Monday, August 26, 2013

When McMillan Gets Asked to be Inspirational

I'm dusting off my blog tonight to publish the speech I wrote and delivered to our entire student body and staff on the first day of school. (August 21, 2013).  I'm pretty proud of it, and I got a lot of positive responses from it, so I figured I'd take it to the Interwebs.  At least, my little corner of it. 

Here it is.


When I was a senior in high school, I was a section leader in the marching band, the captain of the Varsity Academic Team, and the President of Science Olympiad.  These three facts likely lead many of you to the same conclusion:

DUDE. McMilllan was a nerd in high school!

 And it’s true, I was. 

Unfortunately, for me, being called a nerd always carried a negative connotation; it was more often hurled as an insult rather than a compliment.  But that was then.

I’m envious of those of you who sit in these stands today because, in many ways, the word “nerd” doesn’t really mean that any more.  If anything, we’re living in the era of The Nerd. 

I don’t know when it started, and I don’t know who or what to thank for the fact that nerds are now a huge force in pop culture;

perhaps it was with the pilot of the Big Bang Theory, which enters its seventh season this year,

or maybe it was the creation of Tumblr, which allows ALL THE FANGIRLING of ALL THE SUPERHEROES to happen,

or maybe it was when ComicCon became a force of nature rather than just a convention,

or maybe its as simple the invention of the Internet, which has done a lot of good by connecting a lot of people. Well, aside from holding all of the cat videos…

But whatever it is, I’m glad it happened.

At this point, I know what some of you are thinking: Um, nerds still aren’t cool, McMillan.  I am NOT a nerd.

Well, I hate to break this to you but, yeah, ya are.  And if you’re not, you should be.

Why? Because being a nerd means being passionate enough about something to embrace it with your whole heart.   And I’d like to think that everyone in this audience has something they love that much.

Recently, Wil Wheaton – of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame – was asked at a convention why being a nerd is awesome.  He explained that “it’s not about what you love; it’s about how you love it,” which is, in essence, why all of us should be nerds: because we should love our favorites things so desperately that we have to talk about them and share them with others.  Which probably explains why Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vine are so popular: they allow us to prove every day our love for whatever it is we get nerdy about. 

Wheaton went on to explain that it doesn’t matter what the “thing” is that you love: it might be football, dirt biking, watching Disney movies in your Snuggie, Skyrim, horseback riding, bodyboarding, Call of Duty, roller coasters, vintage cars, programming computers – it could be anything, but, to quote Wheaton again, “the way you love it and the way you find other people who love it the way you do is what makes being a nerd awesome.”

You see, it’s a human thing, this whole “being a nerd” business.  As humans, we gravitate towards others who share our common interests, and as such, we find a community within which to “nerd out” – we find like-minded people to squee with or fistbump about whatever it is we’ve just bought or found or read or windowshopped on Ebay or Etsy. 

So whether you’re a D&Der, a Quidditch hopeful, a Padawan on your way to being a full Jedi, a parkour ninja, a rugby player, a mountain biking champ, a barefoot runner, or newly-minted Vegan; whether you get excited about a new leash for your surfboard, or that new mouthpiece for your instrument, or that 38 people liked the photo of your In The Mix you Instagrammed last night – hashtag last fro yo of freedom – whoever you are and whatever you love, the way you love those things, and the way that you reach out and connect with others who love them, too, is essential to who we are as humans.  It’s our survival strategy.

So, this humble nerd in front of you today – the one who can’t wait for the next season of Sherlock to arrive, and could watch 17 straight hours of Law and Order SVU without ever getting sick of it, and who rereads The Hunger Games once a year to stay inspired – is asking you to do one thing this school year.  Well, one thing in addition to the whole “doing your homework, being respectful to your teachers, getting yourself prepared for the world ahead of you” thing.  

