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In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller talks about the importance of living a good story. Essentially we were each created to be a part of great story - a story worthy of a movie. Unfortunately, we often miss out on the great story for which we were purposed because we are too busy living in comfortable insignificance.
I see this in school on a daily basis. Young people really want to live great stories, but they're often too afraid to step away from the crowd in order to do so. Instead they chase coolness and acceptance which typically results in insignificance. As the adults in the school, it's our job to show our students better stories to live. It's our job to help them see that they were created for a purpose bigger than being "in". They were created to do and be something that really matters.
Recently, my high school experienced the excitement and true joy that accompanies people choosing to live a great story.
The Salem Spartans and the Cave Spring Knights are rivals. Located a mere 10 miles apart in Virginia's Roanoke Valley, there is typically no love lost between these two schools. Both schools and both communities take great pride in beating the other, whether its on the court, on the field, in the classroom, or on the stage. But is beating your rival really the great story for which we were created?
Kendall Bayne is a sophomore at Cave Spring High School. Recently she was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Her fellow Cave Spring Knights and the entire Cave Spring community have rallied to her side by holding fundraisers, showing support for her, and encouraging people everywhere to pray for her healing. (For more on Kendall Bayne's story visit www.kendallbayne.com.)
The media did a story about Cave Spring students selling t-shirts to raise money to support Kendall's medical care. The purple t-shirts said "Team Kendall" on the front and had the phrase "Fight Like a Knight" on the back. That story came to the attention of a Salem Spartan named Abby. While Abby, a senior, did not know Kendall, it struck her that her Spartan friends should help this young lady from their rival school. Abby contacted Cave Spring High and asked if she could sell some of the t-shirts at our school. The Cave Spring contacts agreed and on a Tuesday Abby started selling t-shirts during lunches. Her hope was that some money could be raised for Kendall and then presented to Cave Spring when the Spartans and Knights met on the football field the following Friday.
The week and a half that followed was truly an amazing time at Salem High School. Kendall's story captivated both the faculty and the student body. Abby found herself with a full-time job as she daily sold out of shirts and went back to Cave Spring to get more for the next day. Clubs started making donations. The Spartan cheerleaders sold "Team Kendall Spirit Links" in hopes of making a chain that would stretch from one end of the football field to the other thus "scoring a touchdown" for Kendall. One Salem faculty member gave an anonymous $1000 donation. The volleyball team gave the proceeds from their concession sales to the Kendall fund. The booster club for the Pride of Salem Marching Band bought t-shirts for the entire band. Community members came to the high school to buy t-shirts. The cheerleaders pledged half of their profits from their football program sales to the cause. Everyone planned to wear their purple "Fight Like a Knight" shirts to the Salem/Cave Spring football game.
It was as though a wave had swept over Salem High School - a wave of love for someone the students and faculty didn't even know. By the time the Friday of the Salem/Cave Spring football game arrived, it seemed that the entire school was focused on loving Kendall and through her, the Cave Spring community. On a typical Friday at Salem High, "Spartan Maroon and Gray" dominates the scene. On this day, however, "Team Kendall Purple" was the color of choice.
That night at the game the marching band came on to the field dressed in their t-shirts. The student section was a vast sea of purple. The cheerleaders stretched a chain of spirit links that went from end zone to end zone and back again. The Salem students repeatedly chanted Kendall's name even when things got a little heated on the football field, and the PA announcer let the crowd know that nearly $9000 had been raised by the Spartan students to support Kendall. It was a moment that will remain in the minds and hearts of the Salem and Cave Spring communities for many years to come.
Unfortunately, Kendall and her family were out of town that weekend and unable to attend the game. However, they were touched by the genuine show of love and support they had received from their rivals. On the Monday following the big game, Kendall and her father made a trip to Salem High School to say "thank you" to the Spartans. Kendall visited each lunch period to let the Salem students know how she was for their support. The Spartans cheered for her as though a movie star or celebrity had come to visit. They lined up to take pictures with her. They shook her hand, told her they loved her, and some even serenaded her with songs.
Why did everyone get so excited about helping Kendall? Why did students treat her like a visiting dignitary when she came to SHS? I think it's because our students recognized a great story. They recognized a great story and wanted to play a role in it. I think that we educators have something to learn from this.
In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller explores the elements of a great story and relates them to our lives. He learns that all great stories have a character who wants something and who overcomes conflict to get it. In these great stories, overcoming the conflict leads to relationships, significance, and change. Stop for a moment and think about a great story you love. Was there a character wanting something? Was there conflict? Did the character strive to overcome that conflict and along the way build relationships, find significance, and experience change? I bet the answer to all those questions is "yes" for the story that came to your mind.
Kendall's story has all the elements of a great story. It has an appealing lead character - Kendall herself. She wants something, and that something is meaningful - to beat cancer. There is conflict - cancer and money for treatment. And while the story is not finished being written, her struggle is leading to relationships, significant events, and change.
So here's the takeaway: The Spartans didn't jump solely at the chance to Fight Like Knights. They weren't simply on board with the idea of helping someone out. Instead, I would contend, that the student body at Salem High saw a great story and got excited because they were able to be a part of it. Everyone loves a great story and everyone ultimately wants to live a great story. However, life's busyness and routine rob us of opportunities to be a part of great stories. Fighting Like Knights was one of those rare opportunities when a great story smacks you right in the face and draws you into it. Our students were excited because they knew they were a part of something exciting because it was something that mattered. They knew they were living life as it was supposed to be lived - full of love, sacrifice, conflict, hard work, relationships, selflessness, and excitement.
So since we know that our students were created to live great stories and since we know that they often trade living great stories to chase insignificance, why don't we try to give them better stories to live? What if we really focused on creating opportunities for them that mattered? We could create service projects like One Life to Make a Difference that provide them with a chance to serve someone other than themselves. Teachers can give students exciting opportunities to serve their communities the way Chris Tucker does when he and his Anatomy students paint someone's house each year. We can inspire our students with stories about ordinary people who have done extraordinary things because they refused to live insignificant lives such as 12 year old Austin Gutwein who founded Hoops for Hope to help children in Africa who are orphaned because of AIDS.
Let's make our schools places in which young people start creating great stories - stories worth living, stories that are exciting, stories that change lives. Deep inside, this is what our students want us to do for them. Let's encourage Spartans to Fight Like Knights everyday!
Anyone out there have any examples of ways that their school has inspired young people to live better stories?