Thursday, July 9, 2020
Julie Lythcott-Haims-‘Feed Them, Love Them and Get Out of Their Way’
Sun Valley Community School students Wyatt Minor and Cameron Rawlings walked through an arch covered with lilacs to “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Monday, June 3, 2019


Don’t project your aspirations on your children, Julie Lythcott-Haims told parents of Sun Valley Community School graduates Sunday afternoon.

 “They’re not your property. They’re not your pets. Children come through you but they’re not you. Feed them, love them and get out of their way,” she said. “Our job as parents is to step out of the way and let them be who they will be.”

Lythcott-Haims is a New York Times bestselling author who warned against helicopter parenting in the book “How to Raise an Adult.” And Sunday afternoon at the Sun Valley Pavilion she recounted what she’s learned over a decadeas dean of freshman at Stanford University for 39 graduating seniors and one exchange student.

Julie Lythcott-Haims said that she spent her life haphazardly dodging micro-aggressions after her family moved from racially diverse Washington, D.C. to rural Wisconsin where there was one other black family.

She turned to the students sitting on the stage amidst a forest of petunias, lilacs and aspen trees.

 “Your job is to learn to listen to your own voice, to discern your voice out of the noise…to do what you are here to do, what you are uniquely meant to do.”

Lythcott-Haims recounted how she had pursued a law career to give voice to the underserved. But she was so insecure she accepted an offer to work at a corporate office as an intellectual property litigator. She was well paid and all those whom she thought were judging her applauded her for landing such a prestigious job.

But she was miserable.

“We been taught that success is not measured by medals…high GPAs…but by happiness:” said Lily Fitzgerald who was chosen by her class as senior speaker, along with Colton Donovan.

“I was good at it but I didn’t love it,” she said. “You must love it AND be good at it to be happy and successful.”

Lythcott-Haims told how she loathed herself for more than 20 years after someone wrote the n word on her school locker . She finally addressed it in her memoir “Real American: A Memoir.” And she encouraged the kids not to be downtrodden by anyone who made them feel less on the basis of gender, religion, social economic status or even the politics they preach.

“Anyone who can’t accept your work choices…that’s their work. They have to work on that,” she said.

She told how her students often asked her what they should major in, even what they should do with the rest of their lives.

Ben Pettit quoted Winnie the Pooh; “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

“I’d say to them: Who are you? What do you now? What do you want to be? What makes you you? What makes you happy? What makes you scream?”

Lythcott-Haims asked that question of Community School students before her trip to Sun Valley. A few said they are proud that they show up in the life of their friends, their family. One said he wanted to be accountable for himself. Another said, “I’m grateful for all I’ve been given. I’m terrified of disappointing everyone.”

The author told them that Sun Valley is “an energizing community”—she felt the energy as she got off the plane.

“You can feel the road rising up to meet you…the wind ready to catch your wings. What will stop you? Nothing, as long as you know yourself, love yourself and dare to be you,” she added.

Ben Pettit handed out diplomas and a handshake while Brent Stevens read off the names.

Students offered minute-long senior reflections.

As snow from nearby cottonwood trees danced through the air, Henry Cherp likened his experience at Community School to a powder day filled with vulnerability and passion that he’ll cherish forever. Bennett Snyder said he concluded that “this place is pretty special” after missing a hundred days of school to race at 57 different ski resorts.

Christine DuFur recounted how 13 years earlier she’d looked up at a school door that was so big her parents had to open it for her.

“Now I’m about to embark on even bigger doors,” she said.

Joseph Hall delivered a tongue-in-cheek reflection that included the admonition: “For God’s sake, vaccinate your children!”

“I’ve found it’s not where you are that defines you but who you surround yourself with,” added Miriam Gilman.

Head of School Ben Pettit called the day “a landmark moment in the students’ lives.”

 “This group has squeezed an abundance out of their experiences. They’ve squeezed much out of life in their time at this school,” he said.

Pettit described the graduating seniors as passionate scientists and engineers, budding poets, state tennis champions, environmentalists and more.

“And they have big hearts and that is incredible,” he added.

He turned to the students.

“As you meet challenges, remember you’re are a Cutthroat--a rare beautiful resilient fish that’s native to this place and this school.”


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