Wednesday evening my daughter Rachel and I attended an academic awards banquet. Rachel is in the Top 10 of her graduating class (yes, we’re a mere three months away from dual college payments and what passes for abject poverty in suburbia), and the Kiwanis Club wanted to recognize the top scholars from the three Westerville High Schools. Kate, lucky Kate, got to work that night, and missed the rubber chicken and earnest speechifying.
Frankly, the earnest speechifying bummed me out. Aside from the usual God and country conflations, we heard speaker after speaker extolling the wonders of the Best and Brightest Assembled Before Us, the Future of America as Exemplified By These Fine Minds, and on and on. And were we parents exempted from the praise? No, indeed, we were not. We sacrificed, we gave of our time and money, we provided a nurturing environment. We were to be congratulated. My head grew three sizes between the entrée and the dessert.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my daughter dearly. She’s a great kid. And yes, she’s smart. But listening to these speeches, one would assume that the thirty assembled scholars had achieved something truly monumental. And here is what Rachel achieved: she worked moderately hard, at least some days, and almost by accident got good grades. Academics come easily for Rachel. She studied when she had to (and many times she didn’t have to), turned in her assignments on time, did well with the genes she’d been given, and grew up in a house that was filled with books and the love of learning, where mom’s and dad’s idea of a fun night is to sit across from one another and read. I’m not suggesting that Rachel played no role in the process. But what I am suggesting is that it would have been somewhat shocking if Rachel hadn’t ended up near the top of her class.
I am surely no expert on humility, and I like being praised as much as the next megolomaniacal egotist. So I understand the appeal of ceremonies like the one we attended on Wednesday. But I wonder about the wisdom of ascribing individual worth based on something that comes naturally and easily. We are blessed. Rachel is blessed. And I don’t mean that in some hokey, pseudo-spiritual sense. I mean it in the nitty-gritty, everyday sense that Kate and I love each other, and live in the same house and sleep in the same bed, and are educated, and can afford things like books and college tuitions, and Rachel has been the recipient of all those things. Am I thankful for those things? You bet I am. But I didn’t do it, and I didn’t make it happen, and neither did Rachel. We are blessed.
I’m reminded of one of those passages of Scripture that make us feel profoundly uncomfortable as self-sufficient Americans:
"Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' "
-- Luke 17:7-10
So you’ll have to pardon me if I have a hard time participating in the hearty backslapping and congratulations, the already-arrogant 18-year-olds confidently announcing their plans to attend Brown and the University of Chicago and Rice and Northwestern, all the self-sufficient kids who think they’re pulling themselves up by their designer bootstraps. Good for you, you scholars. But you’re riding on the backs of many others, and you were born at the right time in the right place, and you’ve had a thousand things go right for you over which you’ve had no control at all. You’re blessed, and you don’t seem to know it.
So am I, by the way, and one of the chief ways I am blessed is through my daughter Rachel. This is not meant to take away from that realization at all. But the best part of the night for me was the ride home. We listened to music, and she was just a normal kid again, and not a Future Leader of America. I plan on savoring the next three months.