You look at me. You see the printed cardigan and the sensible shoes. You see the red pen behind my ear and the stack of essays in my hand and you think you know me. You think I have always been this way. The teacher, “the man,” the representation of everything you hate about society. I am the knife that whittles down square pegs so that they can fit through round holes. I am the oppressive force that destroys creativity and forces conformity. You look at me, and you despise me because how can I not see that I am evil?
You look at me, but you don’t know me. You don’t see the girl from 10 years ago, whose thick eyeliner and spiked bracelets spoke just as loudly as your gauged ears. Whose rallying cry had just as much force (and better grammar) than your poorly-painted signs. You look at me, but you don’t hear the speeches against government officials or the demand for change that flowed from between my black-painted lips in days gone by. You do not see the letters typed by my gloved hands, feverish in their anger and eloquent in their demand for something better. You look at me, but you don’t see the fighter, the brawler, the delinquent, the anarchist, the warrior that hides behind these printed sweaters and pantyhose. You look at me and are sure that you’ve known me since that first time your eyes cast their judgmental stare.
I am not bothered by your assumptions. I know who I am, and what I’ve done. And, even if our battle is secretly the same—a desire for something better than what we have now—I know that between the two of us, I am more likely to be listened to. And I want only to help you reach that point.
You call me a sell-out. You say that I gave up who I was so that I could fit into this conformist mold. I laugh and say that at least being a sell-out pays off in the end. That I’ve chosen to make a difference from within the confines of a broken system is not something that shames me, but that you think I should be ashamed speaks only of your inability to look beyond whatever pre-conceived notions you have of right and wrong. You think that every mark of my red pen is crippling to self-identity, that each comment I give is only the suffocating oppression of the corporation. You do not see that I, too, once hated every remark from every teacher that (I assumed) was criticizing who I was. Who I thought was trying to make me into someone else.
But you must realize that who I was during those days was so much less than who I could be. My teachers were not trying to change me with their suggestions and actions, but to strengthen me. Make me better. Make me worthy of the respect that I demanded so earnestly. Every idea, every resolution, every triumph is still here, locked behind those same lips that you assume have never released a joke. A curse word. A declaration of pride. You assume that my voice has never been used to express anything of importance. That I, like the teachers before me, exist only to control thoughts and destroy dreams. But those educators of old never took those things from me, only taught me how to hone my skills. How to do more with less. How to fight my battles in attire more appropriate for the overall war. I did not realize it then, but I was only a fragment of what I would be. What I am.
So look at me and judge me if you must. Someday you will realize that the banners we wave in our youth, despite their importance and relativity, are often less effective than the more subtle efforts of change. A red mark there. A letter here. A printed cardigan to lend credibility and a mind worthy of being listened to. These are my weapons against a world of ignorance and uncertainty. We fight for the same things, and I have faith that eventually you will carry on what your predecessors started. Because you, like me, may eventually break your way free of the unsupported certainty of youth and join the battle as someone worthy of respect. I have faith in you. And I will help you reach that point with my red pen and cardigan sweaters.