Sunday, June 15, 2014

President's award for academics

My 12-year old graduated from elementary school last week and, as her parents, my husband and I were notified a week ahead that "one" among our children was receiving an award (it wasn't hard to guess which one). "It would be a wonderful surprise for your child if you could be in school on the last day at 8:30 a.m.", we were told.  

Somewhat new to America's K-12 school system, we were unaware of the different awards and recognitions.  On the day of the awards, we sat through all the certificates of participation, intramural achievements, awards for club activities, recognitions for volunteer efforts and appreciations for positive response to behavioral expectations.  We were happy to see each of our children go up on stage at least once, but we suspected that something more was to come.

The principal, Ms. BR -- a warm, welcoming and very capable person -- began the last set of awards with a description of the President's awards.  She read out loud a form letter from President Obama and announced to the school and the visiting parents that each child who receives this award will go home with a copy of the letter, a pin and a certificate. She also described the two categories within the award -- the President's Award for Educational Achievement and the President's Award for Educational Excellence.  The former, she informed us, recognized all those students that show outstanding educational growth, improvement, commitment or intellectual development in their academic subjects and is meant to encourage and reward students who work hard and give their best effort in school, often in the face of special obstacles to their learning. 

My line of work being in Assessment currently, my first thought was about children with disabilities, including learning disabilities such as dyslexia, ADHD, affective disorders.  But the word 'obstacles' loomed large in my mind and I also imagined kids from difficult socioeconomic circumstances, family and immigration issues, custody battles. I was happy to know that the President's office was incorporating in their recognition the concern and efforts from Admissions committees in several institutions and from advocates of Diversity & Inclusion principles. I also heard Ms. BR say that she was going to call the former group of awardees first (the recipients of the Achievement award), give time for a collective applause and camera clicks, before calling out the latter group of awardees (the recipients of the Excellence award).

Then she proceeded to read out names with the loving pride reserved for principals who love their jobs -- first off, an Indian American boy looking well-adjusted and capable.  Then an Indian American girl -- my girl.  And my quiet, shy and unassuming girl walked to the stage and towards her principal only to find Ms. BR looking horrified for a split second and beginning to apologize. "I am sorry," she said, "this goes to show that even principals are capable of making mistakes.  I am truly, truly sorry and quite embarrassed."  It turns out that she had interchanged the order of the two lists and read the latter first.  She sent the two kids on the stage back to their seats, assuring them that she will call their names again -- at the right time, in the right order.  The whole incident lasted no more than a few minutes before the Achievement kids were honored and the Excellence kids were called back onto the stage.  My husband would later turn to me and whisper that seeing our kid then and there made the Principal realize she was onto the wrong order of lists. 

Later, in the unfettered privacy of the world of my thoughts, I wondered if Ms. BR would ever know or realize that she not only recognized my child for her academic excellence but also unknowingly gave testament to my child's strength and resilience and my own unsung efforts at surviving, to the best of my abilities, in the face of my own obstacles. My children, especially my first-born, have survived more than their share of school transfers; cushioned a forever-mismatched, sometimes-rocky/sometimes-rock solid marriage between their parents; watched their bread-winning mother making dents in a profession that is, perhaps, the most difficult for any foreign-trained professionals to be established in the United States and Canada; learned to help glue back the pieces of their mother every time she falls apart as the unhappy ghost of a birth family that denies her, period; rarely experienced grandparents' unconditional love; wondered if parties, vacations and wealth are only for relatives far away.   

For such a 'non-recognition' of the trials in my family, Ms. BR, I will forever be grateful to you.  I hope to live up to your non-expectations -- which, for someone who wakes up every morning wondering how much more has she possibly messed up everything under the sun, such 'obscurity' is as good as it could get.          


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