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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The usual tears as future leaders strut their stuff

There were two this year.

In each of the past three years, one was able to move me to tears.

Two got the job done this year. For very different reasons, though.

The first was the most thorough, prompting tissues and napkins to be passed from all corners of Room 2100-A at Lakeland Community College.

He didn’t understand what he’d done, so he just kept talking. And the tears kept coming.

They were sparked by the answer to my innocent question — why did you want to start delivering the Eucharist to the sick at age 10?

The West Geauga senior, appearing before the panel charged with deciding who should receive nominations to the nation’s military academies on behalf of U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette, thought for a moment before answering.

I was transfixed by his response.

He said he starting tagging along with his dad when he and his sister were youngsters, and he saw the excitement in the senior citizens’ eyes when someone stopped in to visit.

He said the simple question of “how are you?” prompts such joy that he can’t bear to give it up. Now that his sister has gone off to college, he makes his rounds delivering Holy Communion on his own.

“And, I’m crying,” I said, as he looked over at me in shock. Then he kept talking as I added, “well, I made it to 9:33 a.m. this year. That’s an accomplishment, I guess.”

“The look on their face to know someone is listening is so incredible,” he said. And I just kept crying as Mentor-on-the-Lake Council President Andy Rose handed me a napkin to help dab away tears now pouring from my eyes.

A few minutes later, a Hudson High senior stepped into the room and we launched into our questions about his impressive and varied resume that includes varsity sports participation, volunteering with the Hudson Fire Department and teaching swimming at a neighborhood pool.

In the days preceding the panel’s meeting with the youngsters, I had noted thinking it was odd that this high school football player also was a swimmer.

But the firefighting caught the attention of most of the group. He described all he got to do, and how he thought it fit into his desire to give back to his community.

“Service is important to me,” he said. “More important than grades or sports.”

He shared the story of a horrific wreck Nov. 13 on Terex Road in Hudson, in which a truck and sedan carrying a father and daughter collided, sending both vehicles into a ditch on the side of the road.

He railed against the speed limit on the road, saying it should be dropped from 45 mph to 35, and discussed his emotions as he came up on the scene with car passengers who were bleeding from their major injuries.

“It’s such powerful stuff you see when you get called to a scene,” he said, as a couple of us dabbed at tears.

Then, trying to break the tension, I asked about teaching swimming lessons.

But he got even more serious.

“They go from being scared of the water to being happy,” he said.

He described how these inner-city children came out to the facility where he taught as part of a day camp. He said he could tell from their demeanor when they arrived that life at home was difficult, but that he got so much joy from seeing how they changed as they learned to feel comfortable in the water.

When he walked out of the room, it was about 10:15, and we had 11 more youngsters to meet.

No more tears from that group, but plenty of smiles as the athletes, band members, scholars and staunch supporters of the U.S. military walked in and declared their intention to serve their country.

One made us laugh as he walked in and apologized for his hair, left bleached by the chlorine of hours of swimming practice.

“When I grow up, I want to be just like you,” I told the Western Reserve Academy senior who wore no socks in his untied brown leather boat shoes. Those lay a few feet below his loosened school tie that sat atop the unbuttoned top button of his oxford shirt.

He laughed as he tried to comprehend my thought, which continued with, “you’re so comfortable in your own skin. Trust me when I tell you that’s a good thing and that most people struggle with that most of their lives.”

He wasn’t the final one to step before us, but a senior from Hudson offered the best credentials of any high school student I’ve ever met.

He said he had just applied to Mercyhurst in Pennsylvania because of its Intelligence Studies major. When asked why, he said because the CIA recruits out of that college.

OK then.

He said he’s applied to 11 colleges overall in case he doesn’t achieve his dream of attending the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. He’s received four full-ride offers, to Arizona, Alabama and New Mexico. He blanked on the fourth, saying it’s “an A state.” I’m going with Arkansas, because the other one is Alaska, and it’s too cold there.

There was a voracious reader, one who relaxes in the family’s hot tub and a tap dancer. One enjoyed rugby because “smaller guys get to compete in a very brutal way. It’s a very fun sport.”

A young lady from Geneva, who had a guaranteed appointment because of her track career, also brought in a resume with straight A’s throughout her school career. When I asked if she knew how she’d react to her first B, she admitted “I just got it. I scored an 89.9 in Calculus.” She didn’t seem particularly bothered. I wasn’t either.

Another of the Hudson crew said that she enjoys reading to relax, admitting she’d read three books over Thanksgiving break. But one of her classmates admitted to liking Cut the Rope, a game she plays on her phone. I’d never heard of it, but wasn’t surprised that it’s a physics-based game whose object is to find a way to get a piece of candy into a monster’s mouth.

After making our choices and once again bemoaning the fact that compared to these youngsters, we all felt like we’d wasted so much of our combined youth, we walked to the doors and admitted that they make us feel a little safer with the knowledge that they’re going to be in charge of our futures.

Laura Kessel’s column normally appears in the Saturday edition.
Twitter: @Lauranh


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