Expressway: The student said, 'I want to be a crier'

Graduation rates at seven of Long Island's four-year Graduation rates at seven of Long Island's four-year nonprofit colleges are below the national averages of their public and private peer institutions, according to the federal government's new College Scorecard. Photo Credit: iStock

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Years ago when I was principal of the Mineola Junior High School, two parents came to my office. They were upset with their son's report card.

His grades were average. He had no failures or behavioral problems. However, he had exceptionally high scores on standardized tests and teachers indicated that he was not working up to his potential.

In the background was the knowledge that a brother four years older was not only an excellent student, but had won school awards because of his involvement in charitable causes and extracurricular activities.

I told the parents that I'd meet with the younger brother's teachers.

Those teachers confirmed the concerns. They felt he was a wonderful young man who was able to pass every test without much effort. Because he was not a discipline problem, they felt guilty about not telling his parents about their concerns.

Teachers, his guidance counselor and I put together an action plan. In the rest of the school year, every teacher attempted to encourage the young man to take his work more seriously. He was praised for every comment in class and urged to get involved in school activities. All teachers reported he seemed to be happier, but there was little change in his grades or work ethic. His counselor reported a sense of personal failure, because the student stated that he enjoyed school and didn't understand everyone's concern.

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He eventually progressed to Mineola High School, of course, and we hoped he might distinguish himself.

I'm glad to say his story had a happy ending.

By graduation time from high school, he was an officer of the senior class, president of two extracurricular organizations and ranked among the top students. At the senior assembly, he received many awards and the adulation of his peers.

At graduation, I confessed to the student that all of his teachers felt we had failed him at the junior high school. I asked what suddenly "turned him on."

He then told me the secret of his success.

He said his parents forced him to go to his older brother's graduation one day after his own junior high school graduation. Not wanting to sit through the naming of 300 students, he went under protest. But something remarkable occurred.

"After the high school graduation we began to exit the building and I saw a crowd of graduates huddled together just outside the school's entrance," the young man said. "They were gathered together, and every one of them, including my brother, was hugging each other and crying.

"The fact that those guys felt so strongly about leaving their high school hit me like a blow to the stomach. I decided, then and there, that I wanted to feel that way when I graduate from high school."

When he applied to college, he used that theme in his entrance essay. It was the story of his change of attitude and titled, "I Want to Be a Crier."

At the next junior high school graduation, instead of making my usual principal's farewell speech, I read the young man's essay. His words made greater impact then anything I could have said.

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Reader Robert Ricken lives in Floral Park.

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