Last week, I once again had the honor of serving as the emcee for the Boulder Chamber's annual Women Who Light the Community awards. This is one of my favorite events of the year, packed with inspiring stories of five women and one high school girl who make a meaningful impact on our community. All of the honorees are extraordinary, but I was especially touched by this year's youth honoree, Naomi Graff.
Naomi is a recognized community leader in a wide range of pursuits, including the aerial dance group Frequent Flyers and a "self-love" group at her high school. Naomi actively raises funds for people affected by natural disasters in Nepal. She's special. After she was introduced at the ceremony, she advised the 400-person adult audience that the best way she could express her reaction to receiving this award was to read a letter she had written to her middle-school self.
As you'll see, the letter speaks for itself. Imagine at 17 having the experience and awareness to create this deep, aware expression. If you have a child old enough to handle these themes (I'd say 10 to infinity), she or he should read this letter right now. And so should you.
"Hello Beautiful. What’s that? Oh, yes, I called you beautiful and you’d better believe it. Listen to me, sweet one- it gets SO much better. Your years in these times will teach you a lot about who you are. I know you are being drilled to the floor right now, but you don’t know how strong you are until it’s the only option you have. I know how much you are hurting -- constantly comparing yourself to everyone around you, jealousy, flaws in the mirror, (it’s like you’re wearing some foggy glasses that only allow you to see yourself as ugly,) fake friends, makeup to cover the flaws, bullies, dreaded bus rides home. I could go on. Keep Going. Even when you cry your makeup off for the 5th time today and when the bruise on your shoulder won’t go away from being slammed into lockers, and even when the seemingly permanent thoughts of self hatred attack any sense of worth you have, keep going.
I’m here to tell you that you will choose to go to New Vista High School, an environment where you will begin to remember who you are. You will slowly realize that self hatred is a trap, and you will begin to crawl out of it. You will learn to surround yourself with people who love you. At the end of Freshman year, a girl in your school will commit Suicide and it will hurt. Aerial dance will help you cope. The death of your friend will drive you to go on a meditation retreat that will change your life and a promise will be made to end the self hatred.
Although right now it seems like you can’t live without makeup, halfway through sophomore year you will be confident enough to go out in public without it. You will look in the mirror and like what you see instead of bombarding yourself with hate. You will attend a self love circle that your school offers and meet inspiring people. In Junior year, you get to be the leader of that self love circle, so that you can inspire people in the same way that you were. Grief will come again with a few months of depression, but you are strong and you make it through. Jeff, Alysha, and your Mom will help you begin to heal. Not to mention that your amazing Mom will make it possible for you to go to horse therapy. Guess what you get to do? Volunteer at the Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center to help other kids the way you were helped.
Oh -- and remember that long lost dream you had to change the world? I know at the moment, you’re just focusing on surviving, but you get to create an opportunity for you and your Dad to go to Nepal to teach hoop dance to children as a form of therapy. And you thought you were worthless! Haha! Also, it turns out that you’re loved too! So much so, that you will be nominated for this amazing award -- and you get it. So, my lovely little middle school self, I write this to you and anyone who is struggling to let you know, that it’s not about the Instagram likes, or having a boyfriend, or the perfect body. You are a goddess, you are beautiful, and you are loved. And anyone who tells you differently is just afraid of what you will become, and they’d better be because look at yourself. You were never meant to fit in, You were meant to stand out and let me tell you: Fitting in never changed the world.