What would you do if you were brave?
– Brenda Dyck

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end, the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
– Theodore Roosevelt

Rounding the corner to Reception, I ran smack into an unusually large group of people for the time of night when I was leaving. I knew immediately that our brand new 8th grader from Korea must have arrived and, sure enough, my eyes fell first on the beaming face of her new roommate, then on the new girl herself. Though she must have been exhausted from travelling and from the 14-hour time change, she looked strong, alert and happy to be here. She greeted me, reaching out to shake my hand. After a brief conversation in which nervous yet eager smiles spoke as loudly as words, she, her roommate and the family friend who had accompanied her to school picked up her things and headed off to move her in. Sally, Mrs. Patt and I watched them go, and I saw Sally smilingly shake her head ever so slightly, perhaps touched as I was by the amazing blend of courage, trust and hope we were witnessing.

Driving back from community service earlier today, I reminded the three students with me that the new girl would be arriving in just a few hours. “Oh, yeah!” they said excitedly. “Cool!” “But,” said one student, “It must be so hard to come in mid-year.” They tried to imagine what it would be like to arrive in a new school when it was no longer new to all the other students, when friendships had been formed, when everyone knew each other so well that you could tell without looking who was yelling to whom, that you could predict who would start dancing when a Michael Jackson song came on, that you could walk in to the middle of a story about one of your friends and instantly know without asking who it was about. Their compassion and good wishes for the new girl shone through in every word, and I knew she would be in very good hands on her arrival. I wanted them to know this, so I remarked, “This is why I didn’t feel I had to give you all a big lecture about how to welcome her.” “Oh,” they said, laughing, “We would have hated that. We would have known everything you were going to say.”

Even when she is arriving in a place this warm and welcoming, the courage of a young adolescent girl travelling halfway around the world to live in an unfamiliar culture among people she has never met and study in a foreign language is astonishing. This is especially so when you step back and realize that stumbling blocks and mistakes are inevitable and no matter how much this girl may come to love this school, there will inevitably be difficult moments along the way.

My thoughts turn to one of my former advisees, another Korean who joined our school mid-year. Shy at first, she immersed herself in her work as we worried about how good her English was, how strong her skills were and if she was making strong enough connections with the other middle schoolers. Our suspicion was that she would be okay but in those first few weeks it was hard to tell for sure. By the time Spring Family Weekend rolled around, our worries were long since allayed. During her student-led conference, she told her father (who was fluent in English) confidently and in great detail about everything she was doing in school, showing a stunning depth of analysis. At the end, he smiled at her with pride and commented, “You have made great progress. I am happy.” She beamed. By the time she stood in front of the middle school for her part in the 8th Grade Moving Up ceremony, she had become well known for beautiful artwork, outstanding musicianship, advanced math skills, strong and careful research and more. Erasures on sketches, skipped beats, the occasional math error, and extraneous lines of inquiry were all part of the process, disappearing nonetheless in the greater picture of all she had accomplished.

Of course, this journey of discovery and growth is undertaken not just by international students who are far, far away from home but also by all middle school students, even those who can walk home if they want to. There is beauty and courage in each one of these girls venturing forth into a new community, nervous yet eager to test herself and see what she is capable of, hoping she will fit in and be valued for who she is, trusting that she and/or her parents have made the right decision in joining us. Whenever I see this, I am touched and inspired.

So we are at the end of our first week in 2010. The returning middle school students came back with unusually high energy even for them, delighted to see each other again, able to engage fully and wholeheartedly in their work right from the first day back despite the recent and undeniable joys of vacation and unstructured time, excited at the thought of being joined by a new student. Nearing the halfway point of the year, we have much to celebrate and much to look forward to. As we all dare greatly, because we all dare greatly, we will all continue to grow and learn about the world and ourselves. To answer Brenda’s question… What would we do if we were brave? Exactly what we are doing now.