Last Friday, I attended one of my favorite events of the year. It was the annual awards ceremony at my son’s School. I’m a huge fan of this school which has a culture of academic excellence, letting students know it’s not just okay to be smart, but that it is wise to apply effort in its pursuit. Those students who exemplified the highest effort and achievement in a particular subject were publically acknowledged with a certificate and handshake from the teacher administering the award. Now, some of you out there are likely feeling sorry for those students who don’t get awards. If you’re one of them, I must ask… where is the realism in this thought? Think of the Olympic Committee. They only award a gold, silver, and bronze medal to the three highest achievers. Contestants who don’t achieve this don’t even go home with a consolation trophy. Without the honor of achievement, how can a child understand the hard work and dedication that makes a fulfilling journey toward success?
Ah… back to the awards ceremony. One might imagine this event to be somewhat boring with its successive name calling, and handshaking, but it full of festivity and excitement. In fact, the students hooted and hollered for their fellow classmates so many times that they were repeatedly reprimanded with a request for silence… and Ms. Finch, your stare even scared me! What a joy for all of us parents in the audience to see such camaraderie between the kids who honored achievement! Oh! But you are probably wondering when in this story am I going to start crying?
Besides awards for academic excellence, the school administers awards for distinction in “citizenship”. In other words, one boy and one girl from each junior high grade are recognized for their outstanding attributes including but not limited to academics. Students actually nominate a fellow classmate and write comments as to why they are nominating that person. I love this idea because it makes kids stop and think about what citizenship means in the first place! This year’s boy eighth grade winner earned classmates comments including “humble, hard worker, never complains, respected, true leader, helps everyone, and just awesome”. Teachers make the final selection based on their opinions and observations of characteristics including “love and thoughtfulness for the needs of others, leadership by high moral character, courage in the face of adversity, and a sense of appreciation and enthusiasm for life, family and friends.” It was at this point that my eyes began to well up. But, it was what happened next that let the tears loose.
When the young man’s name was called to receive his Citizenship Award, the entire group of his eighth grade boy classmates stood up in unison to give him a thunderous standing ovation. I wish you could have been there! They didn’t just stand up with one following the lead of a select few, they actually all sprang up together, out of their seats, as if bees had just stung each of their bottom sides at the same time! This wondrous group of roughly 90 boys, who often get the short end of the stick for being “insufferable teenage boys”, exemplified that they not only knew what citizenship was, but that they valued it!
I was filled with inspiration with the collective mood of positivity and goodness. I was filled with hope for how these young men would outgrow teenage antics and impact their own futures with attributes they accepted as applause worthy, and I was filled with joy as I held dear a process that teaches young adults what is valued and worthy in our worlds.
The moment was so relevant to a strong belief I carry that school is not for academics alone, but a place in which profound emotional and social growth can and should take place.
Perhaps C.S. Lewis said it best:
“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil."
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