Thursday, June 27, 2013

What's the true worth of an achievement medal ... really?

The room was freezing, but we didn't care. After all, it was our daughter's middle school graduation. Yes, middle school - not high school, not college - but she'd worked hard to get here and she was very excited, so we were, too.

After all, she'd made straight As all year, worked her butt off, and frankly, we were happy that her efforts would be recognized and the relaxing days of summer could begin.

The principal cleared his throat and began announcing the students who had maintained a 4.0 GPA all year. Seated in the back, we couldn't see our daughter,  but we could hear the names, see the students as they climbed on stage and smiled as they bowed their heads and received their achievement medals.

J, K, L ...N, O, P ... no M. No Majeske. Where was Katie Majeske? Our daughter's name wasn't called. My husband and I looked at each other, confused. We were certain our girl had earned the ranking. In fact, I was absolutely positive. A bit of a hoverer, I had checked the online grading site available to parents earlier that week and seen she'd earned all As.

The ceremony went on. Diplomas were distributed. At the end, we met Katie in the gym for cake, ice cream and photos. She was excited and giggly, posing with her friends. She mentioned the medal briefly.

"I was supposed to get one," she said, rolling her eyes. "I don't know why I didn't." She opened up her diploma folder and pulled out a second sheet. "Honored for Academic Achievement," it said.

She didn't seem particularly upset. But for some reason, I was. I found the principal and politely mentioned the omission. He looked dutifully disturbed, then clicked a message to  himself on his phone. "I'll see if that's correct," he said. "I'll talk to the teachers who compiled the names ...and I'll be in touch with you."

No one contacted me that week. Or the next. My frustration faded. Then report cards arrived, and it flared again. I sent emails to the school, to the teachers involved, to the principal.

I received a reply from a teacher: The documents they'd reviewed indicated my daughter had a lower GPA. That was incorrect, I wrote back. They had been misinformed - and I would like her medal, simply as a keepsake.

I got it. It was left for me in the main office. It had a sticky note on it with her name attached - spelled incorrectly.  I brought it home and hefted it in triumph in my quiet house. My daughter, lying on her bed with her laptop, just shook her head.

"Oh, yay," she said with a small smile. "You beat the system, mom. Way to go."  And we laughed. I don't know why I cared so much about that medal. Having Katie is my real award - and  that's what I need to remember.

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