Truly Praiseworthy

An acquaintance of mine recently shared his experience in being invited to judge a Student of the Year competition at a public school in his area. His role was to interview the candidates and cast a vote for the award. In his description of his experience, he explained that he would pose similar questions to each of the candidates at the outset of the interview. 
“Why should you be considered for this award?” he would ask.  
Ten out of twelve gave a variation of the same answer: “Because I’m smart.”
“What does it mean to be smart?” he would reply. 
Most of the responses were again similar, but I’ll copy the exact words of one candidate: “It means to get the right answers and get good grades.” 
I’ll refrain from commenting and instead simply contrast this with something I witnessed recently in the studio.
One of our younger Wonder studio learners recently signed up to lead Closing Circle. This is a role that requires some real courage for our younger ones, as it involves making announcements about upcoming events to the entire studio and then calling on others (many of whom are a few years older) and maintaining order during Character Callouts. As one who doesn’t naturally seek the center of attention, this was a big step for this particular learner. 
Prior to her time in the hot seat, she approached Mrs. Collar and quietly said, “Mrs. Collar…I signed up to lead Closing Circle because my Vision Word for this year is Courage, and I thought this would be a good way for me to grow in my courage.” 
When I heard this, I was arrested by the beauty of her words. This young hero was operating with a level of intentionality and self-awareness that is rare among even the most successful and introspective adults, purposely choosing to walk head on into a challenge that is outside her comfort zone simply because she knew that it would move her closer to the person she wants to become.
One of the refrains that I hear from veteran Acton founders is that it isn’t the Acton system, but the young heroes themselves who are responsible for the incredible things that happen here. At first I didn’t fully understand what they meant, but as I encounter young people like this — those who intentionally make choices to grow in difficult and scary ways — I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom of their words. 
And in a world where we’re led to believe that the Student of the Year is the one who makes the fewest mistakes, the quiet, humble voice of this learner pierces through the noise to show us what is truly praiseworthy.

[Portions of blogs may be adapted from communications with or the blog of 

our partner school founders and advisors, Laura and Jeff Sandefer.]

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