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Think back to the year you turned thirteen. The place where you lived was likely not chosen by you. I was in Cedar Rapids that year; Sari was in Jerusalem. Most of us had two main sets of influences: our family and our life at school among our peers. Looking back, we can also see a strong influence of the times: we happened to be dropped into a particular culture and set of expectations. Yet puberty has powerful universal elements.
At thirteen we are neither children nor adults. We are transforming, without the protection of a cocoon. The journey to adulthood begins inside us, as we gradually understand how we are unique, and as we gain the strength to separate, both from our families and from our peers. This fall’s eight eighth graders are regulars at St. John’s on Sunday mornings. They variously sing in the choir, acolyte, and serve at Camp Joy through Youth Group. They get from St. John’s the moral guidance that we adults also seek; they enjoy the social support; they practice introspection and reflection. They will participate in the Rite 13 ceremony during the 9 am service on Sunday, October 30. I know you’ll enjoy meeting them.
Louisa Beaupre attends Takoma Park Middle School, where she particularly enjoys algebra, and credits her good teacher. She’s studied piano for six years, takes dance classes, and has a regular babysitting job. Both Louisa and her older brother take care of the family pugs, Pickles and Abigail. If Louisa has some free time, she joins her friends in downtown Silver Spring, and in a spare moment she’ll watch “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Pretty Little Liars” on television. Returning to old friends in Vermont, and staying with her grandparents, is fun for Louisa, and so is skiing at the Snow Bowl. Louisa isn’t squeamish, and she can see herself in years ahead as a surgeon. Louisa offered the advice to just be spontaneous and try something, rather than worrying about bad outcomes: for example, she took the risk of jumping off a high rock into the water, and sure enough, it was great, and she felt how it gave her confidence.
Limbani Chaponda is a newcomer to St. John’s and to Westland Middle School: his family has come to Chevy Chase from South Africa, and we’re glad to have him join us. Moving away from his friends was tough, and so was giving up the trips his family took into Malawi, but Limbani has started into many activities here. He’s begun playing piano, and he enjoys competitive chess. For relaxation he might turn to video games or to reading, such as “Star Trek Vulcan Forge”. His responsibilities include the yard work at home as well as supervising his two younger sisters. He imagines that his future will lie along the lines of computer science, physics, or engineering. Limbani’s advice is “never give up”: he knows that it’s not easy to tolerate failure, but that is a key skill to learn. Then you can seize new opportunities to reach your goals.
Althea Dulany attends Pyle Middle School, where her favorite class is TV Studio, in which she’s made a video from her interviews of sixth graders. She enjoys singing soprano in the Alleluia Choir at St. John’s, and she plays second base on the school softball team. Althea likes to bake and sometimes she helps her three-year-old sister join in. Besides her older sister, there is also the family cat, Pumpkin. If Althea has free time, she might draw or color, run, watch movies, or read – right now her book is “The Third Twin”– and her favorite TV show is “Scream Queens.” Althea has fun vacationing with her relatives on Fire Island, where there are no cars. Althea’s ambition is to be the kind of lawyer who solves mysterious cases. She advises people not to worry about school excessively, to take it easy, talk to the teacher, and don’t focus on what people think about you.
Quinn Harris likes both science and chorus at Tilden Middle School. She swims year round, usually the free or backstroke, and she’s caught up in the fun of the drama program at Tilden. At home, Quinn, second in a family of four girls, completed by dog Cocoa and cat Nipsy, likes to spend her free time going to the mall with her friends, or catching up on “Tiny House Nation” or “Sherlock.” Her favorite food is macaroni and cheese, with broccoli lying at the other end of the spectrum. Quinn loves to ski: the family’s gone to the slopes in Aspen. She would like to be an actor or a videographer, and being a therapist appeals to her too. Quinn’s advice is to take your time; stay calm; step back a moment to connect with yourself.
Matthew Kennedy, a student at North Bethesda Middle School, likes his algebra class and his art class best. When he’s free, he’ll skateboard or play sports with his friends, but he devotes eight to ten hours a week to the activity of cyclo-cross. His grandfather got him interested in biking, and cyclo-cross is a version of that, complete with obstacles over a course the bikers race on. He really enjoys it. At home Matthew has his older brother, plus Harry Potter and Charlotte, the cats. His favorite TV show is Brooklyn 99, and his favorite trip is visiting family in San Francisco. Helping people while working with others is what Matthew loves about Camp Joy, and he’d like to be a doctor for that reason: you can do a lot of good. His advice is: don’t misbehave in class. He finds that having people trust you and count on you is worth a lot.
Cole Philpott especially likes his photography, history, and science classes at Westland Middle School. Outside school, Cole keeps busy as a catcher on a year-round baseball team. At home, Cole joins not only an older brother, but his dog Beau and lots of fish. Favorite foods are ribs and steak, but also couscous; if Cole’s at loose ends, he likes to play football with his friends or binge-watch favorite shows on Netflix, like “Criminal Minds”. Getting together with extended family at the beach is a great vacation for Cole, and so is skiing. A person who loves baseball so much can’t help making this his first career choice, but beyond that Cole likes the idea of being a police officer or detective, solving problems for people. Have fun, let it slide off of you, don’t get worked up: these ideas have worked for Cole.
Allie Plocki is active in the SSL club at Westland Middle School, which plans service events, such as food drives at a “hunger banquet.” Allie enjoys stage crew work at theater events at school. She’s a rock climber, mostly indoors, and an artist, too, with abstracts done in oil pastels her current focus. Besides her older brother, there are the family cats, Mittens and Mr. Sneezel, as well as Lafe the dog. Allie’s been enjoying reading through the Throne of Glass series; she’d choose Thai fried rice for a favorite food. She liked traveling in Oregon with her family. She expects that the challenges are going to increase as she moves into her teen years. Allie’s advice is to look for the silver lining in tough times, and assure yourself that you’ll get through them.
Katie Story, also a Westland Middle School student, likes her teachers in geometry and English. For eight years she’s done Irish dancing, so competitions as well as teaching a class to younger kids are part of her routine. Katie’s dancing in and choreographing a hip-hop group that will perform with the school play. In July Katie had a great week at Camp Joy; telling about the recent Youth Group overnight reminded her that her favorite snack is truffle fries. At home, besides her older brother, there is Prince, the German shepherd. Katie likes reading, often dystopian stories, and going around with her friends. Injuries have taught her the importance of patience, and of recognizing that anxiety isn’t going to help you – so do your best but take it easy.
I join with our congregation in committing ourselves to keeping these teens in our hearts. The blessing of each of them at the service triggers emotions, as we remember the range of ceremonies enacted there, and as we remember this time in our own lives. We offer a prayer for the new teens and for their parents. We see the dependency of childhood fade away, as we glimpse the creative capacities of an adult shining for the world ahead. May God bless them throughout these years.