I want you to embrace your inner nerd; embrace the thing or things you love with your whole heart.  And once you’ve done that, I want you to seek out the other nerds who love that same thing you love: seek out other surfers, other photographers, other people anxious to see how the Twelfth Doctor will do.  And TwiHards? Maybe you guys get together and read Salem’s Lot this year. Just a suggestion.  But whoever your people are, find them.  Being involved in a group of people who will care about you and support you in those things you love – whether its in an official club or not --  is going to make this awesome but sometimes kinda awful ride through high school so much better.

Because here’s the thing.  There’s no doubt I was a nerd in high school, but that nerd trifecta I listed in the beginning?  I got to do those three things with other people who were equally as passionate about them as I was – we laughed together, cried together, struggled together, practiced together, traveled together, won awards and lost competitions together, but most importantly, we remained friends, even today, because we still share the common vocabulary of our nerdiness.

So, just one more thing in closing.  Lest someone decide to use this call to action an excuse to try to turn the word “nerd” back into something negative, I suggest to those of you on the receiving end of that nonsense to smile proudly and say, “Thank you.”  Embrace it, because as Tyrion Lannister explains to Jon Snow in the first book of The Game of Thrones: “Never forget who you are, for surely the world won’t. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”

Go be nerdy, ladies and gentlemen, and may the Force be with you.


You should really watch Wil Wheaton's whole "Nerds are Awesome" speech, found here on his blog:

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Mom is Awesome. The End.

Hey y'all!  I think I missed the last go-round of Reverb Broads, but this time around, I'm determined to at least post a bit, and was happy to discover upon sitting down tonight to start playing catch-up that I need not catch up! Yay! So, having not brought any grading home tonight to do and still recovering a bit from a nasty stomach bug I've had since last Thursday, here goes!

Prompt # 3 -- What's the best advice you've ever received from a parent/sibling? What's the worst? 

Right off the bat, I know exactly what I want to discuss for the "best advice," but am at a COMPLETE loss for the worst.  I guess my parents and my brother just don't give bad advice.

Except MAYBE haircut advice. I had some wicked awful bangs at some point in my life.  But I've never been given bad life advice by either my parents or my brother, so I guess I'll count my lucky stars for that one.

But best advice? The answer came immediately.

So here goes.

Up until I was in high school, I had wanted to be an astronaut/aerospace engineer since I was teeny-tiny.  Second grade, easily, perhaps even first grade.  Space has always held endless fascination for me; it still does, truth be told.  But all throughout upper elementary school, middle school, and into high school, I was single-minded and focused on the goal of getting into a good engineering school, becoming an engineer, and eventually working for NASA.  Dream big, right?  And I could have been very successful.  I've always been very good at math and science; I did Science Olympiad for five years, starting in eighth grade and ending as a senior in high school (and I'm still involved with the organization now as an Event Captain for the San Diego regional event).  Science is absolutely in my blood, and for a long, long time, I lived and breathed it.

But then those pesky high school English classes came along, and two problems arose.

Problem #1.  My teachers were absolutely amazing.  

Seriously.  I really, really lucked out when I think back on it.  I really and truly had the cream of the crop that my high school had to offer.  (Some would argue this was because I was on the Honors track, and this is possibly has a good chance of being true. But. Still.  Doesn't change the outcome.)  I love and respect every one of the four English teachers that I had in high school and I looked up to them in ways I didn't necessarily look up to other teachers of other disciplines.  I always generally liked my teachers fine -- I never had issues with any (er. not true. one. One I despised. But. You know, who ever likes their history teachers?).  But for some reason, my English teachers made their practice so transparent and awe-inspiring.  I had always toyed with the idea of being a teacher -- I remember the idea creeping in as early as fifth grade, but figured I'd do a stint at NASA and then maybe teach science.  Seemed like an easy and obvious career trajectory.  So I always had a pretty critical eye pretty early on for good pedagogy. (I swear I wasn't a nightmare to have as a student. I promise!) But I count these four amazing individuals as four of the most central to the way my life had turned out, and to who I am in my own classroom every day. I strive to emulate them daily.

Problem #2.  I was freaking good at English. 

