Flynn supporter John Canning delivered this humorous speech on October 22 at the 2014 award ceremony for the Burlington Partnership for a Healthy Community. The Flynn received the Youth & Families Award for its Flynn Youth Programs.
Teenagers are the biggest mistake our society has ever made.
When we ended child labor practices, raised the drinking age, and extended college from two to four years, we had hoped to extend the period of time when kids were cute and cuddly.
Instead, we ended up with teenagers.
They smell bad. They pay more attention to their phones than the wiser adults in the room. They’re self centered. They’re lazy. They eat their own weight in food every day and would spend just as much money if there was sufficient room on their parents’ credit cards.
More importantly, they scare the hell out of adults. We don’t know what to make of them, what do with them, or how to control them.
The folks at the Flynn Center, bless their hearts, have developed a set of programs that take these “creatures” and put them to work.
This past summer, they presented the Broadway musical “Carrie.” Yeah, the one based on the Steven King novel – I didn’t know it was a musical either.
This show lasted a bit over two hours. It featured over a dozen different musical numbers. There were live special effects that sent books flying across the stage and blood spattering everywhere but without anyone’s clothing getting stained.
The acting was superb! You’d never know that the middle-aged housewife or the school faculty were all played by students. They performed it six times and the audience was in shock and in tears at the end of each and every show.
And the students had their hands in everything – from the special effects, to the costumes, makeup, set, and props, as well as the singing, dancing and acting!
By producing this show, the Flynn staff set a very high bar and challenged the students to rise to the occasion. This was a serious show with some heavy messages about growing up, accepting people for who they are, and supporting your peers and not just your friends.
The Flynn Staff created that magical uncomfortable safe space. The students were outside their comfort zone, which encourages learning. Yet they were in a safe environment so they knew they would not be ridiculed if they failed.
Several times throughout the rehearsal process, the entire cast and crew would sit in a large circle and share their thoughts about the experience. Over the course of the three weeks, they talked about finding their tribe, their voice, their home, their family.
In the middle of preparing this show, the man who directed this on Broadway was able to spend a day with the student cast and crew. He watched their rehearsals, talked with them about the different themes in the show, and then helped them recreate the final scene just as the adult cast had done on the Broadway stage.
At the end of this visit, he congratulated the students…, no, he congratulated the artists, telling them “You’ve all been put on this earth for one reason – to tell stories. That’s the job of the artist… the crazy one. You’ve been born with a gift, something that most people can’t do.”
The Flynn’s programs empower students to find themselves and their voices, and to become artists.
Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “I have one of those teenage “artists” in my very own home. And when I asked for help after dinner with the dishes, he did a disappearing act more fluid than that Angel guy on TV. Or when I asked her about why she was out so late the other night, she told a story worthy of a Tony award!” And that’s got you wondering “Why did the Flynn win this award instead of me?”
Well, remember those child labor laws we were talking about a few minutes ago? They make it illegal to pay a kid to do more than an hour or two of work each day.
And this is where the Flynn is absolutely brilliant.
Instead of paying these students to sing and dance and act, they get the students to pay them!
It’s like Tom Sawyer on steroids. Wait, no, that’s not a good analogy at this event. It like Tom Sawyer with that fence, only this time the fence runs the entire length of the Mississippi River.
So, thank you and congratulations to the Flynn Center for providing our students a safe and empowering place where they can work together, find their tribe, and give back to the community – all at the same time!