Tuesday, June 7, 2016

How I Spent my Saturday

Frank Cross (Bill Murray) in Scrooged has an epiphany regarding the Christmas Miracle and giving. He says that "the miracle can happen to you!" He goes on that "you've just got to want that feeling. And if you like it and you want it, you'll get greedy for it! You'll want it every day of your life and it can happen to you." I thought of that quote last Saturday. 

I had the opportunity to spend the day with a diverse group of people. They gathered in a nondescript hotel in downtown Orlando and took the time to meet two dozen young people with dreams of incredible futures. They are the Friends of 440 scholarship interview committee. And they said Frankesque things like "this is the best day of the year" and "I would not miss this for the world" and "I so look forward to today." They engaged in delivering a miracle and it brought them joy.  

Those interviewed were applicants for scholarship assistance from the Friends of 440. In one sense, they could be grouped into two categories. Some are connected to Florida Worker's Compensation through the employment of a parent in some aspect of managing workers' compensation. Others have a parent who has suffered a Worker's Compensation injury. In either sense, this committee looks for a "nexus" between the applicant and our world of workers' compensation.

But there the distinctions end, and a great many similarities emerge. These students, to a person, were focused, intelligent, conversational, respectful, gregarious, effusive, enthusiastic, grateful, dignified, poised, (I wish I had a thesaurus this morning) and downright impressive, with a particular emphasis on impressive.

They were of course not homogeneous, and therefore each sticks in my mind for a different reason. One graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA. One graduated in the top 10 students of a 600+ student class. One had her school close two weeks before her senior year and had to begin fresh as a senior in a new environment. One was a cross country star. One was a ballet dancer. Two were lacrosse players. They were involved and DECA, student government, cheer leading, band, athletics, key club, soccer, tutoring, and more. Some described how an injury to a parent changed their life. They became care-givers, errand runners, and chore doers. 

They had volunteered for the Red Cross, Girl Scouts, food banks, churches, youth groups, and virtually any other community organization you could imagine. They had spent their high school years being mentors, teammates, and leaders. They discussed activities and achievements; eyes twinkled, smiles appeared, voice tones changed. 

I frankly was in awe of their raw determination, and stunning achievements. With all that we are assaulted with in the daily news media, it is sometimes too easy to buy-in to the naysayers, and doubters. We hear so much negativity about youth today. These youth walked into that room with calm aplomb. It was refreshing to see an empowered, dedicated, and positive group of young people so focused on their futures, so confident in their individuality. They were neat, clean, prepared and (if I did not mention already) impressive. 

Certainly, the expected element was questioning regarding career goals, financial planning, academic success, and financial need. They want to be engineers, physical therapists, psychiatrists, doctors, accountants, and much more. A few honestly admitted that they were not sure where their personal path would lead, but they were nonetheless eager and ready to set out on their journey to see where the road would take them. They have researched, prepared and dreamt. They have thoughts and knowledge and ideas. They see a future and have no discernible hesitation in driving towards it. 

It was impressive to witness the commitment to these people's lives. Several applicants presented with a parent or guardian. Two presented with their entire families, including siblings. These families had obviously concluded that success for their student was a family affair.

I am confident that I witnessed merely the tip of the iceberg, and that a great deal of effort time and devotion was invested prior to this day. But this day, Cory Schnepper, Eric Sandler, Honorable James Condry, Frank Clark, George Rochford, Honorable Ray Holly, Mal Steinberg, Annamarie Kim, Lori Gerson, Mary Spagnola-Hills, and Richard Sadow poured their souls into the Herculean task of assessing need, and distributing limited resources to these phenomenal people. It was a very obviously generous and selfless investment of time. The focus was clearly and unequivocally upon the future of these young people.

There was money distributed. I do not minimize the importance of those resources in the future of these students. But there was more. There was wisdom, encouragement, friendship, advice, and commiseration freely dispensed. These Friends people took time to assure and reassure. They were quick with a kind word, a reassurance about a choice or decision, and compliments regarding achievements flowed. They cared about the students, looked at projects, listened to dreams. 

In short, there was an investment of time with some worthy people. That investment will bear fruit, and I trust the students will look back on their interviews for reassurance in those tough times faced in achieving life goals. 

Impressed? One of the applicants even wrote a thank you note the same day! It was electronic, but it was written. It was punctuated and spell-checked and used complete words! It was gracious, enthusiastic and appreciative. I also received innumerable firm handshakes accompanied by confident looks in the eye. I received a great many "thank-you" and other grateful comments (and I was but a humble guest in the assemblage). I confess, I was impressed by these young people. 

Impressed? One returning applicant described the effort of a first year in college. This young inspiration works two jobs during the school year to attend college. This student described studying after work (11:00 p.m.) until 2:00 a.m. And as a chemistry major with a dream of medical school, lamented receiving the first C ever in a long and impressive academic career. With a glowing expression, this student accepted responsibility for a stumble and described what it had taught. If you are not impressed by this, in a teenager, you have never lived with one (and likely never were one). 

I was most honored to be a guest in their presence. The Friends' hospitality could not have been more gracious. I am proud of each of them, and what they individually and collectively bring to the community that we call worker's compensation. If you ever feel The need for a reminder of what is good in our world, I recommend you attend one of these award meetings to meet the young people who both aspire for a better future, and those who strive to make it possible.

Yes, in case you did not guess it, the word for the day was "impressed." And frankly, I was. 


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