Choosing Kindness

I remember my first day of camp. I recall driving down the long, rocky driveway. I can hear the crunching of the stones underneath the tires of the car. I remember being terrified.  I wanted to turn around and go home- there was no way I was going to make it. Who would I talk to? Would I make any friends? How am I going to fit in?

Did I mention I was 19? That's right. I had accepted a job as a waterski instructor at a camp in Maine. I had never heard of the camp, but I knew I needed to get out of my comfort zone for the summer and live more independently. It was my first real camping experience, it just so happened that it was as a counselor and not a camper. No matter your age, beginning a new stage of your life- or taking on a new job, or moving to a new town, or even starting middle school- is anxiety provoking. Change is hard. It is different, uncomfortable, and confusing. Rarely do we embrace the new without a degree of apprehension, it is our nature to stick with what we know.

And then there are characters like Auggie Pullman.  Auggie, seen from behind in the video above, is the main character of R.J. Palacio's wonderful novel, Wonder.   This is a story about a boy, anxious about starting middle school and fitting in, who seems destined to fail- socially speaking.  You see, Auggie has a severe facial deformity (thus the book's cover art) that has rendered him a target of stares, jokes, and teasing for pretty much his entire life.  Auggie will never be "normal";  he knows this, all who know him know this.  Without spoiling the plot, Wonder reminds all of us- no matter our age- of the power of kindness and empathy and how real friendships are about who we are and not what we look like. I was nervous going to camp because I didn't know anybody.  Auggie was understandably nervous starting middle school because he knew that so many people, as they had throughout his whole life, would choose to avoid him due to his outward appearance, rather than get to know who he was on the inside.  Wonder explores why we tend to do this, and highlights the effect that acts of kindness, friendship, courage and character can have on our understanding of each other and ourselves.

As the principal of a middle school it is my responsibility to make sure we achieve our academic goals and consistently improve our state test scores.  When the state report cards and school rankings come out we are compared to other districts mostly by our test scores.  It is important to me that as a school we are always improving, always getting better.  What is also important to me is that we build a community that embraces, and chooses, kindness.  Reading this book, I couldn't help but ask myself, "how would Auggie Pullman do at our school?"  I think he would do just fine...and nothing could make me more proud.

O, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She'll make her way 
-Natalie Merchant, "Wonder"

Wonder-related Resources:

NPR Interview with the Author
"Authors Revealed" interview: What inspired the author to write the book

60 Minutes: An amazing story on what American doctors and nurses are doing for patients with maxillofacial tumors in Africa.