Before I begin, for those of you who have heard me speak in public, rest assured I have other things to say.
Congratulations to the class of 2007. I know quite a few members of this class personally from my time as a first grade teacher at the Marion Cross School. My husband, Bruce and I are innkeepers at Pierce’s Inn where some of the graduates have chopped vegetables, served guests, and cleaned dishes with us. I feel honored to be chosen to help send you off into this amazing world of adulthood.
When I was a senior at Hanover High School, the editors of the INDE wrote predictions about each senior. “Cindy Pierce: runs off and joins the circus.” It didn’t resonate at the time, but instead of joining, I created a circus of a life. Bruce and I have three children. We run a funky off-the-radar inn out in Etna where I grew up. We do almost all the work ourselves from cooking the meals to plowing the driveway. I perform a one-woman show around New England, and now I am co-authoring a book based on the concepts of my show. People wonder how I got the skills to do all these things. That’s really the thing…who needs skills when you have courage?
I am able to live my three-ring circus of a life because I embrace the Freedom of Imperfectionism. The Freedom of Imperfectionism is NOT something you hear about, not something you see written on inspirational posters and not something valued, especially in this community. People often ask me what it is like to have grown up in a town like Hanover and end up moving back to raise a family. The tone of that question varies wildly depending on that person’s experience living here.
I am grateful to have been raised here and feel lucky to have the opportunity to raise my own family here. However, I consider the community of Hanover and Norwich to be both a wonderful and a challenging place to grow up. Navigating life in this community is like growing up in a normal functionally dysfunctional family that can strengthen us and hurt us deeply. One needs constant awareness of the issues and limitations as well as be able to define one’s own terms by which to live.
Being the youngest in a family of seven kids combined with growing up in an Inn was what got me on the path to the Freedom of Imperfectionism. My family was all about not conforming. When I was six, we moved here from Greenwich, CT. My dad gave up his advertising job at the peak of his career. My parents leapt from a life of clubs and cocktails parties to a new life of toilet cleaning and bed making when they became innkeepers. Without knowing much of anything about the business, they hunkered in and made it work despite doubting friends and relatives. And they never looked back, happy to spend quality time with their family in a beautiful place.
After raising four kids in the sixties, my parents had three more of us to get through the 70s. Sister Winston, sibling number five, hit Hanover High School like a hurricane. She was close to six feet tall and a natural leader with more spunk than was manageable for even the most seasoned teacher or coach. Most of her antics are not mentionable, but each time my sister Sarah and I took the bus from the Ray School over to meet Winston at the high school, it was eventful. One time we got off the bus to find her hosting a full on flea market with several tables on the front lawn of the high school piled up with our family’s old stuff. The faculty member’s mouths were agape looking out the windows trying to come up with a reason why it wasn’t ok for her to be raking in cash on school property. Winston was always the first to point out that most of the choices she made weren’t actually good ones and like a big sister should, she always recommended I take a different path. When it came to considering other people’s judgments, however, she insisted I learn to disregard them and to remember that most people wish they had the courage to live without worrying about other people’s opinions.
Because my parents made a conscious decision to expose us to frequent doses of reality through our family and our guests, I was able to process my observations of the imperfect world of adult life. The spicy big family soup was an endless supply of life lessons. My older siblings and their hippy friends and spouses with hair anyplace it would grow, wafting body odor and Volkswagen Bugs had impact. The extended human study was provided by the guests at Pierce’s Inn, Dartmouth alums in plaid pants with their pre gin and tonic properness contrasted by their raucous late night conversations and behavior. My unconventional home life prepared me to take on almost anything.
I entered high school in full undeveloped tomboy mode with boys’ clothes, short hair and a baseball cap. Even though I was not even close to five feet tall and it had gotten harder to keep up with boys in sports, my good pal Julie and I tried out for the boys’ baseball team. Chuck Hunnewell, who was a PE teacher and the head baseball coach supported us and got a big kick out of our courage. My mom took complaints and nasty calls from other dads and let them have it. Julie and I got relentless grief from some of the other boys, and we became stronger people before we ultimately and rightfully got cut from the team. Putting myself out there and failing instilled a deeper level of courage and humility.
