Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What a Difference an * Made!

It was at my high school graduation when I realized that I had believed a lie about myself for many years. When June comes each year, I am reminded how words can destroy or transform the way people view themselves and the future.

I distinctly remember the night of my graduation from Lakewood High School. We were all so done with school by the time that night finally arrived. We marched into the stadium to our high school band playing their best rendition of Pomp and Circumstance.

I remember I walked next to Narcy Hogan.  Narcy was the smartest person I knew. She had a gold tassel on her cap as well as a gold stole and cords draped around her neck, showing the world her academic success. I was proud to call Narcy my friend. We had been friends since our days together at Herbert Hoover Junior High. And now we were experiencing the last event of our high school days together.

We took our seats in the metal chairs set up in rows on the football field. I opened the program we were handed as we walked in. I looked through the order of events, the special guests and when the choir was to sing. Then I began to read the names of the graduates.

When I came to my name, I noticed something unusual. There it was, followed an asterisk.
Bonnie Jean Goodrell*

I leaned over and asked the smartest person I knew ~ Why is there an asterisk by my name?

I'm so glad Narcy was not only smart, but also thoughtful and kind.

She excitedly replied, It means you graduated with honors!

With honors?

Really? So many thoughts ran through my mind during that graduation ceremony. I remember standing on the risers with my choir to sing No Man is an Island and You'll Never Walk Alone. I know I walked across the platform to receive my diploma. But in all honesty, I was not really there ~ at that time; at the place. In my mind, I was no longer sitting on the football field of Lakewood High School.

As soon as Narcy spoke those words, It means you graduated with honors! ~ I was transported back to Oliver Wendall Holmes Elementary School. I was running my hand across the tiny desks. I was playing on the playground with the slide and swings and monkey bars. I was sitting inside the classrooms looking out the windows. All of those things flashed through my mind. And then, as if someone placed a record on the turntable, and slowed the rpm's way down, I heard the voices of my elementary teachers. They seemed to be repeating the same thing, again and again, in that slow-motion kind of voice that just stays with you ~

Bonnie has so much potential, if only . . .
Bonnie could be such a good student if she would . . .
If only Bonnie would . . .

Those are the words I heard year after year from my teachers. Those are the comments I read on the back of my report card when my mother brought it home from parent conferences. And sadly, those are the things I grew to believe about myself. Because that is what I was told.

But something changed that evening in 1970 as I sat in the metal chairs placed neatly in rows on the football field of Lakewood High School. One small * asterisk made all the difference in how I viewed myself, my potential, my future.

You know what? I drove back to Lakewood High School the next morning. I walked up to the window of our small student store on campus. And for $1.00, I bought my gold tassel. I never had the chance to wear it ~ to let others know I had potential. But I wanted it for myself. To remind me that words can hurt or heal.  Words can destroy or transform a child's view of how they see themselves. Comments made in frustration, even if meant as motivation, crush a child's spirit.

It brings tears to my eyes every time I retell this story.  To think that I did not believe in the grades I received in my high school classes that qualified me to graduate with honors. I believed the words that played on a tape in my head. I had believed a lie. Words spoken about me years before that I allowed to rob me of future joys.

Yes, it's June and time for graduation.  It is both a time of excitement ~ to think about what is to come, and a time of reflection ~ to remember the many experiences that have taken place to bring each student to this place and time. I wonder what words these graduates will hear as they reflect upon this journey?

I pray they hear words that transform and redeem their futures!