A few nights ago, I pulled out my old AP English portfolio from my junior year in high school.
It’s a thick, bright turquoise folder with my full name, written in bubble scrawl, on the cover: Whitney Steele Kimball.
Inside is a collection of essays and expositions, poems and short stories that I produced for a cumulative grade during the 2001-2002 school year.
One pocket holds a trilogy of papers reflecting on themes from William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying.”
Behind those is a one-page descriptive essay entitled “My Best Friend,” about my mother.
There’s also a cringe-worthy piece of satire based on Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” in which I build a case for equipping women with electric cattle prods when they marry.
And my origin poem called “I am from” is so earnest I can barely stand it:
“In pursuit of mastering the Art of Becoming Myself,
I discovered I am from centuries of strong, individual women.”
I kept few things from my high school career, which is to say I kept only precious things.
This portfolio is among the most precious because, when I read it, I am filled with gratitude: for the girl who bravely experimented with words and ideas even though she struggled with insecurities and anxiety, and for the teacher who shepherded her through rigorous assignments and taught her to express herself rhetorically, comparatively, poetically and vulnerably.
Mrs. Gwen Lane read every paper in my portfolio, her thoughtful critiques in the margins – “Wonderful selection of detail,” “An example would be nice here.” “I see parallel structure!”
She also included a note with her overall impression of my writings:
“Your sincere voice is clear in all the pieces, and I also picked out several themes: family closeness, feminism, confidence in yourself and others. With regard to your writing skills, I hope you ‘welcome changes,’ but not too many!”
This note, and that year of writing for Mrs. Lane, was a magnificent gift that continues to reveal itself.
Because of her, I soared through freshman comp and claimed a minor in creative writing. I more fully embraced my feminist tendencies and my sincere voice. And I love to read — not just for pleasure but for practice.
Mrs. Lane helped me find myself and my voice at a critical time and she gave me the gift, via the portfolio project, of knowing that I can: I can read critically, write thoughtfully and communicate creatively in my own voice.
I can do hard things and complete hard tasks.
Thank you, Mrs. Lane, for seeding gifts that continue to bring joy to my life.
Whitney Kimball Coe is an Athens resident who serves as coordinator of the National Rural Assembly and director of national programs for the Center for Rural Strategies. She can be reached at email@example.com
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.