Yesterday I had the pleasure of being the keynote speaker at an awards ceremony honoring twenty-six students from our two local school districts – Ocean Beach and Naselle-Grays River Valley. The event is an annual one sponsored by the Masons. The students, two from each fourth through eighth grade class in our area, were chosen by their teachers and principals for consistently demonstrating “Excellence in Citizenship.”
I was the speaker by default. The gentleman who called me a month or so ago said that their first choice had cancelled for health reasons and since “everybody” knows me (YIKES!) would I please agree. I demurred and refused but he was persuasive. “Just talk for five or ten minutes about citizenship…”
Citizenship? For nine to thirteen-year-olds? I stewed about what to say every single day for a month. I talked to some teacher friends to get their ideas. I researched student citizenship on the internet. I talked to some of the teachers who had actually selected the award winners and asked what criteria they used.
It wasn’t until Friday morning – the very day before the event – that I realized that I had the perfect message for those kids and for their parents and grandparents and friends. I even had a little ‘show and tell.’
All my research and everyone I spoke with had used the term “role model.” One of the characteristics and responsibilities of good citizen students is that they are role models for their peers, everyone said. In one of those ‘aha!’ moments, I realized that when I was twelve I, too, had a role model. She was my mother’s oldest sister, an aunt that I had never met. But when I discovered her diary (written in 1914 when she was 15), Medora changed the course of my life forever.
So I talked a bit about Medora – the kind of girl she was. And I talked about how she influenced me, not just in my behavior, but in very concrete ways. She had wanted to go to Stanford and to become a teacher. She never had the opportunity to carry out those dreams but, though I didn’t consciously connect my choices to Medora, it was I who went to Stanford and it was I who became the teacher.
And, of course, I eventually wrote Dear Medora, Child of Oysterville’s Forgotten Years. I had the book with me and read an excerpt from that first diary I had found when I was twelve. “And so,” I told those twenty-six good citizens, “you never know how you will end up influencing others or making a difference…”
One of the teachers emailed me last night that my message was “spot on!” I thought so, too, and was once again reminded to write and speak about what I know best. Apparently it’s a lesson I have to relearn periodically.