And the award goes to …

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 30, 2013

I didn’t realize it was going to take two hours.
It began with the recipients for the “A” and “B” honor rolls. First for the past year and then for the last several years. That was followed by the class officers, library helpers and citizenship award winners.
Safety patrols were introduced next. I always wanted to wear one of those fluorescent yellow vests.
Then there were the perfect attendance awards, first for the past year and then for the whole five years of elementary school. OK, I am impressed with that one.
After that, of course, it was the reading of all the names, the full names, of the graduates of the class of 2013. So went the ceremonies at my oldest granddaughter’s fifth grade graduation and awards day ceremony.
Don’t get me wrong. I had my smartphone poised at all appropriate moments. I strained to get just the right picture, while balancing one foot on the chair and the other, I can only assume, on the shoulder of the man in front of me.
For those brief moments, I was in granddaddy heaven. For those other long stretches of time, it was like being at that ballet recital or strings concert of other people’s cherubs.
And right in the middle, I had an old familiar feeling. I had that same emotion at each of one, two, three…five graduation ceremonies of my own particular academic career. I’d like to say it was honor, pride, a sense of accomplishment. I’d like to say that but my thoughts were not that noble.
It’s that feeling that comes over you when you see that same little kid go up on the stage for, let’s count, one, two, three…sometimes six or seven different awards. It’s like that Sylvan Learning Center commercial where much to the pride of her parents, and the annoyance of all the others, the principal finally just asks the young scholar to stand beside the podium with an open suitcase.
I know, I was just jealous. All I could hear was my mom and dad saying, “If you would just apply yourself, it could be you walking up on that stage.”
Not to say my grade school achievements went unnoticed. I was selected in the fifth grade to be the “eraser beater.” Back before white boards and smart boards we used, it was chalkboards with fiber erasers that became caked with dust.
My assignment was to take the erasers out and beat them on rocks and trees to clean them. My honor was short lived when Mrs. Little discovered I was writing ‘bad words” outside on the cafeteria wall. I claimed the act was an expression of my First Amendment rights. Hey,if they were going to teach it, I was going to use it.
In my high school career, I did win the senior class drama award. While I dabbled in the theatre of the absurd, performing the works of Albee and Beckett, my notoriety came from playing the part of a dimwitted rube named Mookie McCuggins in a barnyard comedy.
The lines that clinched my nomination were a particular poignant dialogue between Mookie and the ohh la-la French maid.
Maid: “O Mookie; you are zo cute. J’tadore”
Mookie: “Shet tha door. I done closed it onest.”
So much for high theatre.

I always liked those more prophetic superlatives- those “Most Likely to…awards. I know you always have the “Most Likely to Succeed,” “The Most Likely to be a Millionaire” and the “Most Likely to be President…if They Really Want the Job.”
My cohorts and I had our own version. While there was “Most Likely to Tour as a Dancer with Michael Jackson,” “Most Likely to be a Set Designer on Broadway” and “Most Likely to Write and Publish Several Books on New Age Philosophy,” the others were “Most Likely to go AWOL from the Coast Guard to Attend a Friend’s Wedding,” “Most Likely to Marry the Girl Who Plays the Wicked Witch of the West at the Land of Oz” and “Most Likely to Be a Trappist Monk.”
All the above came true, by the way, except for the last one. I liked words and women too much.
My friends and I did get awards. The literary award to a colleague for writing “Class of ‘72” in seven feet letters on the gym wall and going back later in the night when he remembered that he had not signed it.
The art award went to my friend who drew the mustache and goatee on himself with permanent ink.
I was up for two. The first was the school newspaper award for investigative reporting. It was a hard hitting expose of the Cabarrus County Fair’s “Hootchie Kootchie” show. The second one was the media center’s innovation award for inventing a “student” by hacking in the school’s database to enroll him and almost getting him graduated with a 3.7 GPA.
Make no mistake however. I admire those students who work hard and excel in their academic career. I appreciate those parents who make sacrifices so their children can have the opportunities to be all they can be and earn those awards.
Heck, I was proud when my kids and grandkids walked across that stage to celebrate their accomplishments. But I do wonder how we celebrate the distinctions of all those others that are not recognized in such a ceremony.
Here’s a suggestion to those parents, grandparents and those who with work with those youngest among us.
Watch them carefully. I know we can be fiends about catching our kids being bad, but this time, catch them being good.
Discover their distinctive qualities. It may be the way they lighten up tense situations, it may be the care they give to that elderly neighbor, it may be that compassion they show to small animals. It may be their laughter, their touch or their tears.
Then go out to a dollar store. Buy a medal, make a trophy or print a certificate. They may frame the certificates they will get from their schools and put those awards given by the principal on a shelf. But, if done with sensitivity and sincerity, they will keep the award you give them in their hearts.

Rod Kerr is a minister and continues to be a mission project at First Baptist Church-Salisbury