I was a middle of the pack HHS kid. I was never one of the academic exceptionals and only occasionally an athletic mentionable. My way of going against the grain was to be a conscious enemy of fashion by refusing to wear the standard Fair Isle sweaters and pulling my sleeves to the certain level up the arm. I did not subscribe to the party mentality, and I hung out with a posse of platonic guy friends who treated me like one of the fellas. My parents, who had worked out a lot of kinks on their first six children, gave me permission to follow my own path by fringing around the social edge.
I went to UNH where I was a theater major, a Freshman Camp counselor and a member of the soccer team and the alpine ski team. My dad, was a great promoter of being involved in as much as possible as a way to scratch the itches. Grades and athletic results were the least of his concerns. I graduated from college and became a ski coach, a teacher, a stay-at-home mom, all of which led to the current circus.
Realizing early in life that plenty of grown-ups didn’t have a solid grasp on all aspects of life, inspired me to get comfortable asking for help and guidance. My siblings were the beginning of my panel of wise people, but I recruited others I admired to be part of my panel of advisors. This panel is and will continue to be in full force. Life is too big to do on our own. We just can’t know the answers or what to do a good part of the time. Thankfully, there is a whole community of people in each of your worlds who are available to help you. First you have to have the courage to admit not knowing.
I was pretty good at not knowing, but teaching first grade really advanced me in that department. First grade is the last year it is socially acceptable to verbally and physically fling oneself out there. Each day my students taught me something important, and I learned to embrace the not knowing. Picture the scene — Ania White kindly and politely corrected my spelling on a fairly regular basis. Erzsi Nassau expressed herself and laughed so heartily and openly, that she made the rest of us feel confined and repressed. Evan Haynes ferociously sucked his thumb and twisted his hair to make the most amazing shooting tornado off the back of his head. Althea Smith and Michael DeLucia left me dazed by computing numbers and solving complex problems faster than I could even get started. Michael Grant, the renaissance man, came up to my waist, but he could rip by me to make a basket or a goal at recess then an hour later bust out three or four sewing stitches I had never even seen and then write the most detailed clever story in his journal. Isaac Luxon, who wasn’t even in my class, would courageously give me honest and extensive feedback when my disciplinary actions weren’t particularly reasonable.
Some years you have one or two students who can see through you. Even though this person was not a member of your class as is his brother, I feel the need to mention James Holley. When he was a student in my class, he was a mirror for me. On the funky days, when situations would unravel, I would get myself backed in a corner of fear and irritation. James would look me directly in the eye often holding back a smile as if to say, “Having a tough one there Ms. Pierce?” James could see me right where I was, and the expression on his face would disarm me and force me to take a deep breath and regroup. As for many of you, James will be in my heart forever. Whenever you think of James, remember to put out healing thoughts to the Holley family. James’s death reminds me how this community can be difficult. Witnessing the loving network of support around his family and friends gives me hope and reminds me of how the power of caring in a community makes change.
The insatiable appetite for perfectionism is created by Us — the people who grow up and live here. We live in an isolated place where it is easy to get the idea that we are special and entitled. As you enter a bigger world, you will realize that the pool of smart, athletic, wealthy, beautiful people is bottomless. The liberation for me was having goals, working hard and following dreams on my own terms with my imperfections flying in the wind.
There are consequences for having the courage to get out there: sometimes you fall on your face, eat humble pie and fail, but after a while you learn to find humor rather than shame. The more one taps into this concept of being free to be imperfect, the more opportunities open up in life.
Whether the recipe of this community worked for you or not, take stock of the blessings you have been given by your families, your teachers, mentors and coaches at Hanover High School and by the people in this community who believe in you. Find gratitude for the few or the many parts of your experience that fed your soul in a positive way. Create the future you want with courage and the Freedom of Imperfectionism.