Until Mack was a junior in high school, I must admit that I saw her mostly as a happy-go-lucky kid, an athlete, and a comic. I knew she was smart, and I recognized her many and varied talents, but I did not know there was a budding writer and intellectual inside of her. She never seemed to be terribly interested in academics (although she always earned As and Bs without effort), she was not the voracious reader that her sister had been, and she rarely did homework or talked about school. She was so masterful at living a balanced life of school, three varsity sports, and a busy social life that it did not bother me that academics did not appear to be a focus or a strength. Mack was so calm and well-adjusted and led such an active life that I did not think it mattered that she was not a deep thinker. But I could not have been more wrong about her. Looking back on it, I regret that I missed signs of her impressive intellect. She was, indeed, a deep thinker; I had just been too distracted by her athletic prowess to notice. However, when she started writing for the Springfield High School newspaper, I began to see that among her physical and personal talents was a talent for writing as well; and the more she wrote, the more her writing revealed that intellectual side of her that I had missed.
As she penned more and more columns for the newspaper and began sharing her ideas about music, TV, American culture, feminism, and social justice, it became clear to me that her wisdom and beliefs had been a long time in the making. My misjudgment of her in this regard is all on me, and I am sorry about that; because I should have seen this side of Mack long before her junior year. She never talked a lot, that is certain, but when she did say something, it was always entertaining, interesting, and observant beyond her years. Looking back on it, whenever Mack opened her mouth, I always stopped what I was doing and listened closely; and remembering now so many times when she added a sharp critique to a discussion, asked a probing question, or made an astute observation, I was always impressed by her skepticism and the clarity of her comments. All those times when I thought Mack wasn’t listening as people around her were blathering on about politics or social issues, she was actually quietly and respectfully taking it all in and, in the process of listening, was developing her own, unique perspective on the world around her.
By the time Mack began writing college entrance essays, I saw in the writing her intellectual curiosity and brave and articulate ideas, especially her strong sense of social justice and equality. I was extremely proud of her ability to put her ideas to paper, and I appreciated her grown-up, nuanced perspective of the world. As an NPR junkie, I was thrilled when she decided to adapt one of her college essays for the “This I Believe” essay contest at our local public radio station, WUIS. I was beyond thrilled when the judges selected her essay, giving her a chance to share not only her beliefs about her own femininity, but to put her own quiet voice behind those beliefs.
Mack’s essay is a poignant reflection of her life as an athlete and as a girl, illuminating both her wisdom and her heart. But more importantly, it beautifully illustrates that at the tender age of seventeen, Mack loved and accepted herself for who she was and embraced the seeming contradictions of what she loved. In her quiet, humble voice, she was clearly comfortable and happy in her own skin. And what an amazing accomplishment that is for any person, let alone one who had yet to graduate from high school.
Mack’s essay is a sweet and revealing testament to who she was as a kid, a girl, and a young woman; and it speaks volumes about her wisdom, her grace, and her spirit. She truly was a remarkable human being…this I believe.