Last Friday morning I took an hour out of my workday to watch nine eight-graders give campaign speeches for their school's student council. My daughter was running for secretary, and I wanted to be there for her, but in the process I learned about her environment and remembered my own eighth grade self, who pales in comparison. I also learned about my child's inherent grit.
There are 800 kids at her school, and from my anecdotal look at the student body, about 70 percent are Hispanic. There are a few other groups scattered about, but for the most part the rest are the white Anglo kids, who were represented 8-1 on the stage where the candidates sat. I sat at the back of the auditorium and watched as the mass of adolescent awkwardness lurched in. Then, at a teacher's urging, I moved into the second row, and my first born gave me a look, but it was a what was I thinking one rather than a please leave now sort, so I was glad to be there.
The speeches? There were those who were prepared (the females, to a woman) and then there was the jock, who is a man of few words but still commanded attention. Then there was the heartthrob, whose personal charm evaporated almost completely in the face of the whole student body watching him expectantly. He had decided to wing it, from what I could tell. I wanted to say, overprepare and go with the flow, dude, but he knows that now. There was one boy who knocked it out of the park because he did just that and has a good bit of wholesome charm himself. The most impressive--probably the prettiest girl in her class--gave a sweet and sincere speech about how easy it is to talk about doing the right thing and approaching someone sitting alone in the cafeteria and actually doing it, and then about how she'd struggled with being quiet and hoped she was doing better.
As a family friend wrote me afterwards, I would maybe have a stroke if I had to make a cogent speech in front of 800 peers. So I was impressed by every one. I wondered about what it had taken for the single Hispanic boy to run. He got the most raucous applause, and yet in the end did not win. For all the discussion about inclusion, most of the kids don't feel see themselves as leaders. It worries and bothers me, not just because I am seeing it in my children's world, but because I wonder if I live in a culture where this might not change. Or maybe it's always been the case that twenty percent of the people fill all the leadership roles and we just notice it more now.
And my own child? Unlike her mother, who had moved to a new school in seventh grade and who was still the next year getting knocked around pretty good by almost all the girls and had maybe two people to hang out with, was up on that stage, giving a good speech in a strong voice. I didn't well up but looked at her, as I often do, with admiration and more than a smidge of awe.
She didn't win. At least she didn't win the election, and it was very hard, at least for a couple of hours on Friday afternoon. I believe there was a suggestion she should be homeschooled. This, even she agreed, was a bad idea when I pointed out that she is already smarter than either of her parents. I also pointed out that she'd gotten a lot more votes than the people who didn't run. Characteristically, she had rallied by Monday, as had the other six impressive people who aren't office holders, at least this year.
My middle school self rallied eventually, too, once high school came along. I told my daughter with confidence--due to considerable experience, to be sure--that failure is a good creature to become acquainted with early in life, if only so it's a beast with which we are familiar by the time we need to go to college, work, and even volunteer life. There are so few setbacks we can't bounce back from, if only we know that to be true.