The Honor Students

Meredith checked her watch. The end-of-year program was proceeding at a brisk pace. At her son’s old elementary school, they had given out awards for every subject, awards for reading a certain number of books, certificates for science fair and spelling bee and geography night, ribbons for good citizenship and musical talent and art displays. It was all very nice, if your student was talented, but though Jack tried hard, he tended toward average, drawing neither recognition nor reprimand. Meredith was proud of him, and it was always a little sad when he ended the year with a single ribbon for some competition he managed to win with lots of luck and hours of practice, while others walked away with armloads.

“This will take half the time I’m used to,” Meredith whispered to Tisha, mother of Jack’s best friend.

“It’s nice, isn’t it?” the blonde whispered back. “Mr. Emerson knows how to keep things moving. Oh, but you haven’t seen the best part yet. We’re the only school in the area that does it.”

They waited patiently through a long list of students who had successfully completed the minimum requirements for physical fitness, then a very short list for perfect attendance—including Jack. Meredith clapped and smiled, waving so that Jack would see her. He wouldn’t miss school even if he was sick; he persevered, that was certain. He was a good kid, and she told him persistence outlasted smarts 90% of the time. He had taken those words to heart.

The clapping quieted, the students returned to their seats, and Mr. Emerson paused expectantly. “Here it comes,” Tisha whispered.

“And now it’s time for the most important award. Life grants each of us different gifts. Some have a head for math, others an eye for art, still others, the hand for sports.” A slow rising hum of music joined his words. This was obviously a planned production. “Someone has said that with great power comes great responsibility. We agree, but that leaves out others who go unnoticed simply because they have been gifted differently.”

A guarded hope rose in Meredith’s chest. It was motherly instinct to want others to see her child as she did; she knew it was too much to expect, but the flutter in her heart would not go away.

“So, before we end the school year, let’s honor together those who have not been so fortunate in academics, for every child is special, and every child deserves an award.”

The music was swelling now, a prelude to an anthem. Mr. Emerson began to read off names. “Annabelle Johnston. Xavier McKinley. Jordan Stephanapolous. Ian Clout. Haylee Kreigh.” Seventeen names in all from first to fifth grade. “Ridley Allison.”

Meredith did a double take. Ridley? Jack told stories about him. Ridley was in detention every week, it seemed. He never had his homework done. The boy might not be moving to sixth grade, last she heard.

Only twelve students came to the front, the others apparently absent.

“For these, our most honored students, we present an iPad and a gift certificate of $200.” The chosen students crowded forward, grabbing at their rewards. They returned to their seats before the audience had time to clap. Meredith had to resist the urge to scream; she didn’t understand.

“Please stand and give a warm congratulations to the recipients of this year’s Most Valued Student Award!”

The parents stood. Meredith stood, too, moved by the force of pressure, but she would not, could not, clap. “What did they do?” she breathed. “What did they do?”

Tisha didn’t hear. “Isn’t it nice? Those kids struggle so much. It’s special that we encourage them like this. A little praise goes a long way.”

The applause seemed to go on forever. Meredith stared wide-eyed, looking for Jack.

“And it’s so necessary,” Tisha said. “Would you believe there were only three recipients a few years ago. Seventeen now! Seventeen!”

Meredith sat down. Jack wouldn’t cry. He’d focus on what came next. But she would.

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