May 15, 2009

Behind the Numbers

“Education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.”
—John Dewey

I went to a local high school graduation ceremony last night, and it reminded me of my own high school experiences and graduation.

Halfway through my eighth grade year, my parents moved across town. I didn’t see our new house until moving day (I guess that was my way of rebelling). Daily, they drove me to school at Jarrett Junior High, so I could finish the school year with friends I had known since second grade. I was delaying the inevitable as long as possible—acknowledging the reality of attending a “new” school.

When it came time for freshman orientation, I was scared to death. My mom went with me and I was grateful for her presence. Most of the familiar faces I saw were familiar only because they were on the “other” teams of sports I had played. Besides being a little on the small side (I barely weighed 100 pounds), I was the only bald 15 year-old, and more than a little anxious at how others would receive me. Then I saw Randy. I had known Randy through other extracurricular activities, and he invited me to be his locker partner, helping ease the transition into the new school. This started things off on the right foot. The remainder of my freshman year was a veritable cornucopia of new experiences.

Learning and exploring new ideas.
Meeting friends—new and old.
Going to dances, games, and other social events.
Playing all the sports I love.

My sophomore year was equally exciting and fun. I could honestly say that I enjoyed school. But after my sophomore year, my competitive side took over. I realized that I was in a position to be the valedictorian of my class. I was in position to be #1. Heather was in the same position I was.

Heather was a bright-full-of-questions teenage girl who had more than a slightly competitive spirit. I met her on the first day of school my freshman year, as we had four classes together—English, History, Geometry, and Biology. I thought that was odd, as my counselor advised against me taking so many advanced classes. But there were numerous students taking multiple honors classes, enjoying the struggle of balancing academics and maintaining a social life as well.

Starting my junior year, every class became less and less about learning and more about getting an “A” so that my GPA would be higher. What did I “need to know” to get an A on the tests? What would happen if I got a B? The educational aspect was replaced by a great desire simply to be numero uno. School was reduced to a mathematical competition of test scores and GPA’s. I celebrated personal successes and secretly hoped for her not to do as well as me.

In the end, I lost, and in more ways than one. Having completely burned out on school and developed a full-blown case of senioritis, I finally got a “B” in Calculus my senior year (the world did not come to an end, much to my surprise). Heather went on to graduate as valedictorian, delivering a beautiful speech at graduation. And I missed the chance to be real friends with one of the brightest minds at my school.

There is so much more to school than the numbers, yet the numbers are all we hear about in the media. The “so much more” is the names, the real people that cannot be replaced by quantification of any kind.

Randy and Heather are just two of the incredible people I got to meet at school. But there were so many more that I just barely got to know. What could have been four incredible years of making friends, I turned into a silly competition, jockeying for what I perceived to be necessary for future “success.”

Yesterday, I had lunch with Brad. Brad and I also went to high school together. We played on the same baseball team; when I pitched, Brad caught. So we visited about our girls and the Royals and faith and life. We laughed and shared a good time together. I am grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with friends like Brad, reminiscing about the past and sharing life together in the present.

As I listened to the speeches and awards last night, I said a prayer for those students. I prayed that they might know the greatest part of high school has nothing to do with the numbers and everything to do with the people who walked the halls of education with them every day.

Behind the number is a face, a story, a unique-one-of-a-kind creation—a person to be loved.

So to graduates of any grade, school, or college, I extend my congratulations and this hope:

May we not live so much for the numbers of life, but enjoy the people who share our journeys with us.

Congratulations, graduates.

1 comment:

Director, PAW said...

Ethan- I was new,too, Freshman year, and from another state to boot! I appreciated your warmth and openness of spirit in that English class. Also, Randy's, who sat right behind me. I would have never pegged you as nervous or being that competitive, so I have learned something new about you. I think in looking back, we are hard on ourselves. All we can do is try to be resilient adults and pass on a little wisdom, and hope the younger people are ready to hear it. -Rebecca S