This didn't necessarily come as a surprise, and it was only occasionally a moderate annoyance that sometimes my grades would be better in English than other classes. (Momentarily.  I always ultimately had As.).  But English came just a hair more naturally to me than other classwork.  I scored higher on English portions of standardized tests, like the SAT and the Golden State exams.  My Senior English teacher trusted me with grading some of my peers' work, and other English teachers in the department valued my input on assignments, writing prompts, and essays.  I caught the bug, and I loved it.  But it also scared me.

When it came time to apply to college, I felt a weird paralysis.  What do I do? I'm SUPPOSED to be an Engineer.  This is what I've told everyone since I could pronounce the word "Engineer."  I'm SUPPOSED to grow up and work for NASA.  Every gift everyone in my life has ever given me has been related to Astronomy: I own a telescope, two sets of binoculars, several star maps, a bazillion Astronomy books, and various other astronaut-related paraphernalia.  Turning my back on it seemed to be a slap in the face to every family member that had seemed, in one way or another, to have believed in me and wanted me to work for NASA just as much as I did.  What was I supposed to do?

After much perseverating and a couple of trips to my counselor (the counselor I didn't meet until my senior year and knew absolutely nothing about me), I ended up applying to mostly Engineering programs -- Cornell being my first choice, with Boston University and Tufts trailing behind.  But, on a whim and while harboring a semi-secret desire to change my life path, I applied to two schools as an English major: Wheaton and Skidmore.  And lo and behold, I got in everywhere I applied (except Amherst. Bitches.)

And thus began one of of the not-that-hard hardest decisions of my life: follow my dream and go to Cornell as an mechanical/aerospace engineer, or follow the lure of Wheaton's full ride on a English Major Scholarship program with the promise of cheaper tuition and a free computer?  The discussions in my house were endless.

And then my mom sat me down for a conversation that would prove to be one of the most important we have probably ever had.

Her advice? Go to Cornell.  Try Engineering. Do everything you're supposed to do in your first semester. Then, switch.

And her rationale?  Not to game the system, or to convince me that by just "trying" it would magically make the torn allegiance go away.  But instead, to prove to myself that I wasn't abandoning engineering because it was too hard, or because I was a girl, or because I was too stupid, or couldn't do it, but because I was really and truly about to make a choice to pursue a career path that was going to be much more important to me and would feed my soul a thousand times more.

She knows me really well.  I mean, obviously, she gave birth to me, but sometimes I think that doesn't always mean your parents know you as well as my mom knows me.  It's cosmic.  My mom knows how hard I am on myself about being perfect.  She knows I desperately hate to fail, and she knew that in my head, turning my back on the engineering career path was failing.  She wanted me to realize on my own it wasn't failing.  She wanted me to spend that first semester at Cornell proving to myself that I could, in fact, do very, very well as an engineer, and that I was happily changing majors because I was about to embark on a more fulfilling life. Plus, Cornell had been my dream school since I had discovered it somewhere along the way in middle school, and whether I was an engineering major or an English major was besides the point. I would still be living a dream, regardless of the degree I held at the end of it.

And she was totally and completely right.

I spent the first semester in the Cornell School of Engineering, and though I did hate every.single.second of Engineering Chemistry, I didn't hate the rest of it. In fact, I did fine.  I aced many of the assignments in my Civil Engineering course, won an award for a bridge I designed and built with a partner, and felt confident in my skills at designing and building actual useful things. Had I stayed in engineering, I might have even considered a switch to Civil Engineering.

But I knew I was making the right decision every day when I went to my required Writing Seminar course, which was The Reading of Poetry.  It was the one class that I always felt truly excited to go to.  I soaked it in.  And when I went to the Internal Transfer Office to inquire about transferring, and found out how easy it was going to be, it felt like everything was right in the universe.  I was going to get to pursue the major I really, truly wanted to pursue AND I got to spend the next three and a half years at one of the most absolutely gorgeous universities in the United States, earning an Ivy League degree and having the most amazing experiences during the time I spent there.

