I saw you over there from my seat in the back row.
We stuck it out, you and I—two tedious hours of an elementary school awards ceremony to acknowledge all the hard work and effort throughout the year.
Two hours of a seemingly endless list of names called out, a few over and over and over again.
I saw you clapping for each and every one of those children, even when the same name was called out for the 17th time. I saw you offering congratulatory smiles to the parents tripping over themselves to get the best spot for photos in the middle of the aisle.
I noticed your smile grew a bit tight as the long minutes passed. I’m sure mine looked exactly the same as we waited, you and I. The number of commended kids grew and grew while we waited and waited for our kids’ names to be called.
We knew going in that our kids probably weren’t the top grade earners in their classes. We knew they weren’t the captains of any sports teams. But surely there would be something—some reason their names would be called and for us to feel pride in their accomplishments this school year. Something.
I saw you look over to where your child was cheering on classmates with empty hands. I saw you quickly wipe away that tear. My heart hurt with you.
We’re stuck in this gray area, you and I. There’s a tug of war between the two sides. One says, “Give every child a prize.” The other says, “The world is a tough place that makes us earn these things and so should they.”
We’re torn. We understand both sides. We’re the ones in the middle.
The children who won all those awards should absolutely be acknowledged and celebrated. They worked hard. Their parents should be so proud.
But we should be proud too. While our children might have come home empty-handed, feeling embarrassed and excluded, we still have so many reasons to celebrate. Because there are plenty of achievements that don’t garner certificates.
He always showed up, even when it was hard.
She often shared lunch with a friend who had none.
He could be counted on to encourage classmates who were sad.
She worked harder on that project than she has ever before worked on anything else.
He invited the whole class to his party, even that one kid no one likes.
She is that one kid no one likes, and yet she didn’t give up.
We should make sure all our kids know that what they accomplished this year is worthy of celebration. Because the world is tough. It wears on our souls.
And this tough world sure could use a few more people who are compassionate, kind, and determined to make it a better place.