I looked at the clock one more time. Yes, it was probably time to draw this assembly to a close. For the last hour, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, author of One for the Murphys and Fish in a Tree, had been speaking in our gymnasium. With mostly rapt attention, students listened as Lynda delivered a speech that included not just her own history as a writer, but powerful messages about life. Of course, she shared her writing process, highlights of her career as a writer, where her ideas originated from, etc. But she also devoted considerable air time to weaving a theme across her talk. Much like a seamstress, Lynda wove threads of power and agency through her words, telling kids to never let someone else tell them who they are, that grit matters in life, and that even though they are in middle school, it’s not too early to begin to think about who they want to be in the world. Powerful, inspiring words, illustrated with compelling personal anecdotes. Later that day, Lynda would share a story with me about a student who approached her, tearful, thanking her for the words she shared. “Thank you for letting us know no one can tell us who we are,” the student had told her.
The clock now shown 11:20 a.m. I needed to wrap the assembly up and excuse students to their next class. But with everything Lynda had said that hour, words that carried potential life-changing effects, I knew I couldn’t just say, “Time to go!” There needed to be something more, something meaningful to close. Suddenly, the idea came to me. I pressed the button on the second microphone I held, and spoke: “Would you turn to the person sitting next to you and tell them what you will take away from this talk today? What will you hang onto as you exit the gym this morning? Turn and talk.” The gym suddenly erupted with excited chatter.
In my ear, Lynda whispered, “You know, in all the talks I’ve done across the country, no one has ever done that.” I was struck by that statement- allowing students to turn and talk, just for a bit, provides an opportunity to process. I wonder why speakers and teachers don’t use that technique more often? I will admit, it was a brief moment of pride. But more importantly, I hope it was a moment that offered our kids a way to hold onto the messages of empowerment and hope delivered by one wonderful author, Lynda Mullaly Hunt.