And I owe every second of the time I spent at Cornell to my mom, whose wise advice made all the difference. I may complain about my English teacher life because of budget cuts and my increased workload and the fact that it feels often that this country doesn't value the work that I do, or even the work that my students do, but then I look at what I get to do every day in my classroom with the brilliant, weird, crazy, lovable, stupid, adorable, snarky teenagers and I am so, so thankful that my mom knew exactly what advice I needed when I needed it the most.

I love you, mom.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's more like being volun-told...

Day 14 -- Prompt: Is volunteering something you do regularly? If yes, where do you volunteer? If not, why not? Courtesy of Kassie @

Hmm. This is an interesting question because my initial gut reaction to this question was, "Uhm. ::long pause:: Hmmm. ::thinking:: Um. No, no I really don't volunteer anywhere... is that ... is that something I should be doing? ::thinking:: Hmm."

And then I realized something. I volunteer a LOT of my time, but it's in the context of my actual non-volunteer career.

I am my school's Speech and Debate coach. While I do get a small coaching stipend for this job, it's not really enough to cover the sheer number of hours I spend on the weekends of tournaments supervising kids, judging, coaching, and helping. I do the things that a parent might do volunteering for their kids' school. Last year, for example, I served as a judge at the California State Speech and Debate Tournament -- and this was completely voluntary, given that none of my students were actually competing at this tournament.

I am also the teacher advisor for my school's Science Olympiad team, and this is not a stipend job. I volunteer my lunches when they need my room for a meeting, I've volunteered at least one evening a year so that they can have a parent meeting, and I collect forms and money and such to pass on to the parent volunteers who actually run the times.

And speaking of Science Olympiad, I also actually run one of the events at the regional competition, and, as I'm writing this, I realize this is probably the biggest volunteer endeavor I take on each year. I run an event called Write It, Do It, which involves technical writing and building something following directions. I competed in this event when I was a Science Olympian in high school, and now that my high school coach is one of the regional big-wigs here in San Diego, she recruited me a few years ago.

I've been doing WIDI now for three years -- this year will be the fourth year, I think, that I've done it. And every year I get a little bit better at doing it. But this, out of all the things I do, is truly a labor of love. It takes HOURS to prepare for.

See, there's this little detail: San Diego has the biggest regional Science Olympiad competition in the United States; each year, we have in the neighborhood of 75 teams from the middle school and 75 from the high school. So, 150 teams worth of kids (each team consists of 15 students...). For me, this means 70+ building kits. I build my "devices" out of those green floral foam blocks and all kinds of wacky materials, like pipe cleaners, straws, toothpicks, quilting pins, beads, paper clips, stickers, and anything else I can buy in bulk cheaply. I have to build at least 8 copies of the original device, and then I have to make enough kits for each team that has signed up to compete in the event.

This takes DAYS.

I'm not kidding.


And then the day of the competition (which, actually, here in San Diego, is now two different days, the middle school and high school competitions happening separately. Kinda sorta because of my event. Heh), I am there all day, first running the competition and then grading the devices. Thank god for my mom -- she's a trooper. I honestly couldn't -- and wouldn't -- do it without her. Luckily, she loves it as much as I do. Oh, and I also voluntarily wrote a coaching manual a few years ago. So I think this is were I pay my volunteering dues. I'm incredibly supportive of Science Olympiad -- I loved every second of it as a competitor and I feel so lucky to be able to be involved in it now as an adult.

Oh, and I also help with the San Diego Unified's Language Academy Spelling Bee! I've been the Wrong Answer Bell Ringer for three years running and have already signed up for my fourth! It's awesome. I do it to help my friend Summer, but it's really just a delightfully exciting evening. Except I always have to be the dream squasher. Haha. But it's a fun way to support programs in other places.

So there. I guess maybe I volunteer more than I think I do, I guess it just doesn't quite meet the connotation of "volunteering" that even I think of when people mention volunteer work.

Face It. I'm Just BETTER.

(I can barely pull off a title like that; I'm totally kidding, just so that's clear.)

Day 13 -- Prompt: What are three things you are better at than most people? Courtesy of Catie @

Three things that I'm better at than most people? Geez.

