Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Warning: Schmoopy Sincerity Ahead. Abort! Abort!

With a post title like that, you must be here for the sappy sentimentality. Well, here you go, as promised.

Today was the final assembly of Elder Daughter's high school career, and it was awards day. Did you know that some high schools actually still give out academic recognition awards? I thought it was something they only did in English all-boy public schools and Monty Python sketches.

But such things still exist at my kids' school, and today was the day. And it was a day of some anxiety, because she is a very smart kid and a very responsible and committed kid, who has struggled with depression and other issues, and still managed to show up every day and be reliable and thoughtful and deeply engaged with learning.

Over the four years of high school, she has been a solid and reliable member of the school orchestra, anchoring the second violin section for four years; one of the few, the proud, the egregiously outnumbered altos in the extra-curricular choir and chamber choir; as the second (or third) level character in the plays. She's rarely been given solos, she hasn't been asked to conduct, she hasn't had showy lead roles, and she's never quite had the opportunity to burst into full color on stage in a way I see her doing at home regularly. She's been solid, reliable, she's always stepped up and performed beautifully, in a supporting role kind of way.
Yesterday, she was anticipating the awards and who would win them, preparing herself to not be recognized with a theater award because other seniors had done slightly more performances, had slightly more hours invested in the program. I saw her struggling to set her own expectations, to rank herself with the other seniors so as to not be disappointed or emotional during this assembly, and my heart broke for her a little bit. Because she is wonderful, but also quiet, unassuming, never self-aggrandizing, and so easy to overlook--as she had been, a little bit.

(I am aware that I am her mother and so of course I think this--everybody's mother feels this way, that their own precious darling specially gifted prodigies are not well served by the education establishment blah blah blah. Sure--that's true. But you try watching your kid preemptively manage disappointment and not get verklempt.)

The drama awards went to all the usual suspects exactly as she had suspected, not to her. Then the orchestra leader stood up and recognized the concert-mistress, and there was an award for a girl who had also accompanied the spring musical. Then there was another award. One that recognized that "You have played in the orchestra since middle school and also played in the chamber orchestra. You sang with the choir and the chamber choir. You have performed characters from tragedy to comedy. I am pleased to present the Somebody V. Something award to--" and it was my girl.

She had no idea this was coming, and I had no idea that it was coming and it felt so right. It was not about her being a diva, it was not about her snagging all the solos, or her starring in all the plays. It captured who she has been--supportive, reliable, talented, dedicated, there. Not only that, but it was awarded by three of the major faculty figures in her life: the choir director, the orchestra director, and the theater director. It was the only award that spanned all three fields.

Back when we were looking at kindergarten programs, we tried to be clear-eyed about her strengths and her weaknesses, and at the time we said "No matter what school she ends up in, she will be fine. But she will always be the kid who does well and doesn't cause problems, and in a large public school classroom, she will be invisible. At this school, she will be seen."

Today, she was seen. And my broken heart broke again a little bit, for the gift that she had of teachers who saw her and loved her for who she is.

[In an anti-climactic coda here, I will also report that she won the highest honor for her Chinese studies as well--the other major academic love of her life. After some serious hard times over the last few years, she got some important validation and she deserved it.]

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