23: Just Reward

23: Just Reward

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

Just Reward

He conquers who endures.

~Persius

“I am not going to the award ceremony this year! Please don’t make me go.” I sat with my daughter at breakfast the morning of the high school senior award ceremony. We’d had this battle every time there was an award ceremony, ever since she’d come to the conclusion that no matter how hard she worked, she wasn’t going to win an award.

But this year, I knew something she didn’t. “Oh Tori, it’s your last year of school. I . . . saw a letter at a PTO meeting. Your friend Jesse is going to get an award. You should be there to cheer her on.”

I got one of those looks teenagers are so good at, but as she walked out the door that morning she reluctantly agreed to attend the ceremony.

My wonderful, sweet daughter is incredibly bright but so profoundly dyslexic that she really didn’t learn to read fluently until she was about twelve, and she still struggles to express herself coherently in writing. Every mother, of course, thinks her child deserves an award, but I knew that if one was given out for hard work and a “never say die” attitude, Tori would have no competition. She never gave up, even during the dark days when we were desperately searching for help for her, terrified she might never graduate from high school, much less go to college.

When other kids were singing or acting or doing sports after school, Tori doggedly worked at special programs, spending hours every week trying to get her tangled brain to decode the written word. She sacrificed summer vacation time and Christmas break in her endless push through the many programs available for dyslexics. Each one helped a bit and enabled her to finish high school and get accepted into college.

But unfortunately the one thing she’d never been able to achieve were school awards, and we’d endured many teary afternoons after award ceremonies.

After she left the house, I quickly got dressed and took one last look at the letter the school had sent me. It was an invitation to the award ceremony, sent only to parents of students who would be receiving awards. Her positive attitude and determination, which often bolstered my husband and me when the battle had worn us down, was finally paying off, and I would be there to see it.

As I walked to the school in the sweltering early June morning, I contemplated how I was going to get in without her seeing me. I didn’t want to spoil the surprise! When I approached the high school parking lot, I could hear the buzz of teenage excitement. I scanned the sea of blue graduation gowns, which the kids were required to wear to the ceremony, but fortunately didn’t see her. I scooted into the blissfully cooler auditorium and grabbed a seat in the first row behind where the students would be seated.

They all marched in a few minutes later, and, of course, in that 800-seat auditorium, she was seated right in front of me! She spotted me about a second after I spotted her. But just when I thought all was lost, she said, “Oh, you’re here for Jesse. That’s nice of you.” This being our first senior award ceremony, she didn’t know about the parents being invited to come.

The awards droned on for a while until we got to the Eleanor Shipler Award, given to a student who had improved and put forth exceptional effort in English. And the winner was Tori! When she turned around to look at me, the shock and joy on her face made every hour of struggle we’d all put in worth it. She walked up and got her award, beaming. When she got back with her envelope, she asked me if I’d known. I told her I knew she was getting something — but not an English award! The ceremony continued and, in the end, she also won a second award for her work with the backstage technical theater crew.

It turns out, as I discovered later from the Shipler family, the award was meant by Eleanor, a former English teacher, for exactly the kind of kid Tori was — not the student with the highest average, but one who tries hard and puts her best effort forth to improve her English skills. I couldn’t have been prouder.

I snapped lots of pictures outside and then, trying not to embarrass Tori too much, snuck away from the crowd of seniors eagerly anticipating the annual pool party that followed. As I walked I heard “Mother!” Not being the only mother in the crowd, I ignored the voice, until I heard a very insistent, “Karen, wait up!” It was Tori. Surprised and pleased that my eighteen-year-old didn’t mind being seen with me, I waited until she caught up. I don’t think her feet touched the steaming sidewalk as we walked home.

She shook the envelope, rattling the contents.

“What do you think it is?”

“Probably a letter and a check,” I answered.

“Can we frame the check?”

I laughed. “No, Tori. We’ll cash the check and use it for your education. We’ll frame the letter.”

And so we did, along with her high school diploma. I can’t say which she treasures more.

~Karen Lewis Jackson

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