Lessons from a fifth Grader

I went to my daughter, Sophia’s, fifth grade promotion today. She, along with about 120 other kids, were recognized for six years worth of learning. When I learned of the ceremony I was unenthusiastic and moaned about how coddled and pampered the youth of today is treated. Don’t get me wrong, I am a proud loving father who has high expectations for my two children. But, kids are raised differently today compared to me and others of the “latch key” generation. Out of necessity my childhood school mates were independent and self reliant. We took ourselves to and from school, sports practices and each other’s homes. So now my first reaction to most children’s activities is tainted with this Generation X viewpoint.

For example, I am pretty sure I didn’t experience any graduation “promotion” ceremonies until I graduated from West Albany High School in 1985. I remember going to Grandma Antrim’s house and the whole family joining us for a BBQ. I was embarrassed by the words of congratulations and gifts for finishing high school. As you know, I have a knack for saying what is on my mind at the most inappropriate times. So amongst my family and friends who had gathered in my honor, I remarked, “I don’t get what all this fuss is about. Isn’t finishing high school the minimum expectation? I know I expected to graduate.”  And, with my ill timed and placed words the celebration took on a somber tone. Ironically, when I earned my bachelor’s degree four years later from Oregon State University, only my immediate family celebrated with me. For me this was an accomplishment worthy of a family BBQ; I was the first member in our family history to get a college degree – my younger brother was the second. I am sure my lack of enthusiasm four years earlier didn’t put me high on anyone’s celebration list.

Okay enough of me whining about how much better kids have it today and on to me telling you how silly I felt being reminded of what’s important in life by a fifth grader. I am a giant softy whenever I hear heartfelt positive words spoken to a group by anyone, let alone a slightly pudgy sort of nerdy looking soon to be middle school boy name Isaiah.

Representing his class with Mrs. Schmidgall at Middleton Elementary, he spoke with the confidence and conviction of a tenured college professor from an Ivy League school. He paralleled the commonalities between his experience playing on his Knight’s football team and his time at Middleton. He undauntedly spoke of his dream to play in the NFL and with the same breath clearly articulated how he learned school always comes first. He described vividly how he’ll study diligently in school so that he may attend any college of his choice. For Isaiah, nothing short of attaining a degree from a major university will suffice.

He went on to describe how each player on his team had a specific role and how at Middleton he discovered to honor and encourage the uniqueness of each of his classmates. The motto he has begun to live by is “Everyone is special, and all have talents to share!” However, he clearly explained it is up to each individual to never give up, to always do their very best, and to always encourage others.

As if this 12-year-old hadn’t shared enough wisdom with all the parents, faculty and classmates, he ended with a cry for everyone to learn to be themselves or what I often describe as “being comfortable in your own skin.” He explained how knowing who you are makes everything much simpler in life. He spoke of how in the future he knows “he’ll have the opportunity to drink and take drugs.” He stated publically his mission of becoming an example and voice for those whom choose to say “no to such opportunities.”

As I watched Isaiah proudly depart the stage to the applause of all those gathered, I slipped back to my cynical middle-aged Gen-X mentality and thought to myself “Yeah, it all sounds so easy to you now Mr. Fifth Grade Isaiah, but let’s see what happens when you are faced with the harsh realities and many curveballs your life has in store for you.” At the very moment my dark thought had passed, Isaiah passed one row before me as he was returning to his seat. As he slipped past his classmates and with no one watching he slapped hands and smiled genuinely with a much larger fellow classmate who clearly has a learning challenge. His simple gesture gave me pause. I am confident Mr. Isaiah knows who he is and will accomplish great things in his life. As Principal Smith stated when the applause were over, “there is a young man that knows who he is and where he is going!”

How comfortable are you in your own skin? What are you doing to honor diversity? What are your big dreams? Do you work hard each day even when no one is watching? Who have you encouraged lately?

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