earn my admiration; those in history, and those who start revolutions today.
My today's post is to show that there are times we should surrender to the youth's passionate lead. In their innocence, they can easily dismiss the advice do not fight the windmills which is, in certain cases, the most important step for being victorious.
Here are some powerful teenagers from history I admire and who tricked the time.... they are still present in our midst:
Mozart was seventeen when he wrote his Symphony No. 25, my favorite. He just came from Milan, where heconducted his opera Lucia Silla that was a hit and his Symphony No 24 had still wet ink on it, finished two days prior the Symphony no 25, his 181st composition all still in today's repertoire. All of that at 17 years of age!
Joan of Arc at seventeen helped Charles VI. to get his kingdom back, releasing France
from the English dominion during the 100 Year War. it was her determination and innocent sense of justice with which she, a teenager, led French people toward unprecedented victory. I remember standing at Rouen at the marketplace where she was burnt at the stake in 1431 when she was 19. At the time of my Rouan visit I was only several years older, barely understanding the pain of the world, and was astonished by her.
And then I remember to get a book about Louis Braille (1808-1852) who in 1824 invented 64 characters of raised dots enabling blind people to read, characters that we use until today. Braille was blinded in an accident when he was three years old, and he was fifteen at the time of the invention. I found his invention so “simply Imaginative”, a fruit of a teenage creative mind.
As a teenager, I discovered and devoured poems by Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), his entire opus written while he was a teenager….dying young at 37.
Percey Shelly (1792-1822) also wrote many great poems as a teenager, as if he knew his time was limited...drowning at 30. His second wife, Mary Shelley (1797-1851), wrote Frankenstein at 19. It was a friend and mentor Lord Byron, taking the literary youngsters often on lake boat rides, who one day challenged them to write a ghost story...and here it was!
And then, Helen Keller (1880-1968)! I love and recommend a play about her, The Miracle Worker. She became blind and deaf from her childhood illness, and the very first with those conditions to receive a bachelor's degree. Her fascinating book “My Life Story", was written when she was a teenager.
I have always had a passion for the history, art, and inventions of Ancient Egypt. Many of its gifts we use today: solar calendar, sickle, irrigation, plow, black ink, papyrus, eyeliners, sailboat.... With that passion comes my admiration of another teenager, French Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832) who deciphered the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. By his mid-teens, he mastered Latin, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Syriac, Sanskrit, and Coptic. He presented his first academic paper at 16, at 19 was already teaching history at college, at 22 deciphered the 5,000 years old undecipherable hieroglyphs on Rosetta Stone, cracking the code of a long-lost language to the world's astonishment.
And we can look at all of the Olympians teenagers, who left at the slopes, fields, floors, and tracks their souls to show to the world what we, humans, are capable of. Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci (*1961) comes to my mind, making history at fifteen by winning three gold medals in Montreal Olympics in 1976, receiving perfect scores of 10.00, unprecedented mark of perfection not even included as a possibility on the electronic display. It is moving to observe that perseverance, that diligence, that sense of urgency to push your human limits, to gasp for your breath, to give it all you have in your teenage body, and be victorious.
And, of course, the list of powerful teenagers who moved the world continues.
What about the teenagers today?
Those I met may not write symphonies or lead armies, but brought joy & inspiration & humility to my life, moved my consciousness and helped me to become a whole person. As a teacher, I have been listening to my students’ analyses of classical music in my music class, following their journal entries, reading intriguing insights into poetry & novels in my literature class. All of these experiences broadened my horizons, made me a better person, left me inspired and happy.
And I stood by them happy that rainy Wednesday, March 14, 2018 and admired their sincere determination to make our lives better. It reminded me of moments a quarter a century ago, when I stood by my teenage students on the Wenceslav Square in the Czech Republic; I, freshly from college, was only a couple of years older and as eager, idealistic and innocent as my students. With our perseverance and ideals I, my teenage students, and my nation won freedom and democracy. Since then my life's path took me here, to America. I have been admiring this wonderful country since, as it offered me a beautiful life with endless opportunities. But standing by the American students today, in 2018, it makes me wonder why it must be put upon the American young students to take to the streets and to shake up this nation that left some ugly things unchecked.
While listening to the speeches, heartfeltly determined and lined by their innocent beautiful ideals , I sang to heavens that I can be in my students circles today and every day. I smiled with pride, then cried from the turmoil within, but mainly rejoiced. I rejoiced to be my students’ confidant of their dreams whispered at the threshold of their life's journey. I rejoiced to stand by them. I rejoiced to have a job in the classrooms. And I rejoiced to trust this incredible teenage power. Without fear I happily allow them to lead me, and I urge us to let them lead us, shake us, shake those who allowed the unimaginable to happen to this country. This beautiful American land is now turned upside down and crying for help. And they, the powerful teenagers who can move the moon, hear that cry acutely.