Fifth grade graduation

I attended my oldest daughter's Fifth Grade graduation today. There was a part of me that thought it was a little ridiculous to have a "graduation" from Fifth Grade but then something happened and I became a believer. We all see stories now of kids and bullying, of "mean girl" behavior and "bad boy" tragedies, but today I glimpsed what could be, with just a little compassion.

Throughout my daughter's elementary school education there was a little boy (we'll call him Joey) who has Downs' Syndrome. I remember when my daughter came home from Kindergarten the first day, she told me that Joey had "special needs". I asked her what that meant and she told me it meant he was "from out of town; not from St. Louis" and because he was "not from St. Louis" he needed a helper. Of course I knew differently but it was amusing to hear what children think "special needs" might mean. Joey grew up with these kids year after year, attending the activities and participating as he could. And then came Fifth Grade Graduation.

Each fifth-grader was called to the stage as their name was read, they were handed a certificate, and walked down the other side. As Joey's name was called he didn't want to go, he was scared and shy, so the teachers moved on. But after all of the names were called, the PE teacher asked the Fifth Grade class if they could encourage Joey to walk across that stage. "Jo-ey! Jo-ey! Jo-ey!" the Fifth Grade clapped and chanted, encouraging and woo-hooing Joey to take a step up. And he did.

Joey walked across the stage graduating from Fifth Grade. The children applauded and cheered him on and the adults shone with pride as their faces were sprinkled with tears. So proud they were of Joey, tackling his fear; so proud they were of their children, encouraging one of their own. So today I say to those in Fifth Grade or older, to those just starting out or leaving for the world, let's cheer each other on. Let's applaud our victories. Let's celebrate together. Because clapping and chanting we can all help each other walk across that stage. Like Joey did today.

This is the life.
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