Well. The most obvious one, for me, is Learning and Remembering Things. I've always known I was different than other people -- even as a very young kid, I had a heightened awareness that my brain worked differently than my classmates. My brain works faster -- maybe my hamster up there was given steroids, I don't know. But it became more and more clear as I got older into high school that I have a gift most other people don't have. Things that took most of my classmates, say, 30 minutes to do would only take me 10. And I'd get an A and they might get an A, but sometimes not. I barely every actively studied for tests and such, was usually done with my homework in class, and carried a 4.5 GPA by my senior year. I guess I'm wired differently, and so I think this is the biggest thing that distinguishes me from others. Plus, I'm a trivia boss in a lot of ways -- I was on the Academic Team in high school and am often people's "life line" for information.

The second one is, I guess, related to the first, which is that I read faster than anyone I know. Not too long ago, I was just arriving at the gym to meet with my trainer and there was one of those forwarded emails printed out (heh) and sitting on the counter of their little juice bar area. Chris, my trainer, and his friend Kyle, another trainer, point it out to me and want me to read it. It was about the difference between how men and women shower. It was funny -- and it took me all of maybe 10 to 15 seconds to read the 2 pages of bullet points. Basically, I picked up the page, read the front and back, and put it back down. They were both completely incredulous -- "there's no way you read all of that!" And I immediately set about reciting what I had just read. Nearly verbatim. It was fun -- not only did they have to eat their words, but it watching them roll their jaws back up the floor was awesome. I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in about 8 hours? I think? My book arrived from Amazon at around 3 in the afternoon and I finished around midnight. And I had taken some time out for eating dinner with my parents. I'm sorta scary.

Now for the third. Hmm. Making messes? Sitting on the couch? Procrastinating? I'm not sure I can really think of a third. Is that weird? I type really fast. I get ready for work really fast (I get out of bed at 6:15 and am generally in the car by 6:25/6:30). I certainly don't sing well. I play the flute well, but not better than anyone, really. I bake decently, but my mommy is better. I could be a good graphic designer if I had the time or the resources, but I don't, so I'm not that good.

How about this: I'm just better at being me.

(And I'll bet I'm not the only one who says this today.)

If Loving Toddlers and Tiaras is Wrong, I Don't Wanna Be Right

I'm behind, but I didn't want to skip this one! It just ended up that way. So another double assault today.

Day 12 -- Prompt: Name and explain the one guilty pleasure you can't live without. Ie: that cupcake shop you visit weekly, a book you repeately read to find solace in, etc). Then explore the idea of how you would feel if you gave that thing up for a year. Courtesy of Neha @

Oh geez. I have so many guilty pleasures. It's possibly embarrassing. Therefore, I will be making a list.

  1. Starbucks. Grande Non-Fat Extra Hot Chai Latte. This is probably my biggest vice.
  2. Trashy Television and/or Reality Television (since they're not necessarily the same thing). In no particular order: Hoarders, Toddlers and Tiaras, Cupcake Wars, Intervention, Project Runway, Top Chef, The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs, Chopped, Obsessed, Dateline on ID, Solved, Disappeared, and most permutations of crime shows.
  3. Friends. As in the television show. I would be a very sad and unhappy person without this show. I fall asleep to it almost every night. It relaxes me.
  4. Crocheting. Though this may not be necessary a fully guilty pleasure, it is when I'm doing it *instead* of grading. It soothes me, but sometimes it's probably not the most appropriate use of my time.
  5. Sombrero's Mexican Food. I'll admit it. This is my Mexican food of choice. I've been eating it more rarely lately but it's definitely a guilty, guilty, delightful, delicious pleasure.
  6. Facebook. I'm not even going to pretend like I'm above spending hours a night on Facebook, at least while I'm doing other things.
  7. Disneyland. I have an annual pass and pretty much get withdrawals if I don't go in any given 4-6 week period.
  8. Golden Spoon. Frozen yogurt in general is a pleasure, but Golden Spoon, in my opinion, is the closest to ice cream as you can get and it's amazing.
  9. Diet Coke. I've really been trying to wean myself off. But it's too. hard.
  10. Christmas Music. Because I've been known to listen to it year-round. Well, maybe not year-round. From about September through the Christmas season. I'm especially fond of George Winston's "December" album. Favorite album of all time.
There. I think ten is sufficient. In terms of what I could or couldn't give up? I could probably easily give up Christmas Music, Sombrero's and MAYbe the trashy television. But give up Chai? Diet Coke? Disneyland? I think not. Pretty much everything on this list is a guilty pleasure because it all helps me relax and survive the hellishness that is my job right now. Though a lot of these things distract me from work, at least they're things that fill me with happiness and joy.

