Speaking from the heart

After a concert at the middle school in December, the Vocalaires got to speak from the heart to their audience.

Kamryn Dumas

After a concert at the middle school in December, the Vocalaires got to speak from the heart to their audience.

Kamryn Dumas

“The more you do speak from the heart, rather than thumping the agenda, people will listen or relate or open themselves up more.” – Drew Barrymore

   Every December, West Ottawa Vocalaires travel around Holland to sing holiday tunes for the community. In addition to singing in retirement and nursing homes, Vocalaires gives back to West Ottawa. We perform for West Ottawa administration, both middle schools, and all eight elementary schools. My favorite performances, though, are the ones at the West Ottawa middle schools. At the end of our set list, the middle schoolers can ask the Vocalaires questions about high school and our lives. This is always a special time to connect with the students, because we were once in their shoes. 

   During a Q&A segment with the middle schoolers this year, the Macatawa Bay choir director suggested for each Vocalaire to share a piece of advice that we would give to our middle school selves. Each of us took turns to speak from the heart. I listened to my fellow choir members’ vulnerability as they stepped back into their middle school shoes. Every member shared wise advice that rang true with themselves. I didn’t realize that what we were going to say was going to be as profound as it was. 

“Don’t pretend you’re too cool to do something you love” – Jr. Keegan Angel 

   In middle school, I liked to play sports, and I made it my personality. I also loved to do theater and choir, but I thought it was too weird. I pushed it deep inside and only portrayed my love for it while I was taking part in such activities.

   I really decided to hide my love for theater and choir because of how my friends treated people who did those things and the way they felt about them. I felt like if I brought theater and choir up, my friends would make fun of me, and that’s the worst thing that can happen to anyone in middle school.

   Now I realize that theater and choir are also part of my personality. I let those strengths come through in my public life. I don’t act like I don’t love those things anymore.

   I realized that people who don’t support you aren’t worth your time. Acting cool to fit in and being sad is way worse than being yourself and being happy.

“Echale ganas.” – Sr. Jose “Joey” Rodriguez 

   There’s a saying in Spanish that my parents always told me, and it stuck with me even to this day. I was always told “echale ganas”, meaning go ahead or go after what you want. But it also means whatever you’re going to do, do it with pride, power, meaning, and intent.

   When it came to middle school, I was the type of person that was most afraid to be who I wanted to be. I was also the type of person who was up-tight about the little things, because I was very worried about always wanting to make sure that I was doing good, and that I was going to make my family proud. 

   As compared to now, I am proud knowing who I am and where I come from, where my family comes from, where my blood comes from, as well as what my last name, Rodriguez, stands for and where it comes from… with showing my Mexicano side of who I really truly am and who I want to be…as well as showing that I’m free and that I’m able to be gay and live without fear. [I’m now] a super open minded  person that’s more focused on my future and what I want to do for a job, and as well as knowing now that I really want a happy loving family of my own. I’m still out here doing anything that I can that will benefit me and my family, as well as making my people proud. 

   Nothing comes easy in life…[we] have to try and not give up. Every kid deserves a chance at life, and if they mess up they should be able to get back up and try again. 

“Even if you think it’s too far above you, reach for your dreams, because it’s definitely not impossible” – Sr. Jayden Yiem 

   I came into middle school with high confidence, but was soon shot down and realized that in elementary school, I was just a big fish in a small pond.

   I thought it was impossible for me to succeed if I challenged myself. I believed it was impossible for me to grow, so I never reached for anything.

   I carried this attitude with me, and I really regret never giving myself the opportunity to learn more in school, because it was definitely within my capabilities.

“People do not care as much as you think they do.” – Sr. Kira Guerrin 

   In middle started out as a very carefree weirdo who just enjoyed being a little nerd with my little nerd friends. As I started to grow and mature out of that friend group, my new friends constantly reminded me of how weird and nerdy I was. All I could do from that point was fixate on how I was perceived. There was no way I could go back to being ‘weird’ because of the judgment I feared I would receive. I had to just lay low and keep my little quirks under the radar. I lost sense of self because I cared so much about what others thought of me, including my own friends.

   As I navigated through high school, I’ve finally made it to a place with better friends, who embrace me for who I am. I no longer have to hide because I know people do not care as much as I thought they did.

“Surround yourself with people who are going to support you” – Jr. Noah Carithers 

   In middle school I was a lot more, for lack of a better word, crazy. I would try so hard to get everybody to like me. Especially because I had just moved here [in 6th grade], I wanted to be seen as one of the ‘cool kids’. I played lots of sports, not because I loved all of them, but because they were a place where I could go and know I was surrounded by kids my age willing to talk to me because they were my teammates.

   I also loved music, which wasn’t exactly a “cool” thing to like in middle school. A lot of my teammates and friends would tease me for being in musicals and for being in choir. However, in the musicals, I made some lifelong friendships and met people who are going to support me no matter what.

   I also learned who my true friends were on my sports teams. Even though at some points I have been distant from them due to differing interests, they are still always there supporting me. They even sat in the front row wearing Christmas sweaters at the musical this year. Surrounding yourselves with people who are going to make you feel good about yourself is the most important thing you can do in life.

   No doubt, Angel, Rodriguez, Yiem, Guerrin, and Carithers’ middle school selves would be proud of who they’ve become. The truths they shared while speaking from the heart serve as an important reminder to live the most authentic and joyful life you can.