Character Counts

Near the end of my fifth-grade year, my teacher printed four A's on the black board, depicting her top student's grades for every semester of that year. Then she wrote C, C, B, A and singled out the student who had gone from average to outstanding after working hard over the last nine months.

I was reminded of that story after I heard of the passing of Robert C. Byrd, the senator from West Virginia, who started out as a Klansman but ended up a leader for all Americans. He voted in favor of the war in Viet Nam but learned from his mistake, and vehemently opposed the current wars. He asked questions and made a fuss when others fell in line.

I'm also reminded of the time that same elementary school class turned against one of my friends. The chairs and desks of our music class were divided into two sections, and every student moved over to the other side of the room to avoid (and further target) this poor girl I'll call M, beckoning me to join them.

I sat at M's side as she lowered her head into her hands and cried. Every set of eyes in the class stared her down. (I think her crime might have been wearing bell bottoms in the late 80's.) For whatever reason the teacher was nowhere to be found, and when she returned she didn't question why the room was offsides.

M's parents may have dressed their daughter like Jan Brady, but M was, until that day, well liked. The following day everyone liked her again as if nothing had happened.

It's difficult to stand out from the crowd, and I used to (naively) think that growing up made people bolder, strengthened their character. But few people ever acquire such strength. Senator Byrd was a model for us all.

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