But if I lose my job this year, Disneyland will probably have to be the first things that goes. D:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Day 11 -- Prompt: How are you like your mother? And if you're a mother, how are your kids like you? Courtesy of Jessica at

The honest to goodness answer to this is that I am ever so much more like my father than my mother. I have my dad's temperament, many of his mannerisms, and most especially his look: I am a carbon copy of my dad.

Yet, for as much as it often seems like I am 100% my father and 0% of my mother, I like to think that the intensity, the negativity, the short-temperedness, and the mercurial nature of my dad has been tempered by my mom.

My mom and I have the same sense of humor; we share many of the same favorite movies and especially favorite scenes of those movies. Galaxy Quest. The Princess Bride. Blow Dry. About a Boy. Star Wars (episodes 4-6). Legends of the Fall. The Shawshank Redemption. What a Girl Wants. Ghostbusters. Trading Places. We quote from these a lot.

My mom and I are both wickedly intelligent, good and dedicated readers, and are obsessed with word games and crossword puzzles. I've spent many a Sunday at my parents' house, with my photocopy of the same puzzle my mom is working, racing her to complete it.

My mom and I are both creative and crafty (certainly something I got in no WAY from my father). I may not be able to sew like her, but we can both paper and yarn craft quite impressively. We both generally try to make our own Christmas cards, and often make our own [fill in the occasion here] cards. We sent each other Halloween cards this year we'd handmade -- and it was entirely independent of each other.

My mom and I are both very picky about the art/decoration we allow into our living spaces. I think this is something I was taught by her. My mom will no allow "pre-fab" art in her home. Instead, everything that hangs in her living spaces -- which, in their giant house they share with my grandma accounts for almost four rooms -- has been meticulously selected, created, framed, and hung to suit an exacting eye for what she wants. My mom has been known to make her own frames, her own mats, and her own actual art. That's not to say that everything is 'handmade' -- my mom also carefully selects the kinds of art prints she hangs, and most of the actual store-bought printed material that hangs on walls was collected during our travels. She's got prints from all over the world. In my kitchen at my house (which is actually my parents'), there's a print of Monet's that I actually bought at Giverny, and a print by a Scandinavian artist she bought at an art museum in Lillehammer, Norway. She's got prints from Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark; the Tate Museum in London; the Bristish Museum in Victoria, British Columbia; a small art shot in Taos, New Mexico. I share this snobbery -- everything in my bedroom was created particularly by me.

I'd like to think that I'm loving and caring like my mom. My mom is the best hostess, and I try to emulate her accommodating and welcoming ways when I host things (to the point where I think sometimes I overdo it). My mom is an awesome cook; I'm not that good, but I have my moments. But she makes sure that you're well fed and not hungry and that any dietary restrictions are taken into account.

My mom and I also share an irrational fear of lightning. I don't know if I learned my irrational fear from her, or if we just both happened to have terrifying experiences with lightning during the same formative periods of our lives. Either way.

And of course, my mom and I share a deep and abiding love for Harry Potter. Otherwise, I'd probably disown her.

Short and Sweet

Day 10 -- Prompt: What is the best and/or worst thing about your life right now? Courtesy of Dana at

The Best: Christmas is in the air, Netflix is available on every device I own, and I'm *thisclose* to having a vacation.

The Worst: The stress of my job. My job is sucking the life out of me every day, and it just makes me sad that my job is the worst part of my life right now.