As a teacher of literature and composition for over 30 years, I have come to value the truth in stories and the character of story tellers. Over the past week, I have heard three stories that I think highlight important truths about our community and important character traits of people who make communities loving and safe.
The first two stories come from Capstone Day and were told by Dorothy Baxter, the administrative assistant who helps Hank Eaton, Morse Chair of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, organize Capstone Day. First, Dorothy related the story of a Capstone evaluator who left her purse in a venue early in the day. When she returned hours later, she found her purse where she had left it with all of its contents still inside and untouched. She told Dorothy that where she comes from this would not have been the case; the purse would have been ransacked or stolen altogether. She was amazed by level of integrity we have here.
The second also involves another Capstone evaluator who left something behind. In this case, the evaluator left her packet of score sheets in the Mayo Center Lounge, and Dorothy knew she was headed to the Hilltopper restaurant for her next presentation. She asked a student (whom she didn't know) if he would run the packet to the Hilltopper, which is located off campus, hundreds of yards away. He immediately jumped up and literally ran to the Hilltopper to deliver the packet. The evaluator was amazed that a student would volunteer to do that, and when he returned to the Mayo Center, Dorothy said that he was her hero. Wanting to give him credit, she asked him his name, but he simply walked away, saying, "Heroes never tell."
The third story comes from Van Culver, a proctor at the Maple Center dorm and the custodian for the first floor of Streeter Hall. He was in the hallway near the Dining Hall when a girl (he thinks her name is Aliyah) came out of the bathroom and apologized. "I'm sorry," she said, "but someone has smeared toothpaste all over a mirror and sink in there. I know you work so hard to keep our school clean and safe, and I'd like to clean it up for you." Instead of accepting her request for cleaning materials, Van cleaned the mess while Aliyah stood guard at the door. Van told the story not only because it was the first case of anything like vandalism all semester, but also because it showed how giving and helpful our students are even at this stressful time of year.
These three stories say something about our students and the relationships they have with the adults here. First, our students love to help, love to serve, and love to care for others. These acts of selfless service make them happy. Like the anonymous hero in Dorothy's story, they do not want any glory; the love of service, the satisfaction of knowing what they do matters, and the joy of others are enough for them. These stories also show that our students trust and care for the adults around them, even strangers, even staff who are not their teachers, even people they only know from a distance. We know here through experience something that a wealth of educational research has proven: close teen-adult relationships are the key to resilience, success, and community in a school. These stories display that we have this closeness here in spades.
These stories also say something about their tellers, too. Dorothy and Van do not hold positions of great authority here. Their jobs are support positions; they are not ever in the spotlight, and they never expect public recognition for what they do. They are happiest serving behind the scenes and will probably not be happy that I am mentioning them now. However, just as important as their service, is their love of young people and their optimism in the ability of teenagers to do good in the world even when they make mistakes. In telling her stories, Dorothy was visibly proud of these two young men and that they were part of our community. She sought me out after a long day intentionally to share their stories. Similarly, Van was so impressed by Aliyah that he sought me out early in the morning, knowing that the day before had been a hard one here, to let me know that though some students had committed a thoughtless act, other students were shining quietly in the background. He wanted that good news of thoughtfulness to triumph over the negativity generated by thoughtlessness.
As we head into exams-and-end-of-semester-preparing-for-holidays stress, these stories have lightened my mood and helped me focus on what is important here. Yes, teens commit thoughtless acts through immaturity and ignorance, and, yes, it is our responsibility to be vigilant and educate them about the consequences of their actions. They do, however, also commit thoughtful acts. Like the rest of us, individually and collectively, they are imperfect, but genuinely good. Likewise, being around people like Dorothy and Van lifts me up at this time of year. They went out of their way to share their good news. Instead of quietly keeping their stories to themselves, they shared them so the light of these young people could brighten my day. My hope is that as we head into our semester break, these stories help lift you too, and may we all, like Dorothy and Van, take some time to share our good news with those we love.