An address to eighth graders

| June 10, 2020 6:03 AM

Editor’s note: This is Kathleen Bellon’s address to Columbia Falls eighth graders. Bellon, who attended Columbia Falls schools until eighth grade, will attend Harvard University in the fall.

Dear Columbia Falls Junior High Eighth Graders,

Over the past four years, I have spent a lot of time thinking about you all. For the longest time, moving away from Columbia Falls was the thing that defined me. Did you know that everyone in my new school initially knew me as the “Montana girl?” I was defined by this place, and the recognition I received here.

Winning “Most Outstanding Eighth Grader” four years ago could not have come at a more perfect time. My father was in Texas, trying to establish his business, and I was here with my mom and Briceida, struggling to pay our bills without our father’s usual income. All that stress went away the moment I heard my name called. I was overjoyed. The award meant I had made it—all my hard work throughout middle school had paid off.

Then I moved to Texas. At my new school, no one knew about the CFJHS “Most Outstanding Eighth Grader” award. In fact, no one knew anything about me at all. This was absolutely terrifying. Up to that point, I had lived vicariously through my accolades. And for the first time in my life, I was put in a place where my previous awards and recognition meant nothing.

Eighth graders, this is what high school is like. No longer will you walk in single-file lines through hallways, or be required to eat in a cafeteria every-day. You have independence now, and at the same time, lose a lot of the support you relied on in the past. It’s sort of like a paradox, right? Yet, these upcoming four years will teach you to become your own support.

Everyone thinks that with independence, you have to gain the trust of the adults around you. I’m telling you to gain trust of yourself first.

It is trusting myself, without the awards behind my name, that allowed me to run for HOSA president, or audition for my school’s varsity orchestra. High school is the time to explore and create and make your own person. Show yourself that you can do just that.

But high school is also scary. Not everything is going to work out. You’re going to shed through so many different identities in these four years, and that’s OK. You’re going to fail an assignment, test, or even class—and that’s OK. Take your failures as opportunities to improve yourself, and never as a reflection of your character. If I never failed my first calculus test, I would’ve never written the essay I wrote for Harvard.

The world out there is strange, exhilarating, and unpredictable. The experiences you all share as students in this small town are unique—no one else in the world knows what it’s like to drive down Nucleus Avenue on a sunny afternoon, or wake up to two mountains every morning. We’re all here to lift one another up in times of setback. Maybe you don’t feel this solidarity right now, but I promise you by graduation that you’ll realize just how much four years really can unite a diverse group together.

Some of you want to desperately leave this town, and many of you would love to stay. And to both, I’d tell you to enjoy right now. Live in the moment. I want you to promise me that regardless of what choices you make in high school, they will be the choices that make you happy.

With love,

Kathleen Bellon