When our youngest was in 8th grade, his teacher told me he thought Luke had a good shot of becoming his class valedictorian. I thought it was sort of a crazy thing to say to a parent, but I took it to heart because Mr. Beckwith was a no-nonsense, honors literature teacher with high expectations. He was not the type to throw around undeserved praise. At the continuation ceremony, each homeroom teacher spoke briefly about their students. Mr. Beckwith said this about Luke:
“We call him The Senate. That is what he liked to be called*. But unlike the Senate that the adults are accustomed to, Luke works really, really hard. He is a diligent, quiet leader, but don’t let that fool you. He has a powerful, powerful voice in class. And his work ethic, I can’t stress this enough, it sets the bar for everyone around him. He raises the level of excellence by just walking into a room. It’s pretty profound. Luke, you will be missed but never forgotten.”
As a parent, I was blown away by Mr. Beckwith’s words of praise and by his assertion of where Luke might be able to take his high school career. When we left the ceremony, I told Luke what Mr. Beckwith had shared with me about being valedictorian. Luke’s eyes lit up. In that moment, I immediately regretted my words. Luke is a formidable person who sees a challenge and makes it a goal. He’s like a border collie with a job: get out of his way and watch how quickly and efficiently he lines everything up and puts it away. Like Mr. Beckwith, I knew well how hard Luke works, and I wondered if I had just doomed him to a difficult and decidedly un-fun high school career.
Luke started freshman year with honors English and social studies. Sophomore year he added honors math and science. Already a student ambassador, Luke joined Student Senate. He was inducted into the National Honor Society and became an officer for that. By senior year, he was Lead Ambassador, NHS president, and a leader on the cross-country team in addition to maintaining straight As in all his honors and elective classes. I regularly asked him if he wanted t have friends over. He regularly declined. My worst fears were realized. He was working too hard, I thought. I told him repeatedly he could try giving 90% sometimes instead of 110%. My words went in one ear and out the other.
Last Friday, the dean of the high school announced the senior awards. When he was about to name the valedictorian, he noted there were two this year and said he would announce them in alphabetical order. I held my breath since our last name begins with W and I know Luke is the last kid in his class alphabetically. The dean named the first student and went through his academic and community achievements. Then he named the second valedictorian. It was Luke. Although Luke had carefully been monitoring his progress towards his goal and thought he had a good shot at it, you never know until the fat lady sings, right? He scanned the room for us, looked right at his father and I, and waved, just like he did when he was on stage for the Christmas program when he was in kindergarten. He was beaming. He’d done it. He’d locked his gaze on his goals, rounded them up, and escorted them, one by one, into the pen until he saw the gate close behind them. Mr. Wood later announced that Luke was also voted Senior of the Year by the teachers because, of course, he was.
I recount this story about our upward climbing Luke not to brag or because I had anything to do with his accomplishments (other than being his chauffeur). I tell this story because 9 years ago, I sat in my kitchen and wept after I heard a dyslexia specialist quizzing Luke and realized my 3rd grader skipped letters in a recitation of the alphabet, couldn’t name the days of the week in order, or name even half of the twelve months of the year. I cried because before she left she told me Luke needed to go to a special school. She told me his dyslexia was severe, and he was years behind other students. Years. He would likely never read well. Looking back now, though, I know I shouldn’t have worried. That specialist knew a lot of things, but she didn’t know Luke. She didn’t understand the power of The Senate.
(*Luke liked to be called The Senate in 8th grade because of his love of Star Wars. It was a joke he made once with his classmates and it stuck. He’s as powerful as Palpatine, but he has no desire to join the Senate.)