When I was a freshman I hiked the Continental Divide with my family. In many ways I was just a child when we started walking through the snow in May four years ago. Over the course of 3,000 miles I learned a lot about family and what an important role each individual plays into the harmony of the group. In the beginning I was scared to do something that I was sure was beyond my ability. I was scared to leave the familiar comforts of home. What changed me is that I learned that I could do things which I believed to be beyond my ability, I learned to be a valuable contributor into a group, and I have learned that home is not necessarily an outward structure but a sense of love on the inside.
When I was a sophomore I was bored. Bored with my school, bored with who I was, bored with where I was in life. Life felt stagnant, and as far as I could see there was no way out of it. I enjoyed being at home and doing things with my family, living at the AU ranches and riding my horse but other than that I was just eking out my days wallowing in self-pity.
As a junior I enrolled as a student at the Link School, a decision that instantly began to bless my life. Boredom quickly dwindled in the rearview mirror as I became engaged as a student. I learned to love school. A spark for knowledge and understanding of the surrounding world was blown into full flame. Although, honestly, through Link year I one I was still pretty unsure of who I was and was focused on my own image. I have always cared a great deal about other people, but I used to care even more about what they thought of me. I lived in a constant state of fear that those around me were judging me and that all they saw of me was my body. I now understand more clearly that what I weigh and that my body image does not dictate who I am.
I also felt like I had to prove myself to others. I cared so much about what people thought of me that I didn’t always have the courage to be myself. But then I spent 3 days out in the Utah desert seeking answers and I ended the year at Link touching on a deeper understanding of my identity. Not a bad way to wrap up a year, feeling confident that I was a capable young woman who knew how to love and be loved and was a blessed daughter of God.
At the beginning of this, my senior year, I was not sure I could bring myself to love this year’s new group and I was still learning how to give back to a community in a selfless way – how to love, support and nurture it as a whole, and the individuals that it is comprised of. I was too attached to last year and forgetting to embrace change. But the lessons from the CDT came back to me. I began to embrace change, to find a constructive and harmonious role in the community, to accomplish things I thought were beyond me.
I am blessed with a remarkable family who loves me. I could not have asked for better people to share my life with. I am so grateful to have been a Link School student. The experiences and more importantly the people have changed my life for the better. Thank you all for challenging me and loving me.
Sarah: I thought I knew who I was. I thought I was satisfied. Satisfied with the minimal, the mediocre, and the average, to fit in. Now I realize I will never be satisfied by normal standards. What is normal? It is doing the average when you know you’re capable of more. My curiosity is insatiable, my thirst unquenched. I thirst to drink from the cup of those who have devoted themselves to the betterment of others. Every gust of wind, every crackle of leaves, and every boom of thunder lets me know that I’m alive and that I have a purpose. So what am I waiting for? My motto then was to get by, get through; but through to what? Its true that “living is easy with eyes closed,” but is the easy life what I truly want? Not remotely. Now I know that I will never fit in, because I have no wish to. The only thing I have power over is my own experience, and nothing is more powerful than thought.
Now I try to let things come and go like the ebb and flow of ocean tides, and am no longer as caught up in why they happen or what happens next. I’ve come to the realization that I can learn something from everything and everyone. I used to think that my greatest mistakes were my greatest teachers, but now I see that there are no mistakes. Things only happen when they need to, and if it seems discordant, it only means that I’m not yet able to see the reason for it. The possibilities are endless and the outcomes are infinite, so why not make the most of the present?
Lauren: I was insecure and very stubborn. I hated doing things that I did not want to do and put up a huge fight. I was very selfish and rude to whomever I would talk to. I was argumentative and violent. I was always in competition with others and never wanted to humble myself. I never thought about what I was doing or saying. I had a conceited thought and believed I was always right. I was on a path of destruction. I was diagnosed ADHD, suicidal, and almost un-teachable. I was the kind of problem kid that others wanted to just get rid of and send somewhere else.
Today I feel like I have grown in so many ways that looking back at my history I hardly recognize that girl. I have found it is hard to look back at the path I was on. I know who I am now and that is a loving, spiritual, happy, person. I am very teachable when I want to be. I am humble when I know I need to be. I have hope and love to listen to people talk about life and the future. I love to help people. I compete more with myself than with others. I hate when I get mad at myself or others. I love life and where I am at and I will never go back to the thought of suicide because I have no reason to want that. I am now more willing to get things done even if I don’t like the task. I strive to make people laugh and smile. I know that I am smart and that I have the capability to learn and remember things. I know that I have the power to mould my future. I am finding myself spiritually.
