As I left the restaurant, I paused to say hello to Ron, my computer genius, who in turn introduced me to his brother and sister-in-law, Allen and Sonya Martin.
Allen grinned when he discovered that I was the daughter of his high school principal and government teacher, A.B. and Winnie Duncan. He proceeded to tell me a heart-warming story that occurred in 1960. Just as it was time for him to graduate from high school, Mama told Allen that he would receive a blank diploma because his government notebook was below the passing standard. He would not get the official diploma without more work. As you can imagine, Allen was not happy with the news.
Teen-aged boys rarely like to be held accountable (or girls either). In a “good-faith” effort Mama gave Allen a two-week window of time to work on the notebook. In the end, he completed the task and received his official diploma.
Sonya, a few years younger, piped in with another tale. Our home was across the street from the high school, so Mama let Sonya and the other members of the Girls’ Trio skip a few classes and walk across to the house and practice their music around our seldom used piano. Sonya said she always loved Mrs. Duncan for the extra attention and support.
So did Allen. He shared that many years later, this same demanding government teacher sat with his family for several hours at the hospital as they awaited a report about their daughter’s very serious illness.
Before I left, Allen told me with assuredness that Mama taught him one of the most important lessons of his life – when other people hold you to a high standard, you have more faith in your own abilities.
As I drove home, with a lump in my throat, I remembered my parents’ dedication to thousands of children who looked to them for guidance, support and higher standards.
My thoughts then meandered to an event I’d attended a while back. I had the privilege of speaking at the Character Coalition for Douglas County. Prior to my speech, a fifth grader gave a brief overview of the word of the week – integrity. As he told the story of being selected to present the word to the group, he sheepishly admitted that he had to look up the word in the dictionary. He then went on to tell us what it meant and how he experienced the concept even when he didn’t have the vocabulary for it. It was a powerful.
When I took the microphone, I told the young man not to worry – there were a lot of adults who didn’t know what the word integrity meant either. Even though I got a chuckle from the audience, I knew that the words were much more true than humorous.
What a contrast of emotions I experienced during a short lunch break. That just goes to show that perspectives can change on a dime.
And speaking of change — we are in the midst of the season of change. As I look over the lake and take walks through the woods, summer’s green is giving way to autumn’s golds and reds. The change in temperatures calls for a change in wardrobes and a resetting of the thermostat.
More importantly, we’re in the midst of a lot of other changes too. During this volatile political season we have a lot of local and national candidates asking us to vote for change – or vote no to change.
After talking with my walking partner, I’ve decided I’m going to hold myself to an even higher standard before I cast my vote. I’m going to dig a little deeper, do a little more homework, and sift through the rhetoric. I’m going to be cautious and try to ignore slanderous e-mails that well-meaning friends feel compelled to send to me. I’m going to make it my mission to cast my ballot for the persons who have the highest level of integrity, whose belief about humanity and American principles most align with my own, and whom I feel will most likely measure up to a higher standard. I hope you do, too.
On a personal note: If you ever had teachers, parents and other influencing adults hold you to a higher standard, call and give them a word of thanks. Or tell me your story when we meet at a fast-food restaurant. It will restore my faith – and yours too.
Garrett, a Carroll County resident, writes a weekly column for the Times-Georgian.