Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Okay people, here I am, working diligently to set the initial foundations for the “Open Doors” project…all for the students…the youth…the future leaders, mothers and fathers of our community and in the background I am thinking of my son, Dominic. For those who don’t know him, Dominic is my clone—Mini Me—and he loves his father almost as much as I love him. And today was a special day for him. Why? All weekend long my son relayed the information that was presented in his (Kindergarten) class: Today was the Awards Ceremony and with this moment marks the passing of my son to the ever so tough, First Grade!

Now I understand and appreciate an elementary school graduation ceremony such as this doesn’t mean as much to adults because over time we lose interest, not because we became less humane, but more so because Life has a way of interfering and “getting in the way.” But try to image yourself 6 years-old again, sitting in an auditorium filled with your friends and classmates and family members and people you don’t know. Now picture the stage. Remember how big it was? Can you see it?Remember how exciting and terrifying it was to be called across that mass theatrical juncture, thousands, maybe millions of people watching you walk towards the principal with your best clothes on and hair that never stayed together as well as it had in the morning before you left for school? Remember what that felt like?Remember how good it felt to receive an award you could hardly read, except for possibly your own name in bold letters? Remember what it felt like to present that small token of your accomplishments to your parents? Of course you do. You remember because it was real and it was yours and for one small moment the world watched and sat silent as you walked across a stage.Remember that?Remember that feeling?Remember how good it felt to be included?

Now imagine yourself a 6 year-old child again, sitting amidst those same friends and classmates, curious and inquisitive, wondering what grand scheme the school may have concocted to honor those students who have obtained the essential knowledge to call themselves First Graders. See yourself there? You are sitting with all your friends and one by one each member of your class is called. They are smiling and they are waiving and one of them may trip and fall and the other is nervously biting their lip or fingernails, holding their head down so as not to be seen. You remember that moment. Now picture the ceremony coming to an end and as you realize this, you notice each of your friends has a paper in their hand, some special document written especially for them, possibly argued and debated by some special committee of scholars over the course of many days, writing and determining the right words to present as gifts of academic achievement. Then, as each student is called, one by one they file out of the row, their names shouted through the school intercom and microphone system and between each is a thunderous applause from bystanders and other would be scholars and spectators, for this is truly a grand event. But something happens then, an odd feeling overtakes you and you become somewhat uncomfortable. Out of place. It is then you realize and taste your first sip of bitter water from the well of life and understand that you have been overlooked, your name had not been called and no academic paper shall be passed into your tiny hands. You have ceased to exist as part of the grand scheme of honored scholars and academic achievers and instead you have slowly faded away until your face mingled in with the crowd and you became nothing more than audience.You have been excluded. You have been ignored. You receive no reward; no ten cent photocopy shall be presented to you, letting the world know that someone is proud of you. Nope…you receive nothing. You have to face the look of your friends and the questions you don’t wish to answer. The, “where is your award?” and “why didn’t you get one” question that hurt to much to answer.

Yes my friends, as I work to prepare the foundation for what will become a short-story anthology, designed to honor the future writers, poets and artists of my community, in a small school in North Richland Hills, my son sat in an auditorium today and received nothing….
As a parent it is hard to explain the feeling. The adult side of you wants to rationalize and say, oh well, it’s a stupid ceremony for Kindergarten that in the long run means absolutely nothing. And it’s true…we don’t become a success or failure based on accomplishments at this age nor do we fail to succeed because we may have had difficulty coloring inside the lines. But that is not the point. The point is people, you never exclude a child regardless of rules or agenda or budgets or time limitations. If we are to truly love our children and understand them, then often we have to put ourselves in their shoes and remember what it felt like to be left out. Remember what it felt like to “achieve” and be honored for trying our best before we ever understand as adults that sometimes, our best isn’t good enough. We owe that to them. We owe them the chance to believe.

My wish and hope for you parents, grand parents, uncles and aunts is this: During this time of celebration, when our children pass on from one grade to the next….don’t be so quick to overlook the little things that honor their accomplishments. Because as well as we know and understand one day they will be adults….we can appreciate what it feels like to have our efforts go unnoticed…and be just another child in the crowd watching our friends receive something we did not…

For my son Dominic and his little empty hand……and for his sister Elizabeth and his brother Lazaro who both now pass on to the 6th grade…and to his baby brother Damian who is yet to understand the simple degrading acts of those less willing to pay attention to the tiny voices within our lives…This is for you.
Daddy loves you and I am PROUD of each of you!!!

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