‘AB.’ HK’s next, I know it.
‘BC, DE.’ More applause. ‘DD.’ Oh no, he’s not going to get it. Breathe.
‘HK.’ Yes! A sip of air. A curl of a happiness-tear tickles the corner of my eye.
I watch HK walk on stage to shake the hand of the special guest. He’s presented with what I assume is a badge but it’s hard to tell from my seat rows back in the stadium. He walks to about ten or so outgoing and incoming captains and is patted on the back and hugged. I can tell by his cute swagger and clumsy handshakes that he’s happy, and nervous too.
Those curls begin to swell over my eyes and I don’t hear the announcement of the sixth school captain, only the applause and thanks for attending. School speech night is done.
I make a bee-line for my HK. It’s quite a feat getting to him through the hoards of around two thousand people moving at a snail’s pace and in every direction. My eyes don’t shift from my boy on stage as I creep closer to the front and I’m sure I’m passing people I know, but I can’t stop to say hello. Occasionally, I catch my boy’s glance and I know that he’s watching my approach.
I reach the edge of the stage to where my boy meets me. Our embrace is instant. ‘Congratulations,’ I say. ’Well done!’ Thankfully those swells in my eyes are barricaded well and I can speak clearly. He shows me his badge, a stately and honourable pin to sit on his lapel. His hands are clammy and trembling, a rarity in my calm and collected boy.
‘Can I wear it for a day?’ asks son two.
‘You can go and get …’ says HK, smirking like the Cheshire cat that has swallowed the prize bird.
Sons three grins in deep dimples and watches on quietly.
Dad comes up from behind. He shakes HK’s hand, beaming as the happiest of fathers. They hug.
Our congratulations are short as HK must leave to attend a celebration supper. We walk out together until HK goes his way and we go home. I pass people I now see who congratulate us for winning. I’m perplexed. We didn’t win anything. HK gained the right to be a school leader.
At home, the texts and Facebook messages come in congratulating HK and us some more, for winning and for being his parents. They continue the next day and over the week, from family, past teachers and old friends. Yet if congratulations are to be given to those that had a hand in forming HK, they should go to them too for they were part of our boy’s development, of who he is. As was the world.
Congratulations should go to the people of Cambodia for allowing HK an insight into their lives after the Khmer Rouge atrocities during our travels there, and of Vietnam for the life of poverty to understand and travelling challenges to overcome when he was only 11 years old.
Congratulations also to the people of Kärnten in Austria for HK’s chance to ski an Alps’ slope that tested his mettle and helped develop his courage and self confidence, and to the Venetians for challenging him to pull a weighted bag over the hundreds of steps of bridges and paths two years later. Thanks too, to the football coach for cutting him from the side that meant he couldn’t play with his friends at age ten.
One afternoon during that week post speech night, HK came to me and said how puzzled he was by the fuss. He said people had treated him differently since becoming School Captain. Many had congratulated him on his achievement. They spoke differently with him and were more interested in him, some treated him as more important and with more respect compared to a week ago. And then there were others who had challenged him when previously, they hadn’t. Is it an ego feeling threatened or a case of tall poppy syndrome where merit is attacked because achievement presumably elevates some above others?
HK didn’t understand the change in behaviour toward him nor what he had achieved. Perhaps that’s testament to who he is and the humility within his makeup that makes him a good leader.
We’re happy for HK as he is happy with becoming School Captain. We’re happy that he is happy. It’s his accomplishment in life. HK did the work. He saw the opportunity and applied for the role. It was his doing, his drive to pursue an opportunity that appealed to him.
HK becoming School Captain is not about ‘we’ winning anything. It’s about HK pursuing what he enjoys and makes him happy, and by doing that, he achieves. Achievement is subjective. One person battling domestic violence and subsequent depression and attempted suicide, to come through and gain a job, find a partner and have a child … that’s achievement that beyond any measurement.
All each of us wants is to be happy, doing what we love to do, what fulfils us in life. HK can attest to that.