By Bob Houghtaling
At a time when everyone is up in arms over whether or not there will be an Honors Night, some kids around the state (including a few in East Greenwich) are about to be denied a diploma due to their performance on a standardized test. There has not been so much vitriol in this town since the School Committee abolished the Gifted and Talented Program (or perhaps since the custodians had to have their pay and benefits cut back so that local students would not lose out – somehow).
The Honors Night issue has reached national proportions. Forget the Russia-China gas agreement. Forget the mess with the VA, Benghazi, gun violence and contaminated hamburger – our kids better get their awards. It has gotten so crazy that many folks are calling for firings and resignations. If this keeps up we might have to call for a special prosecutor.
Sure, I believe that we should be proud of the achievements of our kids. Sure, we should promote doing well in endeavors like sports, music, academics, etc. However, I also feel that other accomplishments and pursuits must be extolled along with those previously mentioned. Not everyone is an A student. Not everyone will make a team or be a member of the All State Band. While these are great – greatness comes in other packages as well.
What about the kid who makes it through 12 years of academic rigor despite having a significant disability? What of the student who recently lost a parent, had to get a job (over 30 hours per week) and still earns a high school diploma? Where are the awards ceremonies for them? I am often amazed at the varied talents a number of local students put on display. Most of those young people will enter prestigious schools and eventually be very successful in a chosen field. They used their talents, and also took advantage of opportunities to do some wonderful things. Their awards are earned and deserved. Their rewards are many. Some kids who might work just as hard will be asked to be happy with intrinsic rewards. In the end, isn’t that really what this should be about? Is it about the awards or is it about the value (time, effort, struggle, family support) behind the plaque or certificate?
Getting an A and learning something are two different things. The first represents hard work, perhaps talent and also an affinity for what is being taught. The latter cannot always be measured. While we often seek to standardize knowledge, there is an intrinsic value that presents itself over the years. Knowledge has become inculcated into an individual’s way of doing things. Much the same can be said for music, sports and various art forms. Most who pursue such endeavors do so without expecting awards. The Ancient Greeks had a word for all of this, arete. Maybe this is a concept that needs a bit more attention.
Parents should be proud of their children’s accomplishments. Putting a little “relish” on top by having others become aware of a son or daughter’s efforts is also normal. But, is it so important that folks should be fired for not having a ceremony? Is it so important that national media sites pick up on the news? Recognizing excellence is one thing. What constitutes excellence is another.
Some might call events like Honors Night a bar to look up to. Others might see a barrier that hinders some from recognition. Both views are often limited by the beholder. In truth, events like Honors Night are notions that represent what communities value. After all is said and done, do we really believe that the accoutrements of success equal success itself? Hold the night, but remember its place.
It is not awards, grades and platitudes that we love most about young people. It is more about who they are, as well as the relationships we establish with them. It is the stuff that goes beyond the tangible. In many ways, the true honor is in having served or worked hard. The true honor is teaching kids that there is value in duty, sacrifice and respect. Such honor can impact a lifetime. It is a shame that such a notion rarely gets the local or national attention it deserves.
All of our children deserve to be supported, encouraged and recognized for their uniqueness. Honors Night is one such way of doing so. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all catch every kid doing something worthy of attention from time to time? It is there if you look.
At the end of the day recognizing achievements is wonderful. Ceremonies reflect the idea that there is something special in doing your best. But let us also remember what doing your best really should entail. The awards are great, the doing is even greater. Cervantes once wrote, “The journey is better than the Inn.” Let us celebrate the many journeys as well.