High School Heroes

There is virtually no higher honor for a high school student than meeting the President of the United States. Only a select few kids ever get the chance. And, usually, it’s a high school hero of some distinction: National Spelling Bee Winner, High School Football Champions, Boy Scout Troops.

Yesterday afternoon, it was a group of Presidential Scholars. The President had invited them to the White House to congratulate them on their award, and to use the occasion to reauthorize the “No Child Left Behind” act.

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Presidential Scholars are smart kids. According to a Washington Post story this morning, it’s a high honor that very few kids get:

“Each year the program selects one male and one female student from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Americans living abroad, 15 at-large students, and up to 20 students in the arts on the basis of outstanding scholarship, service, leadership and creativity.”

Not only do these kids get to meet the President, but they also attend lectures and seminars all over Washington, with government officials and elected representatives, during the month of June.

These are smart kids.
These are bright kids.
These are the kind of kids that serve as vessels for our collective hopes and dreams for the future.

When the President met with 50-some of these kids yesterday, they handed him a handwritten letter. Apparently, it was a letter stating some of their heartfelt concerns.

Now even though these are smart kids, they’re still kids. So you had to wonder: what crucial issue would be on their minds and hearts, compelling them to speak to the President directly about it?

Were they requesting presidential pardon for Paris Hilton?
Suggesting Ludacris tunes for his iPod?
Offering him a Haiku about Sanjaya?

Nope. None of these. Instead, the handwritten note implored the President to uphold the Geneva Conventions.

The concern on these high school kid’s hearts was torture; and told the President that they “believe we have a responsibility to voice our convictions.”

Here’s a part of their letter:

“We do not want America to represent torture. We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees, to cease illegal renditions, and to apply the Geneva Convention to all detainees, including those designated enemy combatants…”

I can promise you what you will hear in the media today. On right-wing-talk-radio, you will hear that these kids ambushed the President. They will call it disgraceful that these kids took an innocent and non-political event, and injected politics into it.

But, of course, they did nothing of the sort.

It was, in fact, the President’s staff who was atttempted to use them as window dressing at the reauthorization of “No Child Left Behind.” His staff put politics into it. They just chose to speak their mind too.

We’ll probably also hear that not all of the President Scholars signed on to this letter.

I am sure this is the case. In any group of smart, free-thinking kids, there will be those who choose not to go with the group.

But neither of these is the thing I will remember from this story.

What I will remember is the courage it took for these high school kids –who were guests in the White House– to speak out boldly about what they believe.

The power differential between a high school kid and the President of the United States is pretty vast. The possibility of retaliation by others, or the loss of career opportunities, is real. They had no power to wield, and everything to lose. Given this, the pressure to stand quietly, smile meekly, take pics for your MySpace page, and then just go home, must have been intense.

But they didn’t do that. They did much more than that. They chose to speak their “truth” to the most powerful “power” in the world.

And whether you agree with them or disagree with them, you have to admit that it takes a lot of courage to do what they did.

And for this, I’d have to say that these are smart kids. They give me some hope about the future.

They are real high school heroes.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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