Her 9th Grade “Obituary” a springboard for possibilities

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Lessons Learned from a 24-year-old Homework Assignment
by Kelli Warner
KMTR-TV Morning News anchor
Springfield, OR

My parents recently found a box in their attic that contained odds and ends from my junior high school days. Among the papers and notes at the bottom of this box was an assignment I completed in 9th grade. It’s an assignment that was all fun and games back then. It now makes more sense to me.

My Language Arts teacher asked each student to write his or her own obituary. Sounds a little morbid, I know. As an adult, that’s the first thing that came to mind as I pulled it from the box. Encouraging a 14-year old to envision the end of her life? But as I read through the pages 24 years later, I could tell without a shadow of a doubt that I’d had a blast with this assignment. I found myself smiling as I read through the chronological break-down of my then fictitious life.

Let me share a few passages with you:

The young starlet, destined for fame and fortune, ventured into numerous love affairs with such celebrities at Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze before entering into matrimony with Thomas Cruise. (my teacher wrote: “In your dreams!”)

Fresh from the University of Oregon campus, Mrs. Cruise soared to the top of the corporate ladder on her young wings of talent; only to grasp the golden ring and become the new owner of the New York Press. Building a name for herself in the world of journalism at such a young age, Mrs. Cruise expanded her talent for dance onto the Broadway stage in “A Chorusline” and quickly landed a guest spot on the Oprah Winfrey Show in September of 1999.

Taking time out from her progressing career, Mrs. Cruise gave birth to her twin daughters, Muffy Sue and Buffy Lou, in the spring of 2001. She continued her rest by allowing an interview with Robin Leach on “The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and a guest appearance on “Hollywood Squares”.

Mrs. Cruise always believed that family was very important in the structure of human life. Therefore, she extended her time and energy toward her husband and children and became president of the P.T.A.

Although family life occupied most of her free time, it didn’t prevent her career from blossoming. Her first novel, How to be Rich, Famous and Look Good in a Bathing Suit While Watching Wheel of Fortune”, hit the stands as a #1 best seller.

In February of 2004, Mrs. Cruise’s second novel, “The Vanna White Smile: How Far Will It Go?” shocked America and rocketed to #1 in two short weeks. The publicity led to big bucks on the silver screen and a $12 million commercial contract for Pork & Beans.

The obituary goes on to recap my imaginary achievements in publishing and beyond and finally ends on this note:

In November of 2052, while attending a MMAS rally (Mad Mothers Against Smokers), Mrs. Cruise decided to demonstrate the health hazards of smoking on national television. With crowds anticipating the results of the dramatic demonstration, Mrs. Cruise lit up a cigarette and was simultaneously hit by a truck. She was 80 years old.

I completely understand the point of the assignment from my teacher’s perspective. It was an opportunity for creative writing, while focusing on correct spelling and punctuation. And I’ll proudly say, I received an excellent grade. I scored 99% out of 100%. The teacher even made a note at the bottom of the page, saying that she graded it during class and had a hard time not laughing.

Here’s what I realize about that assignment which completely escaped me as a teenager. As adults, we tend to focus on an obituary as the loss of a life, as an interruption to the experiences not yet lived, the moments no longer attainable and the relationships cut short. But when I was 14-years-old and writing that paper, it wasn’t at all about the end of life, rather it was clearly about the possibilities; the goals to achieve, the moments to cherish and the opportunities to seize. Isn’t it interesting that we tend to lose that perspective as we get older?

I think in many ways we can learn these lessons from our kids. I realize that, in most cases, children don’t have to deal with a lot of the hard parts of life that adults do, but I think in many ways, they see things clearly: in relationships, in their observations and even in homework assignments. It isn’t about what we have to lose. It’s about what we have to gain and experience.

Now, I do want to say, if I had to write that assignment over again, Tom Cruise would not make the cut. (Insert Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman or Tim McGraw) But I give myself an A+ for completing a homework assignment that has me smiling two and half decades later.