Does a foodie-type-writer always have to center the writing on food? Today, if necessary, the food anchor is an amazing girlfriend dinner at Bonefish Grill (chain restaurant, but good) in Smokey Point. And today another anchor is college acceptance. The youngest man-child got acceptance from two schools. One is a relief as in, “oh, I will be able to go to college next year” (and this represents a hypochondriac mind, as in, oh, no, I won’t get accepted to any colleges…). The other is from the dream college, all the way on the other side of the country, in Syracuse. But today, I also had the most rich experience from an amazing student. And since it is a student I will call him James.
This week, I’ve head the joy of covering the ASB leadership class for three days because the advisor is away at the 2017 Washington Activities Advisor Association conference in Vancouver. It has been fun, and I know a lot of these kids from being a grade and club advisor, myself. James is the ASB president and he has been running the class beautifully, professionally and energetically. But yesterday was most special.
Charging into class after reading the daily announcements on the school PA, he rallies the students. It’s “Family Day.” Friday. The day of the week when he leads the students in “family-building.” He divides them into groups, then gives each group some photocopied “jigsaw” pieces to put together.The first team to assemble all of theirs correctly and hang them on the board wins. Ready, set, go! The shout. They laugh. They race. And when all the puzzles are assembled on the board–all 8 1/2 x 11 photos of ASB members–he asks them to look at the images. Do we know these people? What do we know about these people? How do we know? Every day students see me around campus and they think, ‘Hey, James knows everyone.’ But I don’t know everyone and I don’t know what they’re going through. I don’t know their stories. That’s our job. And do you ever hear me complain about the work that we have to do? Do you ever hear me say I’m tired? I might have been up until three and getting up again at 5:00 to come here, but I never complain. This isn’t what I meant to do. Sometimes I hear that I’m too hard on us, and that I’m always focusing us on the task. But I’m tired, too. And that’s where he loses it. He starts crying and the room stills. Students who had been distracted stop. And watch. And listen. Then the real “family day” begins. Another student chimes in, We can’t judge others. I might have been up all night with my mom because my parents are getting a divorce, but I still come here. And I say that I’m tired. But it’s not fair to judge me. A push-back on his message. He sits, becomes still and listens, himself. They start talking about wanting to get to know one another themselves, about caring for one another and understanding one-another’s struggles. Saying you’re a family is one thing. Behaving like a family and knowing each other like a family, well, that’s quite another. More students participate. We need family activities outside of school. A movie. A girls’ night. A guys’ night. Not where he ever meant to take that jigsaw activity, but it ends with a hug. Thirty students amassing in the center of the room and embracing one another. Not led by any adults. This is what leadership is about.
James is the most impressive, motiving, passionate, caring, deliberate student I’ve ever watched. He is a model for student leaders because of the way he carries himself and embraces others. Real character is easy to talk about, but it’s entirely different to see it in action on such amazing day with such amazing students. Led by James.