Hayley: I was afraid but now I’m curious. I was timid, but now I’m bold. I wasn’t sure of who I was, but now I’m on the path to figuring it out. I was hurt, but now I’m whole. I was lost, but I’ve found my way. Through good and hard times alike, I’ve slowly made my way of learning who I really am. I have a ways to go before I peak, but my year at The Link School has been invaluable in helping me climb this mountain. I’ve learned so much about myself and those around me. I’ve learned just how big an impact my words and actions have in a community. I’ve learned that, especially in a community as small as Link, I really need to be aware of every aspect of community. Whether it’s an aspect about me, my friends, the staff, my roommates, the rooms below mine, etc. There are so many parts to that one whole that is our community, and I’ve learned how to be attentive to those parts. I’ve learned how to really appreciate the people I’m with, and to look past imperfections, at who they really are. I’ve learned how to lean on people who genuinely care about me when I need someone to lean on. And at the same time, I’ve learned how to trust, and how to figure out who to trust.
I’ve learned that the people who really do care about me will help me out of a bad space and that they do what they think is best for me, whether I appreciate it at the time or not.
I’ve learned to be understanding when understanding is needed. I’ve learned how to be a shoulder to cry on, but also how to keep not only myself, but those around me moving forward.
I’ve learned how to keep a level head in urgent situations. And how to persevere when I’m tired or unmotivated. How to push my limits when I think I can’t go any farther. And along with that, I’ve learned the importance of having a good attitude no matter what the circumstances.
I’ve learned how to take advantage of opportunities I’m given. I’ve come to realize the importance of living life to its fullest. Of living life with no regrets. Since I’ve come to Link, I’ve learned to step back in any given situation, and think, “When I look back at this in the future, will I be satisfied?”
These are just some of the many things that I have come to realize about myself since I’ve come to Link.
TJ: I was a little kid who would say or do anything just to fit in with the “cool kids.” I didn’t care what affect it had on my life, as long as I was accepted by them, I was good. When anyone who told me where I was headed was not good, I would just ignore them. I would just do what seemed fun at the time without thinking about the impact on me or others.
This was the old me. Ever since I’ve been at The Link School I feel like I can be my own person. I think about the consequence of my decisions and how that will impact me and others around me. But most importantly I can think for myself and make decisions for myself. I have an idea of where I want to go with my life which I think is really important.
Jeremy:I used to hold back and pretend I couldn’t do things that I was capable of. I would do this to be lazy and to get away with things. I was the average kid who no one saw. I just wanted to be “myself” or who I thought I was at that time. Although it seemed like this was the best way to do things, I was wrong. I needed to try for a higher sense of what I could do and what I now know I can do. At Link I saw these things were in my grasp. I have made great progress with many life and health challenges this year that I have had to deal with which did not seem fair to me. I now am a person who goes out on a limb and tries new things, who lives life on the edge of my comfort zone where I might have been too scared in the past. I feel like this has changed me in many ways, all being good.
Daniel: I was a person with no sense of where I wanted to go or even where I was going. I was on an open desert road, little yellow dashes running for eternity down the asphalt, dirt roads on my left and right. Every one a new possibility leading to something else, but I was scared. I saw them as threats and I didn’t like change. I had been led to think things I knew in my heart couldn’t be true, and so I would pass another dusty road not looking down it, not risking or daring the new understanding or discovery.
Now I am a person who has his own opinions. I am a person with beliefs and ideas that belong to me. Now I am a person who is not afraid that change will push me in a new direction. Change does push me in new directions but I am no longer afraid of that because I now know that “I am the frame work of everything that happens in my life.” I have begun to live my life the way I need to live it.
I was a person afraid of change and opinions, afraid of having my life run and controlled and altered. Now I am a person with my own voice that will speak for me. I am a person who will take turnoffs.
Gunther: Every moment of every day I am a new person. I am constantly reborn. I do not think that I should dwell on the past. My life has been an adventure leading up to where I am right now, but at the same time everything that I am now I have always been. Although I am a confident person, I also sometimes struggle. I am constantly reevaluating my life and I work to choose what dictates my life. I am at the forefront of many new ideas – beliefs about how to treat the land and each other, ideas about spirituality, and ideas about who I am.
Once when I was very young I thought to my self, when I reached middle school I will be a big boy. By the time I reached middle school I realized that I had always been a big boy, only my perception of myself had changed. I am a good mountain biker, kayaker, telemark skier, unicyclist, and rafter. I am an excellent Nordic skier, and runner. I love the land. I have studied sustainable land management. I plan to live for and on the land. I am content with who I am. I am growing.
Darren: I was trapped but now I’m free. Trapped by anger, deceitfulness, spitefulness and unhappiness. I was so angry at how messed up the world was, and that it seemed no one was doing anything about it. I was angry about how everyone was out to get each other, watching, looking for ulterior motives. Angry about how meaningless life is, how pointless it is it all – no reason or explanation, no purpose or meaning, just hate and anger in the world.
