Published in the opinion page of the Holland Sentinel, the newspaper of Holland, Michigan.
Holland — Life’s not fair, but watching Holland High’s commencement Monday, I thought for a moment that life had made an exception.
Lines of graduates of varying accomplishment strode in wearing identical red or white gowns. All wore the same square hats, so all looked equally silly. And on those hats ...
There life had me. Some graduates displayed multiple tassels; most had one. Some draped cords around their necks; most had none. A handful of names arose repeatedly, but most only heard their names while receiving their diploma covers.
And so it struck me that if my own two recent graduations were at all representative, the graduates who’d grown most were being recognized least.
Last year I graduated from Holland High. I gave a speech and wore enough honorary cords to hang myself. I looked back on my years as a star and thanked people for congratulating my having kept it up.
Two weeks ago, I graduated from City Year, a full-time national service program. Better people won the attention. I wrote dozens of thank-you notes, barely enough to acknowledge the breadth and depth of support I’d survived on through my service in a struggling Chicago middle school.
I’d waltzed out of school unprepared to ballet and box my way towards education reform, but had learned to work on a diverse team and build relationships with students different than myself. No one told me I was very good at this stuff because, well, I wasn’t.
Yet as I advance through life, I believe I’ll take more from City Year than from school. After all, getting ahead from ahead was, if not easy, natural; struggling towards mediocrity, encouraged only by a few close people and necessity, has proven far more challenging — and thus empowering.
Most people who finish ahead started ahead, graduation narratives aside. But if less celebrated graduates can hold their own as they have thus far, they’ll go far as well.
I guess life’s fair enough.
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