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Going back to (high) school

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I suffer from perpetual baby face. I don't just get carded at every bar; I have to flash my license to get into R-rated movies or buy a lotto ticket. I've never had a fake ID, but whenever I buy a six-pack, the cashier's eyes trace the line from my birthday to my picture and back again before looking skeptically at me. More than once, my license has been proclaimed a fake, and I've been ushered out of the store empty-handed.

On the other hand, I grew up rather quickly. I rented my own apartment in high school, and after senior exams, my friends and I made sandwiches with the groceries I'd bought the previous weekend. I graduated from Broughton High School in 2005, and I've since received an English degree from Carolina, secured an elusive job of writing words for a living, bought a home and married my best friend. I have a (mostly ceremonial) savings account and a HSA. By most measures, I'm a real adult.

But I don't necessarily feel that way. I still wear jeans and band T-shirts to work and sit beneath headphones at my desk. I still buy groceries and pay bills with my "Student Checking" account. My youthful looks have remained mostly intact. So, I didn't know how I would feel when I returned to Broughton, nearly a decade after graduating, to teach a lesson on copywriting for a creative writing class. How would the students respond to someone who looked and acted mostly like them?

Within the first five minutes of my lecture, one student stopped me mid-sentence to ask if I went to Broughton—not past tense, but present. She was dressed in a long, black coat, her perky bun held in place by two pencils. "You look like a senior," she told me. Another student, this one a football player, just couldn't believe he had seen one of my commercials on ESPN. "You did that?" he asked, twice. "But you're ... so young."

I always wanted to teach English. When I was in high school, I told several of my teachers that I was gunning for their jobs, adding the special cockiness that only teenagers can muster. They were overwhelmingly supportive, sharing their phone numbers and email addresses with me. They allowed me to shadow classes, grade papers and ask questions.

But they all offered the same advice: do anything else. Their suggestion had nothing to do with the kids, the classes or Broughton itself. It had to do with the things starry-eyed students don't think about: Money, politics, job security. These were my heroes, so I listened. I still studied English, but once I graduated, I sought a job in a more lucrative field—and funny enough, that field led me back to Broughton, at least on a very temporary and unpaid visiting-lecturer basis.

After my lesson, I thought again about their advice. I thought about the time I asked my boss if he'd mind my arrest during the Moral Monday movement—a choice I made, in part, to support teachers' rights—and his supportive response. I thought about my home, my job, my finances, the things real adults think about.

I felt thankful for the place I'd ended up, and a little sad, too. I now understood how hard these folks worked and the expenses it entailed. Although I might have still looked like a student, I left Broughton feeling like a grownup.

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