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This week, my alma mater, Lakeside High School, invited me to speak to art, history and broadcasting students about my upcoming novel, Oil and Marble, the art of Leonardo and Michelangelo, and my career as a Hollywood television producer.
I graduated 23 years ago, and in those two decades, Lakeside has changed. A lot. The auditorium has new seats and new floors. The old choir room is now a computer lab. There’s an entire building dedicated to Fine Arts (I never would’ve left that building if it’d been in existence when I was in school). There’s now a giant science wing. And a brand new library (which will officially open soon). It’s a state-of-the-art multimedia center promoting technological innovations, learning, and cultural education. I was amazed to find that library in any public school, much less MY public school in Arkansas. It made me a proud alum.
You know what else had changed? I had grown older…
But the students had stayed so young — wonderfully, brilliantly, passionately young. I LOVED talking to those kids about art and creativity and dreams. Their eyes sparked with hope and fear and courage… They leaned forward and asked questions about how to succeed in the world. In their faces, I saw me: artistic, ambitious, optimistic. I loved talking about Leonardo and Michelangelo — telling those eager kids about their artistic struggles and how they overcame obstacles to achieve greatness… and I loved seeing the students’ eyes light up: “YES! Impossible things ARE possible!”
For me, it was an amazing day, and if I encouraged just one of those students to make art or write a book or be creative or chase any sort of dream, then my day was a success.
So, thank you Jo Hornbeck, the art teacher who invited me to speak. And thank you Stony Evans, the head of the new Library Media Center, for opening the library’s doors a little early. And thank you to everyone at Lakeside for having me back.
I got my start in life inside those halls… and now, I’ve gotten my start on book tour behind those same doors. That’s truly something special.
On a personal note
(Or “On returning to high school at age 40”)
High school wasn’t easy for me. I was quiet. Awkward. Unsure about myself and my place in the world. I felt like a foreigner in my hometown, my school, and my body.
At the time, I thought these feelings were unique and (in my overly-dramatic, teenaged brain) most certainly life-threatening.
Now, I know they are normal. And very non-life-threatening.
But even though I now know my high school experience was just like every one else’s, the thought of going back still kept me up all night before my return. Well, I think I got 30 minutes of sleep at around 4 AM…
Would returning to those halls — 23 years after graduation — bring back those old feelings of insecurity and anxiety? Would I feel like an awkward, completely forgettable girl again? Would it still look like the place in my memory…?
I got up at 6 AM and drove that familiar road back to High School.
And when I walked in the doors, here’s what I found:
Even though the place had been remodeled, Lakeside still felt so intimately familiar it was creepy. Every inch seemed embroidered in my nervous system.
It was like I’d never left… there was Traci Towle in the halls, Mrs. Morton in the library. I knew exactly where my 9th grade locker used to be, which was the health classroom and which one was French. I felt excited as I approached the old choir room and apprehensive as I passed biology…
I remembered dreaming up stories with Cory Belle, trading secrets with Amber Turbyfill, performing in West Side Story, cookie dough fights with Holly McKim, singing with the Madrigals, sharing locker space with Tim Perry, traveling with the tennis team… and countless days, nights, weekends, and summers engaging in wonderful, stupid, awesome, unforgettable mayhem with Meg Wright, Megan Christie, Kathy Reed, Jeff Kyle, Paul Gardial, Mike Morgan and, of course, Jeff Vincent.
I should’ve expected it. Memories are embedded in our brains through emotions—the stronger the emotion, the stronger the memory–and what period of your life is more emotional than High School?
High School is never easy, for anyone, and it wasn’t easy for me. But going back reminded me to appreciate those long-gone years. I wouldn’t trade any of that old joy or pain for anything because those emotions helped me get HERE, to this day, when I got to return to Lakeside and talk to a new generation of nervous, anxious, hopeful, insecure, courageous teenagers.
And after my day at school, I slept really, really well.