One precept ruled my adolescence: if I wanted to succeed, I showed up. Pithy divisions of life's constituent parts aside, mere presence was 100% of what was required for me to be a winner. I'm sure some of the merits I won in those bleary years were earned, possibly more than the Superintendent's Award for Excellence in Spanish, but most have not taught me about who I am to be. Academics and extracurricular activities have been spotty in my college years, but that Spanish class put me in a larger world.
I qualified for the honor roll every semester of high school, doing so by turning in my assignments, mostly completed. I was, and remain, a sharp mind trapped in the brain of a lethargic student, a gaseous mass preferring to go nova than sustain light as a star.
This has carried over into my college years. The first essay I wrote for college English won an award (I think you can find the paper in these archives). For another English class I offered insight into Steinbeck's The Chrysanthemums that actually impressed my teacher (who gleefully let us know a former student accused him of being "Hitler's long-lost Irish twin). I kicked ass when I cared.
On the other hand, I took mythology twice and only passed the second go because Neil Gaiman's Sandman books inculcated me with a deep love for the deep stories.
I didn't only get to middle through academics, though. As I'm rubbish at anything involving a ball, I didn't do high school sports, instead opting for speech and scholastic bowl. For the former my parents have a box full of medals, plaques and even a few lei won for talkin' just so perdy-like.
What these shining (in some handmade cases, glittering) examples of bric-a-brac don't tell you is that I won them by default; it's easy to place third in a three-person competition. Even so, I tend to tell people with a measure of pride that I went to sectionals all three years.
In college my extracurricular activities finally included a sport: fencing. And while I didn't do a lot of tournament winning, I did a lot of fine fencing. I had always wanted to learn how to sword fight, and it came naturally to me.
All this shows sharp compared to the one award I never expected to get, the Superintendent's Award for Spanish. It was an award handed out at these year-end functions designed to highlight the best and brightest of my submerged school, in which students were recognized for various subjects and sports.
By my senior year, I had been to three and never won an individual award. So when the opportunity arose to do some airsoft gunning in the woods, I jumped at it, since I was rarely invited to do things with my school chums (probably because I use words like "chum").
Late in the game, several players left for the awards, but I refused. I did not want to sit through another award ceremony for nothing (for me, anyway). I was going to enjoy time with my friends.
Little did I know that when I was hunting for them, my friends had decided to head home, each thinking I was with another. I ended up walking to within a mile of my house, only to be picked up by my superintendent/principle, who told me I had been mentioned that night.
I never thought of myself as a good Spanish student, but I was in Mr. Higbee's class for four years, which has excused me from taking foreign language courses in college. I was one of the three in my class to finish the program and I think that I was chosen partly because the teacher liked me. Unfortunately, I wasn't there that night.
I have always wanted to apologize to Señor Higbee for that, and to let him know that the culture and language to which he exposed me remains a warm place in my mind. It's too late to do so now, so for the rest of my life I will think to the first award I rightly earned and hear my inner voice, "lo siento."