Who am I Talking To?

Matthew Hamilton


Quarter 2 English Benchmark

Who am I Talking To?

      Recently, I went to dinner with my dad and four of his friends. We ate at a funky, ethnic restaurant. Once we had ordered they started to ask me some questions about school and life in general.

 “Everything is good, school is… well, school.” I said slowly and clearly.

 I went on to discuss in more detail some of my experiences with High School. We started to talk about how schools used to be different when they were growing up. Most of them had gone to Catholic school, due to the fact that the public schools in their neighborhoods were really bad, while regular private schools were unaffordable.

 “My family was middle class. Everyone in my family went to Catholic school. Everyone in my neighborhood went to Catholic school. I wasn’t really aware of other types of schools.” One of my dad’s friend’s, Tim, stated.

 “I went to grade school with kids from all over Philadelphia and then when it was time for High School we are scattered again to different schools” I said. “No one goes to their neighborhood schools anymore, Catholic, public or private.”

     We began to talk about similarities and differences in our schools. For the most part they looked at me as though they were genuinely interested in what I had to offer to the conversation.

 “ The nuns really did not care what we learned, they were more interested in how we looked, and sounded ... and smacking us with rulers.” Dad’s friend Roger said.

 I laughed, and said how I could not imagine learning that way. By the end of the night we were all talking together about many different things.  

     I was observing the way in which I was talking with my father’s friends, and how it was so different from the way I talk with my own friends. With my dad’s friends my sentences are shorter and more succinct. When I talk with my friends I tend to not think as much before speaking. I’m more relaxed when talking with my friends, however unlike my experience talking to my dad’s friends, they never look at me like they think I’m smart or incredibly interesting.

     I can’t remember exactly when I started to be more comfortable conversing with adults, not just answering questions that were asked of me, but really conversing.  I believe that it started sometime around 8th grade. Before that, I didn’t actually think that adults cared about what I had to say. I believed they were just being polite when they asked me questions. I would mumble answers, or just look uncomfortable and hope someone would fill in the blanks for me.

     Similar to the story “Hunger of Memory” by Richard Rodriguez, Rodriguez was afraid to speak in class because he wasn’t confident of his abilities and didn’t want to sound foolish. I think I also didn’t feel confident or capable. But at a certain point I started to believe that adults were taking what I had to say seriously. Applying to High Schools was that turning point. I had many great conversations with teachers and the parents of my friends. They helped me look at my interests and listened to what I had to say and supported me in formulating my ideas for the next 4 years of my life. Writing essays and interviewing also helped me to get a voice into who I was, how I could communicate and what I had to offer. I learned a lot during this process, but mostly I learned how to talk to different people and not be afraid that they would think I was an idiot. This was an exciting time for me and one that gave me some confidence. Rodriguez had a lack of language skills and was afraid of looking stupid. He got better by practicing. I think I’ve also gotten better by practicing.

      I enjoy conversations with people my age, but also with older people that challenge my thinking and my opinions. Adults respond differently to my language abilities, and to me. Some expect a certain level of language and vocabulary from me, while others have no expectations and are pleasantly surprised to be able to talk with a fifteen year old.