I wasn’t the most popular kid in school.
I wasn’t a jock, and I thought I was much funnier and cooler than I was.
But on the other hand, I was just your typical hormonal-driven all-American junior higher. Think Kevin Arnold, but slightly less stylish and a little more annoying.
Or paint me blue and call me Skeeter Valentine.
I’ll never forget the episode in my eighth-grade life that involved cartoons and science.
The students in each science class would vote for the top 5 best displays to go on to be showcased in front of the entire school, then onto district finals.
Even though there wasn’t a scientific bone in my body, everything in me screamed out for recognition and fame. After all, when you’re famous, you have friends, and when you have friends, you’re popular.
It took me days to come up with what my project would be, and when I figured it out, I was totally and absolutley committed to winning the contest.
While everyone else was building vinegar volcanoes and styrofoam solar systems, I was going to make a cartoon movie. My project was about the science of cartoons, and how they move.
My teacher loved the idea, and rooted for me the whole way. It hadn’t come out yet, but she was as supportive as the teacher in October Sky.
Inspired by my hero, Walt Disney, I set out to make a cartoon movie about a dog who falls asleep dreaming of food. When she wakes up in the rain, she sets off looking for real food. I spent weeks on this project, decorating my trifold poster board with all of my cartoon characters I had spent years creating.
I even glued those paper-springs behind them making them pop up from the board.
And the coolest part was that I made a 5-minute behind-the-scenes video set to Van Halen’s “Humans Being”.
I mean, no one else made a video.
This science project was my crowning achievement and the purpose of my existence.
It was to be my magnum opus.
The classroom exploded with applause the day I showed them my videos, and I was sure to win the contest and move on to the school-wide competition.
Steven Spielberg and John Lasseter would have fought over me for my immediate employment.
But come voting day, I wasn’t even a finalist. I had lost to the less creative, more popular kids in the classroom. I’ll never forget the apologetic look my teacher gave me. I wonder if she herself had been stung by classroom politics in her youth.
The sting hurt. It hurt to be defined by characteristics that I would grow to resent. It hurt to see lesser people get ahead because of clout.
There’s a lesson to be found in all of this. And honestly, I’ve yet to discover what it is.
Maybe it’s that Jesus doesn’t play classroom politics. But that’s cheesy.
Maybe the lesson is, I should have secured votes before the election. But that’s a bit shady.
Or maybe the lesson is as simple as this:
Even though I may not have been the most popular, best-looking kid in school, and even though I wasn’t an athlete or talented in things that were deemed “cool”, and I didn’t have the greatest fashion sense or the best table-manners, the loser still can get the girl in the end, and win.
Happy five-year anniversary, Sarabeth. I love you!