Monday, June 3, 2013

There's No Award for That

This morning was Bethany's 6th grade award ceremony. I had no idea they did this, until I received a letter in the mail last week inviting me to attend. And then the middle school awards of my youth came flooding back to me. From the looks of things, every single 6th grade student received at least one award. I'm not entirely sure about that, but if it's true then I commend the school for trying to find something for everyone, especially since it was done during school hours.

The awards were pretty vague and the paper programs that were handed out to us as we filed into the school offered no explanation. What, exactly, is the difference between Gold, Silver, and Bronze Honor Roll, for example? I get good, better, best, but what are the criteria? And what are the specific requirements for getting an award in a specific subject, like math or phys ed? Your guess is as good as mine. I'm sort of a conspiracy theorist (not really) so I propose they keep it vague so that teachers can give awards to whomever they want without needing to justify their choices. And before you tell me to go read the school newsletter or blog, or call the principal and ASK for God's sake, well, I just don't care that much. I'm not really complaining, just observing. It was probably the same when I was a kid.

What I was really thinking, as I watched these kids walk up one by one in alphabetical order to receive their manila envelopes containing their awards, was that I've gotten to know many of them over the past four years since Bethany began going to school with them. And they are each so much more than these generic awards.

There is no award for dedicating your free time to dance lessons and rehearsals, soccer/basketball/softball practice and games, piano lessons, and any other extracurricular not affiliated with school. There is no award for finally landing your flips on the trampoline, learning to pack your own lunch, and being responsible enough to set your own alarm and get ready for school on time without parental intervention.

There is no award for having the courage to try something new, or for producing insanely creative videos on your iPad. There is no award for innovative Lego creations or running a successful lemonade stand, and there is no award for doing chores without being asked or for exceptional party planning skills.

There is also no award for dealing with a parent's sickness or death, or a grandparent's or a friend's, or for being the new kid at school and making new friends. There is no award for standing up for a friend, for being honest when it's really hard, or for patiently brushing your little sister's hair and painting her nails. There is no award for memorizing your locker combination or learning to appreciate classic (read: John Hughes) films.

There is no award for knowing more about computers and electronics than your parents, and being able to figure out the purpose of all seven remotes in the family room. There is no award for being unashamed to hug your mother in front of everyone, or for having the courage to get on a plane and fly 1000 miles from home without your parents.

These kids do amazing things everyday, some noteworthy and some more ordinary, but all of them remarkable in their own ways. The school awards are nice, and I'm proud of Bethany and her friends for their academic achievements. But what I'd really love to witness is something like what my third grade teacher, Miss Rose, did for every student in our class.

Miss Rose made a one-of-a-kind award for each of us, cut out and laminated and paper punched, with a piece of yarn making it into a kind of medal to wear around our necks. She gave each of us a personal award that was a true reflection of our personalities and how she had gotten to know us through the year. The granting of each award was accompanied by an explanation. I was named Miss Congeniality, because, as Miss Rose explained to the class, I had managed to make friends with everyone even though I had moved from out of state and started the school year late.  I felt special and appreciated and known, if that makes sense, like someone had noticed me.

All those kids I watched getting awards today, I have my own awards in mind for you. I have noticed when you have done something great or out of the ordinary or that took special effort. I have seen you surviving and thriving under difficult circumstances and marveled at your talents and perseverance. You are more than a piece of paper that says Citizenship or Social Studies or Cross Country. But unless we're getting an Oscar or a Nobel Peace Prize, you will find in life that we are not typically rewarded with fanfare and attention, a ceremony and a piece of paper. We are usually awarded more subtly, with a word of thanks or a feeling of self-confidence, with a smile or a hug. Sometimes no one notices, and we have to pat our own backs, but that's okay too. Congratulations on those awards you received today, and may there be many more. But remember that oftentimes the best accomplishments and awards have nothing to do with school or work or a piece of paper.

In the words of Aibileen Clark in The Help, " You is kind, you is smart, you is important." Every single one of you.


Anonymous said...

Your heart reveals much. The constraints of education, and those entrusted to give it cannot award the honors you shared. So often, we are not afforded the birds eye view you have so sophisticatedly presented. Children are so much more than a grade on a test, or a time honored citizen of the month honor, or an involved person at a school related event. Children are mini humans, filled with more than a school day can reveal.

I am forever grateful for your keen insight.. As a mom, and educator, your thoughts and insight leave me breathless.

Continue to see and reveal the unseen and little recognized. Inspired.

Liz Parker said...

OMG I love the quote. (and that book/movie)

Great post, Alysia!