Every year my elementary school—Ridgecrest Elementary—awarded one sixth grade girl and one sixth grade boy a Hope of America Award. I wanted this award, but there was really nothing I could do to earn it. It was given by the Kiwanis club, and the sixth-grade teachers and the principal nominated the winners. You just had to be good kid and do well in school. Still I thought it would be neat to get this award.
During that year one of my favorite recess activities was jump rope. A group of my friends loved to play doubleDutch jump rope with two long ropes. The people on the ends held both ropes and twirled them in opposite directions.
The “jumper” ran in between the ropes and jumped them as they alternately came around. As soon as we were dismissed for recess, my friends and I ran to the playground equipment bin to get the ropes. Unfortunately, the sixth grade had only two long ropes, so sometimes other people beat us to the bin and we didn’t get the ropes.
One day we had the brilliant idea of hiding the ropes. In our school we hung up our coats on hooks outside our rooms in the hall—a perfect hiding class. After recess I took both ropes and hid them underneath my coat. We did this for several days.
But then, one day, the unthinkable happened. The two sixth-grade teachers decided to inventory the playground equipment. They took out all the equipment and counted it. They were two long jump ropes short. I felt terrible. I knew I had done something wrong. And, remember, I had to be a good girl to even be considered for the Hope of America award. I wanted to just sneak out at recess and bring the ropes back in without letting anyone know what we had done. But I knew that was wrong too. So, I went to my beloved teacher, Miss Buss, and told her that I had hidden the jump ropes and where they were. She let me go get them and put them back in the playground bin. I didn’t jump rope at recess again for weeks. And I gave up on the Hope of America award. Still, my teacher was kind to me, and I was glad I didn’t have to keep feeling so guilty.
The Hope of America award was given at a special assembly at the end of the year. I walked into our large gymnasium, where hundreds of chairs had been set up, and sat down with my class. To my surprise, I saw my parents in the room and wondered why they were there. Moments later, I heard my name called as the girl who would be awarded the Hope of America. The award read “Presented with honor to Karen Thomas who has demonstrated during this school year the capacity for leadership, the ethical and moral character and the outstanding academic accomplishment which represent Hope of America.”
I still have the award. It. At the beginning of the year, I wanted the award just because it was an award, but at the end of the year, when I actually received the award, it represented to me the importance of courage and of doing what is right. It showed me that weaknesses did not signal failure and that character was more important than other measures of “success.”