My daughter amazes me.
Of course, I’m not the first mother to say that. Even my own mother thought so when she said, “Karen, I always knew you were an exceptional child, but you weren’t nearly as outstanding as Maggie.”
I didn’t take offense. I understood what she meant.
Near the end of Maggie’s senior year, she was invited to join the Cum Laude Society, an honor organization with admittance based on continued academic success. In a class of 90 students, only eighteen were selected.
She was puzzled.
As she studied the invitation for a celebratory dinner with parents, she explained, “It’s not like I worked for this. I just did what you and Dad always said: ‘Try your best.’ What about the kids who try and try and never get high scores? They’ve worked a lot harder than I have. What’s their reward?”
That’s how she thinks, not about herself, but about the larger picture. Things are rarely black or white for her because she knows gray holds considerable meaning.
Many parents believe grades are the gods of success, with inclusion into Cum Laude the pinnacle of achievement. They ground their children for low test performance. They reward them financially for high GPAs. They send them to tutors to improve exam scores. In those families, numbers are everything.
Cliff and I never asked about her grades. Years ago he said to me: “If you’re more invested in her homework than she is, no good will come of it.” While it sometimes made me crazy in the short term, I understood the big picture of his intent. A child had to be intrinsically motivated to succeed. Otherwise, it was a shell game.
Interestingly, her principal made a statement about each student’s inclusion in Cum Laude. Hers began with: “Maggie is smart, perceptive, and responsible.” He commented on her concern for social justice, her impact on her community, her empathy for people of various backgrounds and circumstances. He noted her ability to speak her mind while being respectful and her willingness to ask questions no one else was willing to ask. He called her “bright and determined, conscientious and creative.”
That had nothing to do with numbers.
At the school’s final awards assembly, she received the Dramatics Trophy. Years ago I was a high school theater director who made the same annual decision. A senior always stood out for onstage or backstage contributions, so I cried silently during the program when her director announced:
“There are few individuals who continuously give over 100% every moment they exist on and off stage. Whether during rehearsal or performance, you are the consummate professional, giving selflessly and tirelessly to every cast and crew, no matter the role. You embrace every production with bravado and an astute attention to detail and true love of the theatrical arts, whether acting, stage managing, or directing. Your abilities and dedication have grown beyond all expectations.”
I never had a student like Maggie who excelled at all three.
Awards are great, but I’ll tell you what makes me the proudest. Maggie stage managed the spring musical and finally realized how to avoid the behind-the-scenes problems of a limited facility. She purchased neon glow sticks and taped them to the hazardous intersections. She designated the blue ones as crew necklaces so they were easily spotted as the “helpers” for whatever emergencies arose.
Over the years, I’ve repeated several of Maya Angelou’s quotations to her, hoping she would learn that significance in the world depended on her understanding of herself and others. “People will never forget how you made them feel,” Angelou wisely wrote. I know people will forget Maggie’s starred name in the graduation program to denote her Cum Laude status, but many will remember her glow sticks, not only because they ended the crashes, but because they spotlighted their backstage camaraderie. She had the sense to honor it by making them feel exceptional. Who wouldn’t want to work alongside her?
There in the darkness, her brilliance beamed in neon blue. And it had nothing to do with numbers.
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