Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Princeton Time Opinion

November 4, 2011

To be irreplaceable, you have to be different

PRINCETON — Ask any hornery old-timer, and I bet they’d be more than willing share their concerns for the next generation. If I had to guess, the feedback might indicate today’s up-and-comers dress funny, don’t know how to work, have no respect for their elders, and couldn’t face down an honest-to-goodness challenge if it jumped up, wrapped around their tattooed necks and bit their pierced noses.

Oh, don’t forget their addiction to the iPods, iPads, iPhones and all other assorted iThings that make it all too easy to ignore you.

Of course, I’m exaggerating, but I’m guessing you either just cheered me on or know someone who would.

This week, however, I met three young ladies who broke the self-absorbed mold and dared to be different in grand style.

The first of these lovely girls, who I sincerely hope are the trendsetters among their friends, came to me in the form of a job shadower.

I met her at Straley School, where her ride graciously dropped her off in time for an interview I previously scheduled with two other delightful girls.

In the ninth grade at Princeton Senior High School, Loren King knows she’s going to be a journalist in New York City, possibly finding her way into a perfect career fit in the fashion industry there. She already looked the delightful part, too, sporting a bright yellow sweater over turquoise tights and a bright scarf wrapped around her waist.

She made the most of her shadowing experience, calmly taking in the interview process as I filled roles as writer, photographer and novice videographer. She asked insightful, practical questions when the situation called for them, and she actually did her homework when I had to step away for a phone call or a brief conference with a coworker.

When that task was done and her time with me was running out, Loren spent the last few minutes of her half-day as a cub reporter honing her social skills by reading the book, “How to Live Like a Lady.”

I didn’t know many young women aspired to that lofty title and reality, so I asked if she was reading the book for school or pleasure. As it turns out, the book serves as a helpful group of guidelines she refers to often in life, setting Audrey Hepburn’s classic, timeless elegance as the benchmark she would like to achieve.

In the four hours and several odd minutes I spent with Loren, she impressed me with the simplicity and sincerity that I believe would make even the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” star proud inside her perfectly pressed suit.

•••

As Loren accompanied me Tuesday morning, I encountered two more inspirations. Kayla Richmond and Hannah Cooke had stories to share, and I was eager to hear the pumpkin tales they wrote for Linda Poff’s class.

The assignment: to write a tale about a pumpkin who almost gets left behind in the patch, and explain how the pumpkin got picked at the last minute.

While I’m sure all the class stories were entertaining, Kayla and Hannah wrote stories that were woven into their real lives. Kayla makes her way through each day without part of her right leg. Hannah faces challenges from a cleft pallet and the surgeries she’s had to fix it.

Through good days and bad, conditions that hurt and careless words that sting, they have accepted that they were born special and will always be exceptional.

Rather than cursing their challenges or the experiences they’ll never have, Kayla and Hannah embrace the blessings they’ve been given and revel in them with joyful hearts and open minds I’m not sure they could grasp without meeting hardship along the way.

They’re both taking voice and music lessons at Stages Music School, where their dreams clearly dance without scars, crutches or so much as a smidgen of self-consciousness.

Kayla and Hannah are honest enough to admit that life is not easy inside bodies made differently than their friends, but the journeys fate set them on are making them wise beyond their years and compassionate beyond most understanding.

•••

Armed with the hope these amazing, talented, beautiful young women shared with me this week, I have decided (again) to live like a lady, to be more graceful in spirit than I’ll ever be in dance, to embrace each day’s challenges as blessings in disguise and help them defy the notion that anybody under 50 can do any of these things these days.

Searching for a way to close this column, I ran upon a quote that I think Loren will especially like.

In the words of Coco Chanel, we’d all be better off if we remember, “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”

Tammie Toler is editor of the Princeton Times. Contact her at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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