This appeared in the Montgomery Advertiser a couple of weeks ago. The newspaper was doing a special on the 100th anniversary of my high school, Sidney Lanier. So a few alums–me included–wrote about their memories. Oh, and LAMP–aside from being a cool stand-alone acronym–was the Lanier Academic Motivationl Program.
Gin Phillips: Math, science curriculum at Lanier helped spur love of words, writing
I spent my three years at Lanier in LAMP, and by the time I went away to college, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I give LAMP the credit for that in a couple of ways: First, I learned very early on that I did not have a future in math or science. Thank you, AP Chemistry, for really simplifying my career choices. Our curriculum was heavy in math and science, and the more I struggled through equations and theorems, the more certain I was that linear thinking was not my strong suit.
That struggle itself was a good thing: everybody came to LAMP feeling fairly smart. Fairly capable. But I came out of there knowing what it was like to feel like a complete moron in class. To feel like I couldn’t get the grade I wanted now matter how hard I studied. It’s not an experience that anybody should have to feel too often, but it’s good to feel it at least once—it’s no fun, but it’s good for the soul.
Luckily, LAMP also taught me how much I loved reading and writing, how much I loved words and all the endless play and possibilities of them. I’d had wonderful teachers throughout my years in Montgomery public schools, but the high school years were when I made the leap from loving reading to realizing writing could be a way of life. (And it occurred to me that if you were lucky, you might actually get paid for it.) When I think of John Donne, of poetry that sings in your head, of really peeling open a piece of literature and looking at its insides, I think of Diann Frucci and the joy of being in her class. (It’s also her impersonations I hear whenever I think of Truman Capote or the witches in MacBeth. As I write this, I know she will hate that I’ve made her talent at impersonations public.)
I remember a dissected frog landing in the hall after AP Biology class, and Ms. McConnell blaming me for it, although I was totally innocent. I remember half a dozen girls staying up all night at my house in the aftermath of an MC Hammer concert to study for a chemistry test. (Many chemistry concepts merge surprisingly well into MC Hammer lyrics.) I remember Mrs. Spear breaking into ballroom dancing in the middle of Calculus. I remember a lot of laughing in Mary George Jester’s office, and I appreciate that she usually let me blather on for quite a while before kicking me out and forcing me to go to class.
All of those memories come down to a combination of exhaustion and amazement and amusement. There are classes I dearly wish I could sit in on again, just to soak up one more hour of a great teacher doing great things. And there are other classes I would pay very large sums of money not to have to sit through again. But all of them together taught me what my strengths were and what my weaknesses were. They taught me what I loved and what I could push my way through even if I didn’t enjoy it. I got a much sharper sense of myself at Lanier, and by the time I left I had a much sharper sense of where I wanted to go.