In which I do a book talk on Wonder for my 5th grade commencement speech.
I was handed a copy of a Movin’ On Up speech delivered by Mr. Kellogg a couple of years ago. The title was “Make it a Good Day”. He spoke about the importance of making good choices instead of just saying so. It is a good script. I plan to expand upon it.
At Howe, we adhere to values such as compassion and teamwork, acceptance, imagination and attitude, responsibility and respect, and attendance. These powerful concepts were present in a book I read aloud to some 5th graders this year, Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I found a good summary of this book at the Children’s Craniofacial Association:
“August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial difference that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to enter 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid, then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?”
I thought this book exemplified many of the Howe values.
Compassion and Teamwork
When Auggie enters school, no one initially sits by him at lunch. Summer, a classmate, realizes this and chooses to eat with Auggie every day. They form a strong bond. In order to show compassion toward others, we need to have the courage to take that first step.
Auggie’s older sister Via is one of his biggest supporters. She sticks up for him when others treat him differently. However, she struggles to balance her loyalty to her brother with her need for her own life at her new high school. Via also doesn’t how to deal with the fact that Auggie is becoming more independent and doesn’t need her as much as he used to.
Imagination and Attitude
Before school started, Auggie and his family had a difficult time preparing for the first day. He was creative in his approach to try and fit in with his peers, such as doing more listening than talking to learn about life at Beecher Prep. It also helped that the school provided an orientation for Auggie and made it clear about what is expected of all students.
Responsibility and Respect
One of Auggie’s best friends at Beecher, Jack Will, makes a poor decision in the middle of the story. He gets involved in a hurtful conversation about Auggie with classmates. He happened to hear it, and the two of them stopped hanging out. It is true that a friendship takes a lifetime to build, but only a minute to damage or even destroy.
Auggie not only deals with his physical disability, but also with a bullying situation. His adversary, Julian, persuades others to help him make Auggie’s life miserable through words and actions. Auggie handles this with maturity and composure. Classmates see how Auggie responds and start to come around to his side. Would this have been the case had he lashed out at Julian? I don’t think so. The story ends with Auggie being recognized in front of his peers for his courage, his willingness to forgive, and his determination to be successful despite large obstacles.
As you move up to the middle school, consider some of these reflective questions and the lessons from Wonder:
- How will you show Summer’s compassion for those that struggle?
- How will you show acceptance like Via, and appropriately stick up for others?
- How will you act as Auggie did when you feel out of place? Will you stay focused on what’s important and steer clear of less desirable situations?
- How will you avoid Jack Will’s poor decision and not talk about others behind their backs, whether they are your friends or not, whether online or face-to-face?
- How will you show determination in your attendance at school every day, and deal with the “Julians” in your life with both assertiveness and understanding?
You will notice that I am asking you, not the group. Each one of us is accountable to ourselves. There will be challenges in your future, but I am confident that what you will have to face will be minor compared to what kids such as Auggie deal with every day.
These questions I pose to you also do not demand a verbal response. We expect that your actions will be the answer to these questions. Show. Don’t tell. As they say, actions speak louder than words.