From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul on Love & Friendship

The Graduation Dance

A kind and compassionate act is often its own reward.

William John Bennett

I watched as my son walked purposefully toward the car with a look on his face that I knew so well. He was bursting to tell me some news about the eighth-grade graduation dance he’d just attended. As I waited in the parking lot with the windows open on that warm summer night, I had to smile. Adam had always been the type of kid to come home from school spurting out exciting or unhappy experiences about his day before the screen door had even slammed behind him.

“I did the best thing I ever did in my whole life tonight,” he blurted out as soon as he put one foot in the car. The smile on his face spread from earlobe to earlobe. Pretty strong words for a person who’s only been in existence for fourteen years.

The story spilled out of him like a hole in a bag of coffee beans.

“I was standing with Justin, Mark, Kristen and Britney,” he began. “It was noisy and dark and everyone was dancing and laughing. Then Britney pointed out a girl to me who was standing off into a darkened corner, kind of crying to herself.

“She told me, ‘Go dance with her, Adam.’

“I told her she was crazy. First of all, I didn’t even know the girl. I mean, I’ve seen her around, but I didn’t know her name or anything. It’s not like I’m friends with her or anything.

“But then Britney started bugging me. She told me how I have a responsibility to people because I was voted Most Popular. She said I should be a role model, and that I had the chance to do something special by dancing with this girl. She said we’re here to make a difference in other people’s lives, and if I danced with this girl, I’d make a difference.”

“Did you dance with her?” I asked him.

“No, Mom. I told Britney she was really crazy, because she didn’t even know why the girl was crying. That’s when she said something that really made me think. She said, ‘You know why she’s crying, Adam. We both do. Look at her. It’s her eighth-grade graduation dance, and she’s standing alone in a corner. She’s a little overweight, and she’s in a room full of teenagers who only care about what kind of clothes they’re wearing and what their hair looks like. Think about it. How long did you spend trying to decide what you were going to wear tonight? Well, she did the same thing. Only no one is noticing, and no one cares. Here’s your chance to prove you deserve to be voted Most Popular.’”

“So did you then?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I told Britney she was right, but that every body would laugh at me if I danced with her. So I told Britney I didn’t want to look weird and I wouldn’t do it.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“Well, Britney wouldn’t stop bugging me. She told me that if people laughed at me because I danced with an unpopular girl, then they weren’t people I needed to care about. Then she asked me if I saw any guy dancing with her, would I laugh? Or would I secretly have a lot of respect for that person?

“I knew she was right. But it was still hard to go over and ask her to dance. What if I walked all the way across the room in front of everyone and she turned me down? But Britney said, ‘She won’t turn you down, but even if she does, you’ll get over it. I promise you, if you dance with her, she’ll remember you for the rest of her life. This is your chance to make a difference.’

“So I went over to the girl and asked what her name was. Then I asked if she wanted to dance. She said yes and as we walked out to the dance floor, the music changed to a slow dance. I felt my face turn all red, but it was dark and I didn’t think anyone noticed. I thought everyone was looking at me, but no one laughed or anything and we danced the whole dance.

“The weird thing is that Britney was right. It was three minutes out of my life, but it felt so good. And for the rest of the night, a lot of the guys danced with her and with anyone else they saw who hadn’t danced yet. It was like the greatest eighth-grade graduation dance, because no one got left out. I really learned something tonight, Mom.”

So did I, Adam, so did I.

Linda Chiara

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