The Power of Being Seen

When I enrolled as a student in Alpine Valley School I was fourteen years old and was convinced that I was a friend-repellent. Hard as I had tried to make close friends during my years in traditional schooling it never quite worked out. I always ended up spending time with the other misfits, the oddballs who didn’t fit in and even then it turned out we were unique in non-complementary ways. I felt that, aside from my parents, there was no one in the world who truly understood me. It was an isolating and sorrowful feeling.

However, after a few weeks at Alpine Valley School things really shifted for me. I found a group of friends, small but tight, who had similar interests as I did and pushed myself outside my comfort zone with games like laser tag and capture the flag. I wasn’t necessarily “fitting in” because there was no mold in which we were all trying to conform – we were just a group of kids being ourselves. Lo and behold, there were people that actually LIKED who I was. In addition, I had a group of caring adults who saw me and encouraged my self-discovery. I wanted to be helpful and so they let me lend a hand with things like creating promotional materials and speaking at school events.

I don’t remember any specific moment of clarity or “bolt from the blue” when it hit me that I was truly being seen and accepted for just who I was; rather it seemed that all of this acceptance was slowly sinking in. Over time I became more confident, more willing to speak my mind and this skill extended beyond the school day and into my professional life after I graduated.

Now that I’m back at Alpine Valley School, this time as a staff member, I see other students walking through a similar experience to my own. They show up identifying themselves as “weirdos” or “loners” and over time find that they are folded into the vibrant school community as an equal – deserving of respect and attention. It’s a powerful experience and I’m so glad that Alpine Valley School exists  to provide the power of being seen for multiple generations – and more to come!

Marc Gallivan