When I was in 10th grade, I wasn’t fond of school. I struggled in my English class and managed a C grade. I constantly heard from teachers, “You are so smart, if only you’d apply yourself.” As if that’s what a teenager wants to hear. So, when my English teacher gave me one more book report to do, it was a matter of “you need to do this report or your grade will drop.” I don’t remember the specifics of the book or the report. But, some aspect of the assignment was that I needed to write an investigation of some kind. So, I wrote the report like a 40s private eye and in the first person. In the back of my mind, I thought that’d I’d end up with an F for the assignment. I thought my teacher wouldn’t appreciate my sense of humor. But, I was fed up with school and wasn’t going to change the work I’d done.
So, when my teacher was handing out the graded papers the next week, I was given a slip from the principal instead of my graded assignment. Some of my classmates saw the slip and the inevitable “ooooh” was proclaimed, followed by, “Michael’s getting called into the principal’s office!” I didn’t imagine my paper would be so offensive as to warrant the principal’s office, but apparently it was. So, I grudgingly packed my stuff and went to the principal’s office.
I had to wait outside. It was dreadful. His secretary (that’s what they were called back then) pretended to ignore me while the principal’s voice, muffled by the wall, filled the office with murmuring. It was an agonizing twelve minutes watching that clock. Finally, I was invited into “the office.”
I sat down and saw my paper sitting on his desk and another man in a chair to the side of the principal’s desk. The man was older, stern, in a suit, and glaring at me with the oddest smile. “He’s relishing the punishment that I’m about to get,” I thought. Then, the principal of my school closed the door and sat down at his desk. He leaned over his desk and my paper to peer into my eyes. After a few moments, he leaned back and picked up my paper. “Young man, did you write this?”
“Yeah.” Manners weren’t a thing a teenager of the 90s cared about.
“Why did you write this?” The stern man sitting to the side asked.
After hesitating and looking frightened, I decided to be a little defiant. I was going to “lawyer them.” Because, in my mind, I finished the assignment to the letter of the assignment, the humor and tone was “a bonus.” So, I replied, “I was given an assignment and was supposed to write an ‘investigation,’ so that’s what I did.”
Both men smiled strangely. “Michael, do you know who this is?” my principal asked me, gesturing to the man who stood at the introduction. Without waiting for me to reply, he continued, This is Dr. Soandso (I apologize, Dr. Soandso, I don’t remember your name), our school district’s superintendent.
“Uh oh” I thought. “How could this paper possibly be that bad?”
The superintendent pulled an envelope out of his briefcase and then extracted a piece of paper from the envelope. It was a certificate of “student excellence.” My teacher was apparently so impressed with my paper that she took it to the principal, who took it to the superintendent of the district.
I received an A for the assignment, plus extra credit. My assignment and my story was published in the school district’s monthly ‘magazine’ delivered to parents and teachers. And, I received formal recognition on my student record along with the certificate.
But, the best part was when the superintendent said, “That is very imaginative and creative writing. You should be a writer.” To which, my principal added, “Definitely.”
I learned a lot from this experience. I learned that taking risks can pay off. I learned that being creative and thinking outside the box has benefits. I also learned, for the first time, that someone thought I should be a writer. But, there was also an element of luck. I could have had a teacher with no sense of humor and things could have gone differently. In fact, most of the time, in life, I’m not this lucky.
Do you have any stories like this? Do you have anyone to encourage you to think outside the box? If you don’t, or even if you do, let me encourage you. Leave a comment here or contact me, let’s see if we can find some encouragement for you. Even if you aren’t looking for encouragement, leave a comment with your story or any other lessons you think I’ve should have learned from this experience.