Perspective on Awards Day

(Originally posted May 30, 2013)
It’s that time of year when children can be tempted to think their value is measured in Standards of Learning scores or report card grades or how many certificates they receive on Awards Day or whether they are named MVP at the sports banquet.
These things are so hard for me as a momma. I want to celebrate with my children who naturally come by these sorts of awards and high scores and recognitions, yet I don’t want to place too high an emphasis on any of this because, quite frankly, these things are only one teeny tiny part of life. I have some children whose strengths and talents are not the kind recognized at school awards days and sports banquets.
Yesterday at Fifth Grade Graduation, I listened and applauded as children were recognized for physical education achievements and honor roll grades and high Standards of Learning scores. But I also watched those children, my son included, who sat clapping for their friends but never hearing their own names called. And to them, I wanted to say It doesn’t really matter. None of this matters. It’s fifth grade. In the big scheme of life, nobody cares how many curl-ups you could do in fifth grade or how far you stretched your body in the sit-and-reach. Nobody even cares whether you had all A’s and B’s on your fifth grade report card. It.Just.Doesn’t.Matter.
Because it doesn’t really matter. Oh, I’m not saying we shouldn’t recognize these achievements. I like it when my children make all A’s and B’s; I cheer like a wild woman when my kid scores a goal in a soccer game; I was crazy proud when my daughter earned a perfect score on her writing Standards of Learning exam. I believe in encouraging and celebrating and cheering my kids on as they engage in their strengths and succeed. But I want them all to know that someone’s value isn’t tied up in these awards and achievements.

I want the ones who don’t get the awards to know that they are not Less Than because they walk home empty-handed. And I want the ones who do win to know that a certificate, an honor roll listing, a number on the scoreboard do not make them Greater Than their classmates and teammates.
As I sat on the uncomfortable bleachers watching those fifth graders solemnly walk out under the blue and gold balloon arch, I longed to give them each Perspective. I wished for them to know that when I stood side-by-side volunteering with their parents at Field Day the day before, I had no idea what their ACT or SAT scores were or whether they had a 4.0 gpa in high school; I had no clue which parents had lettered in a sport in school; I didn’t even know which parents had graduated from college and which had not! In my husband’s office each day, he does not know which co-workers wore a gold tassel around the necks on graduation day and which co-workers barely squeaked out with a diploma.
Everything in me was itching to tell these kids, These awards are limited in how well they recognize the things that really matter in a person. Things like tenacity and courage and hard work and positive attitude and kindness and generosity. Things like selflessness and patience and a willingness to forgive. I wanted to look them in the eye and tell them that a hundred certificates cannot make up for selfishness and hatefulness, that being kind and loving goes a lot farther in life than straight A’s do.

I wanted to tell the empty-handed children not to feel discouraged or give up and the bright-eyed kids holding certificates not to get comfortable or cocky. I wanted to tell all of them that in a year few people will remember these awards and in five years only their mommas will.
There always seems to be at least one student who is a star on every court or field or classroom. She is the best player on her team, and she makes straight A’s to boot. And whether my child is that student or whether she stands in that student’s shadow, I want to be that voice whispering in their ears, Don’t believe the hype. These accolades do not make anyone any more special or valuable in the scope of life. Keep perspective.
Unlike her basketball season, my oldest has had a successful soccer season. Her team had a winning record; she scored plenty of goals; she had some assists; she became friends with her teammates and worked to play well with them. But I have told her many times, If you miss all your shots or if you break your leg or if you suddenly cannot run quickly, that is OK. Because your real value is not in how well you do on a soccer field. My other daughter makes straight A’s and sang her way to All-County and All-District Choir. And I have told her, If you fail a test or make a B or lose your voice, it’s all OK. Your value is not tied up in your report card or your performance on the stage.
I wrote in a birthday card to my oldest today, on her 15th birthday, You are valuable because you are an image-bearer of God Himself. You are known and loved by Him, and He calls you precious. And that value has nothing to do with certificates at an Awards Day or trophies at a Sports Banquet or ribbons in a Talent Show.

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