Monday, June 20, 2011
At the end of a busy day, we made our way through the crowded hallways and found seats in the high school auditorium. We’d received a letter in the mail, informing us that our son was to receive an award of some kind and we were invited to attend the senior awards ceremony. We had no idea which award it might be, but as we waited for the festivities to begin we made a game of narrowing down the choices.
To begin with, we crossed out all the drama/theater awards. Our boy was not involved in any variety of the performing arts, beyond attending occasional movies with his friends on a Friday night. Then we moved onto music awards. No to the drum and fife award. No to the jazz band award. No to the orchestra honors. Our boy loved playing the trumpet in fifth grade, but had not pursued it on the high school level.
Now we were down to academics and sports. We both knew which category we should be alert for. Our son studies hard, and he’s very diligent about disappearing up to his room every school night, to plug away at assignments and projects. He has good grades. But we all know that good grades don’t win awards. Wonderful, perfect, top of the line grades do. So we were down to the one category. Sports.
My son has always loved to run. As a six year old, he and his father used to take a one mile run together every morning. He looked forward to it every day. He was born into a track and field heritage. A handful of his uncles set records in high school, and one even attended UVM on a track scholarship. It didn’t surprise me that one of my boys took to running not long after he’d learned to walk.
He was thrilled to have the chance to join the high school track team, the first year we lived in New York. He was just an eighth grader, but the older guys and coaches accepted him with open arms and boosted his confidence with endless encouragement. Five years later, he’s the one who takes the little kids, full of spirit but not so much muscle, under his wing, and encourages them to do their best, in every race. It did not surprise us that the award he received had nothing to do with theater, or music, or proficiency in a specific subject, but rather was a testament to his first love - running.
He walked away from that night with a plaque honoring him for having the most varsity letters. Five seasons of track, three seasons a year, slowly adds up.
But as I sat through the ceremony, clapping for many other deserving award recipients, I had conflicting thoughts and emotions. A lot of the awards were handed out for truly amazing accomplishments. As the lists were read, outlining the reasons a specific student received a specific award, it almost didn’t seem real. Was it even possible that one student could be in so many clubs, volunteer at so many charities, participate in so many school activities, and still get perfect grades? I had to fight the twinge of inadequacy that snuck in. And to be honest, the feeling of a shortfall had nothing to do with my son.
I was taken back to my own high school years. I attended a very large high school in Missouri and served as a student council officer for several years. But I was far from the star students who got the top awards. I plugged away and got good (not great) grades. I spent my after school hours working at a retail store, to save money for college. There was no time for volunteering, or clubs, or theater productions. But I’m okay with that.
I found myself, and my purpose, in those after high school years.
I think a lot of people do. I know many people who did marginally in high school and then found really great lives in their adulthood. I have the greatest respect for those kids who walked across the stage last week to receive their much deserved honors. But I couldn’t help but think there should be other types of awards too.
Awards for kids who helped their families through a life crisis.
Awards for kids who worked several jobs so they could eventually attend some kind of college.
And kids who have been solid, trustworthy members of their families - taking out the trash, mowing the lawn, and doing what’s expected of them (most of the time) without complaining.
Here’s the one my son would have been a shoe in for:
“The All Around Good Kid Award:
This award will be given to a student who has proven himself in character and trustworthiness. He has been an upstanding brother to his younger siblings and an important part of a strong family unit. He has adapted exceedingly well to three cross country moves. He has been compassionate to a brother in need, giving much needed hugs in the form of living room wrestling matches. He’s graciously handed down countless cool clothes and toys, including millions of Lego pieces and remote control vehicles. He can always be counted on to be polite to adult friends and relatives and his smile and companionship keep his mother inspired. His tender heart (which he doesn’t like to talk about) and sturdy nature (including many survivalist skills)will take him far in life.”
I know that no such award exists. At least in the real world. But I also know that my son will leave high school as a solid citizen of the world. He’ll make a difference to the people around him and find his own path to a good life. That means more to me than any award he could ever receive.