As a high school students, we often become overwhelmed by the intricacies of daily life and societal demands. Between academics and extracurriculars, it is becoming easier and easier to lose perspective of the bigger picture and become engulfed in trivialities. Instead of spending our time pursuing genuine interests and hobbies, we groom ourselves for college by doing absurd amounts of volunteer work rivaling that of Mother Teresa.
When asked about her childhood, Norra Mickali recalled a simpler time.
“I played outside with my friends and played ball. We played hopscotch. We played double dutch. Yeah, we didn’t have any television, just radio. I thought radio was the best thing ever that we had. And of course I loved the movies. I went to the movies once a week. I enjoyed that a lot. In my spare time, I liked to color. I had a little blackboard in the hallway from where we lived in the apartment. And I liked to go in there and draw and color. I liked to color a lot. Coloring books. And that was my entertainment, yeah. Kids, we’d get together at night sometimes just to talk and sing and play ball.”
Today, hopscotch, blackboards, and coloring books almost seem like relics of the stone age. Any entertainment in the form of physical movement is substituted by texting, twitter, and snapchat. While we still hang out with our friends, it lacks a certain spontaneity that Norra seemed to describe.
In addition to a different technological age, Norra’s childhood occurred in the midst of World War II, an extreme circumstance that few in our generation can understand. However, contrary to my expectations, Norra didn’t describe the war as a period in her life torn with strife as history books often portray it. Although it was an international conflict that cost the lives of both of her brothers, she reminisces without anger and sympathizes for those more unfortunate.
“I was ten years old when it started. And um...I do remember that we used to be concerned about it. I had two brothers that were in the service and being and being Italian, you know. Italy was part of..um...yeah. But it didn’t interfere with us at all because we were very patriotic Americans and my brothers were in the service, both of them. We did lose one. He was in the air force. He was killed in England during his third mission. I remember as a child, we had to ration. Compared to other countries, we were lucky. We had rationed food. We had stamps. You could only get so much food, so much coffee, so much this and so much that. So my mother had like a coupon book that she had to use every time she went to the market. But I guess we can’t really complain. We had rationed food, big deal [sarcastically].”
Norra provides a sobering perspective on life. Despite the heavy burdens of the war, she maintains a tolerant and positive mindset. The struggles she and her generation faced should remind our generation to value the things we take for granted such as safety and health. If we focus on our general well being instead of material success, perhaps we can eases the burdens caused by the insignificant minutia of life.
Norra also describes her Italian heritage in relationship to World War II.
“But it didn’t interfere with us at all because we were very patriotic Americans and my brothers were in the service, both of them.”
I believed that the lessons we have learned from the racial tensions some 60 years past are especially important today. Norra describes how she was fortunate to be judged by her values and patriotism and not by her blood. Others such as Japanese Americans were subjected to racial atrocities, but the moral lessons we have learned after triumphing these adversities should be actively applied in the present so as to avoid similar atrocities in the future. We must remember that an American is defined more than where one is born; it is a dedication to a set of values independent of religion, race, and gender.
Norra also provides advice for college bound students.
“Well, my brother was going to college and he was going to UCLA and I was in high school and I picked a commercial course because I didn’t want to go to college. I found out through the years that I really was smarter than I gave myself credit for [laugh]. So me, if I went back, the advice is “be sure you know where you are. If you feel that you have capabilities to go to college, go for it”. I was laid back, it was a different generation, don’t forget. And I was content to just stay with the commercial course, go into work as a secretary, stuff like that. The idea was you get married, you have children, you settle down. It was different thinking then than it is now. So my advice would be of course with you generation, now that it’s different, is “know what you want to do”. You’re still young and you haven’t gone to college obviously. Know what you want to take. And of course if you don’t know then I suggest just junior college first. To get the feel of it. Because I think a lot of kids go straight to college after high school and then it’s not necessarily gonna work out for them because I think we’re stressing college a little bit...I think it’s just the opposite. Too much now. Well there’s skills, there’s skills, there’s skills to be learned. You need skillful people, not just academics. You need both...Because when you ask me for my advice, my advice is to be sure but sometimes you can’t be sure. Sometimes you’re too young and you don’t know. I didn’t know for sure. I just thought “well, I’ll just take a commercial course. I’m not gonna take academic.” So if I had to go back, now that I know that, I’ll know that I was smarter than I gave myself credit for. I would have been alright going to college. But I don’t regret it. It’s done, it’s done. So that’s the only thing I can advise. Know what you’re capable of. If you don’t want to go to college, go to junior college to get your field. But if you know then...like I have two grandsons for example. One knew college wasn’t for him and now he’s back home and he doesn’t know what he wants to do. The other one pursued. He graduated cum laude, he’s got an excellent job. So everybody’s different. Everyone’s different so the one that’s home and doesn’t know what he’s gonna do, his parents are thinking that he has to go to junior college first. That’s the best I can give you.”
Learn about who you are. Pursue your own interests. Know your limitations, and don’t conform to societal norms. Each person requires a different approach to life; each person has a different set of skills that can benefit society. Everybody is different and we need to be aware of these differences in order to reach our potential. This, I believe, is the core of Norra Mickali’s message.