Wednesday, September 11, 2013


           As a kid, I never won a medal. Not in sports, academics, music, or anything. Not a certificate, even, least not any that I can recall. It's not that I was untalented, unskilled, or a poor student, it's just that I was never good enough to finish first, second, or third in any competition. And not a single trophy adorned our house, either, for my sister and brother hadn't fared any better.
     Times have changed. These days it seems all kids get certificates or medals for anything and everything. Kind of cheapens the honor of receiving one, they're so common. Missing are the wild tears of joy, spontaneous ovations, and upraised arms. I'd like to think people are more humble these days, but truth be told, they're just more blasé over the banality of it all. 
     So when we received notice last year that our oldest child Braden was to be awarded a middle school finalist certificate at an after-school ceremony for an essay he wrote, we took it with quiet aplomb, congratulating him on his achievement—sort of an off-set to our all-too-often grilling of him due to his subpar grades that he fails to follow-up on. (All Cs and below need to be redone and shown to the teacher to make sure he knows what to do next time to get a B or better). From the finalists, medalists would be announced to compete at the district level. At open house earlier last year, his English teacher shared that her past classes' winners had gone on to win several state-level awards.
     I guessed that there would be fifteen or so awardees from his grade but when we arrived at the cafeteria, the finalists' essays and poems displayed numbered over forty for his grade alone and over a hundred for the entire school. As I read Braden's aloud to our four-year-old, I chuckled at times due to some mundane comparisons (ocean surf that reminded him of fizzy cola in a cup) and improbable vocabulary (azure skies). One sentence that I liked, sounded like a teacher's assist: “Tingling all over with excitement, I peered out the window...” Most seventh graders don't start sentences that way, though in the past, he has surprised me with a gem or two.
     A poem of his classmate's was well done, describing the author dropping quiet, cold, and heavy to a lake bottom only to be uplifted by a hand—that of his father. Knowing Braden's essay didn't stand a chance (I handicapped it at 5%), I secretly rooted for this boy's poem.
     Long, boring speeches preceded the awards ceremony, then, in rapid fire, names were called, certificates were awarded, and photos were snapped. Another boring speech preceded the medal awards—eleven total for the entire school. When Braden's name was again called, I was so flabbergasted, I laughed, then, clapped cheerfully. It was a nice, engraved medal with ribbon, draped around his neck Olympic-style. I later learned that the boy's poem I liked hadn't been selected.
     In retrospect, one of Braden's poems from the year before (which earned him only a B+, critical teacher comments, and no certificate) was far superior and should have won in this essay's place—though we're plenty happy he got recognized last year.
     So much in life seems to happen this way: when we deserve it, we get diddly; and when we don't, we get pleasantly surprised. Maybe it balances out in the end. But I suspect luck and sometimes connections (or sympathy?) have a lot to do with it. Perseverance, too, may sometimes help. It's such a subjective thing, it's tough to gauge. Whether Braden's essay deserved it or not is not ours to decide. We're just happy the judges deemed it fit.

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