I am transformed this year. I now see there is good in this world, there is purpose and meaning, there is love and understand out there. There is happiness and joy. There is possibility and growth. We can change who we are and develop into beautiful, contributing people. We can change the world. We can do good works. We are incredibly capable and powerful beings. It’s just a matter of learning what you can accomplish.
Throughout the year whenever we were about to do something extraordinarily challenging I would turn to someone and ask, “Do you think I can do this?” They never said no. Not once. They always believed in me and saw that I could do things I opened my mind to. Mountain biking, rafting, math, or writing a paper, they knew I could do it, and I know now I can do it too. Sometimes you get so buried under the mental rubble you can’t see the light shinning from underneath, and you need someone to prove it to you, someone to guide you and tell you yes. “Yes, you can do it, I believe you can.” And you do, and you begin to realize you can do wonderful, incredible things. You can achieve your goals and dreams. You can live a good life. You can be happy. You just need someone to show you the way.
Ryan: I have learned a lot about myself this year and through my experiences at The Link School and outside of school I have grown to find myself. I have become more sure of my individuality, identity, and my passion for life. Many experiences this year have led me and/or pushed me to understand myself in a way which I respect and can be proud of. I see myself on the growing edge of having dominion in my life and I know that Spirit is supporting me in the right direction. I am approaching the man I want to be.
Taylor: Then I was in black and white, constantly filled with the notion of better days to come and the prospect of someday feeling alive. I used to wake up and groan, steal glances at the wall I decorated with photos of faraway places. Restrain myself from the urge to jump out the window, blast out another set of iPod headphones and sigh. Sleeping was relentlessly better than reality. I often didn’t look out for other people and the idea of school was entirely disconnected in my mind from the idea of learning, which my grades reflected. My days tended to feel rainy and bleak, but my thoughts were even more tempestuous. I wasn’t considerate of or honest with my parents, whom I now realize are inspiring people whom I have vast gratitude for.
Now I no longer have to wait to start living, and I’ve realized the only thing wrong was my mindset. Each day I wake up to my roommates shining faces, and know I’m in a good place. There are still many things I’m striving for and working through, I sometimes feel like I’m currently in the “in-between” but at the same time my life has been opened up to so much gratitude. Fervor and delight have suddenly welcomed themselves back into my experience. Sometimes I smile simply because I can, and that doesn’t feel so incompatible anymore. Wisdom and strength are my right-hand men. I used to put up endless walls, but now I want to shine in a way that allows the entire rest of my community to shine with me. The rest of my life is promising, filled with color and inspiration, and I can’t wait!
Jenna Ranson: I was a person who came to this school with a lot on my mind. I thought I would be looked at differently than everyone else. I was someone that could never hold still if there was something fun that was going to happen, a person that never was sure of herself when asked to try something new. I was once the kind of person that was scared of heights or any thing that had to do with climbing or moving up. But my year here at this wonderful school has changed my life.
Now I am a different person than what I was before and am ready to move forward with my life. Overcoming my fears of trying activities that I have never done before or going on trips to places where I have never been, I have learned so many new things that I would never have been able to figure out by myself if it weren’t for my amazing friends and school directors. Now I am a person that knows a lot more things and is experienced in a lot of really fun but tough activities.
I feel like I have mad a lot of progress with my schoolwork. I have become a better student and am learning and getting a lot of help and support from everyone here. I remember that in the beginning of the year, I needed help all the time. I have come to love all the work that I do and work hard to pas all my classes.
Being here at Link feels like everyone is family, which we are. We’re always helping each other out and are there for those that need our help and support.
Loving people was something I had trouble with when I came here. But as the year went on I started to find the true person inside me and know that I could love everyone that I saw or talked to.
I am a person who is stronger, more capable academically, and more able to love.
I tried to love the imperfect self. Make it better. Sell it to the world: Myself– New and Improved! You’ll love it! Inherently flawed and perpetually “almost there”. Like an old automobile, I souped myself up. New parts, new brands, new oil, new coats of paint. I worked fast but couldn’t cover the rust. I was working with used parts, broken parts.
I was searching.
Then my automobile self wrecked; glare on the windshield, excesses, the vehicle itself a danger. Little by little, loving hands came to my side and chiseled off my shoddy pieces. These hands took my hands and showed me how to free my trapped body. The grime caked off like false skin. A new layer underneath, light, clean. The hands were rough but precise; the false pieces that didn’t fall away, I was holding in frozen claws, clutching the dead weight with desperate ignorance. What I held got heavier, biting my grip, forcing me to let go.
Writhing from the mess, an arm appears. Then a leg.
Foreign junk trails behind the path of this newborn like the remnants of a metal shell.
I was encumbered.
Now I am free.
Light emitting light. The dawn breaks with confidence and I am there to watch it, both from above and below, in a place I never left and can never leave.
I am found.
I have been secured by hands bigger than my own. I walk strong. I walk on.
Oh Amazing Grace, I was blind but now I see.