I’ve worked as a school counselor and character coach at Westwood-Bales in Friendswood for a dozen years now. Enough years so that my first class of first graders is graduating from high school this month, and that’s prompted a lot of reflective thinking. I know this class of seniors pretty well, not only because they were my first elementary school students, but also because my son is graduating with them.
“So I’m pensive about some serious stuff: What seeds did I plant so that they’ll graduate 12 years later with honors, and not just academic honors, but honorable character as well? How did I treat them during their formative years? How did I react in times of stress? What did I say that they’ll always remember? What did I do that they’ll never forget? What could I have done better? Was I positively influential in their journey through the public school system? What will they do for good in the next chapter of their lives? The list of questions that I’ve been pondering could go on and on.”
And while I may not ever know the answers to some of them, what I do know is that I am filled with admiration for the graduates in the class of 2013 – for the diligence and perseverance that it takes to stay the course and earn a high school diploma. I am proud of the fine men and women they’re becoming, and our future looks bright with them in the lead.
Today’s youth are growing up in some very difficult and often turbulent times. Stressors abound at every turn. Curve balls head their way at warp speed that they never see coming. And yet, they battle through adversity to find that there’s always something valuable on the other side.
I’ve seen a whole lot of resilience in these 21st-century citizens. Young men and women whose lives go on even when Mom or Dad (or both!) are incarcerated, literally or figuratively. Boys and girls who are tired and hungry, but still come to school ready to learn. Students who are suffering through losses so grave that they think they’ll never make it through, but still manage to hurdle those insurmountable odds to find their character and strength. Just what IS their super power?
First and foremost, it has to be their character. The students who survive and thrive are those who are in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing. They are heroes of integrity because they’ll make good, solid choices even when it’s not the popular thing to do. They are heroes of compassion because they’re putting others’ needs before their own. They are heroes of respect because they are always courteous and they follow the Golden Rule. These young people are going to make a positive difference on our future and make an impact wherever they go.
Parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, counselors and people everywhere — look around your homes, your schools and your community and find those young people who serve with a smile, who enrich your life, who you’re delighted to know, and thank them for using their “Pillar power” to make our world a better place. Congratulations, class of 2013! I wish you the highest, the deepest and the best of what the world has to offer. Wherever you go, go with your whole heart and let your virtues be your guide.
Check out more of Barbara Gruener’s work at her blog, Corner on Character.