I’m an ordinary soul. Until I was well into my forties the only time I rode in a limousine was on the sad occasion of my grandmother’s death. I suppose that there may have been some folks who rented limousines for their senior proms, but I never knew any of them. When I got married, my new husband and I left the wedding reception in his father’s car. It was a bit fancier than the old Dodge that he inherited from his grandmother that would become our means of transportation in our early years of marriage. Somehow it never occurred to me to dream of cruising in a limo. It was something that I did not miss at all, and then came an unexpected opportunity.
I was teaching in a middle school that held an annual fundraiser. Not so surprisingly the government never gives enough funding to education to cover all of the expenses needed for providing students with an exceptional learning experience. Virtually every campus turns to fundraisers to earn extra cash, and ours involved turning our students into competitive salespeople hawking a variety of candies, wrapping paper and home products. Students received different kinds of incentives and awards for their efforts in making the fundraiser successful. Even the teachers got some perks if the kids in their homerooms exceeded expectations.
One year I found myself in charge of a homeroom filled with go-getters who were determined to win the most coveted prizes. As a result I became a kind of rockstar of fundraising even though I secretly harbored a hate for those things. One week the salesmanship of my students gave me a shot at grabbing cash in a machine that pumped out bills of varying value for one minute. After a few minutes I figured out a winning technique and walked away with close to seventy-five dollars. My prejudice against turning our kids into door to door salespersons began to wane ever so slightly as I pocketed the gains of their efforts.
At the end to the weeks long process the individual students who sold the most were part of a lottery for the grand prize which was an afternoon riding anywhere they wished in a limousine. One of my students won the coveted reward ,and our entire homeroom was excited for him. There was a catch, however. He had to have one of his parents accompany the group on the glamorous journey. Unfortunately both his mom and dad worked long hours and insisted that they could not miss work for anything so frivolous. My students was devastated until his mother suggested that he find out if a teacher might be allowed to serve as the chaperone. When his plan was approved, he asked me to be the adult who would ride along. Because he was a wonderful young person, I immediately agreed.
The student chose three of his best friends all of whom were polite, well-behaved, hardworking souls. I knew that the adventure would be relaxing and without any trouble so I became excited about what we might do during our five hours rolling around Houston. The plan that the boy created was a testament to his lack of experience living the high life, but it turned out to be great fun.
Our first stop was at a miniature car track not far from the school. All of the boys raced each other for a couple of hours at no cost. When they had finished they spent a few more time playing gaming machines while the limousine driver waited patiently for his next command. Once their gaming interest was sated my student suggested that we drive to a local fast food drive-in where everyone ordered burgers and shakes. By this time the boys had endeared themselves to the chauffeur who quite willingly lowered his window when the food was delivered to the car, and in his best English accent said, “Pardon me. Can you bring us some grey poupon?”
We all laughed hysterically while the server insisted on knowing who the mystery boys in the back of the limousine might be. Playing his role perfectly the driver insisted that he was not at liberty to say, but they were rather famous stars who were out enjoying some fun in between filming. By that time my role was to pretend to be the nanny.
We ended our journey at a collectable comic book store where each of the boys perused the merchandise while a clerk eyed them with interest. Eventually they each chose an item and the chauffeur paid. The student who had won the prize noticed that the store sold lottery tickets and asked that we get one of those as well. When the clerk hesitated and pointed out that it was illegal for minors to buy such things, the prize winning boy quickly noted that he wanted to buy it for me, his nanny. He explained that he wanted me to perhaps win so that I would not have to work so hard anymore. He told the clerk that I was such a lovely woman that he wished for a better life for me.
The rattled clerk sold us the ticket on the proviso that one of the adults would have to pay for it. The chauffeur quickly complied since he was the man with the funds from the fundraising company. As the baffled young man behind the counter handed me the ticket he whispered his inquiry, “Who is that young man? Is he famous or something?”
I smiled and told him that I would be fired if I were to provide that information and we left almost running to the limousine lest we burst into laughter and blow our cover. Even the chauffeur was part of our silly shenanigans at this point. He opened the window that separated him from the rest of us and boasted that he had never had so much fun. He complimented me and the boys for being so polite and well-behaved. He admitted that he had been wary of this job, but all of his fears had been for naught. As he left us at the front of the school he bowed and wished all of the young men a wonderful future.
I was only in a limousine three more times after that. Two were as part of funeral trains for loved ones. The third time was with a student who was participating at the state final of a debate contest called the Great Debate. Once again I had been lucky enough to be chosen to accompany him along with his mother and the school sponsor of the debate team. We were squired around Dallas to the hotel where he would meet his debating foe. In a time before the Affordable Care Act his task was to advocate for the creation of a national healthcare system.
The judges were impressive dignitaries including a justice of the Texas Supreme Court. His opponent was a confident fellow who appeared more than ready to tear apart my student’s arguments. Because I had once been a debater myself I knew that both young men would have to be on their best game to win. I was nervous for them.
From the start my student was disarming. If he was anxious, he did not show any hesitation. He answered each point that his rival made with great clarity. The competitor came back with equal force. I worried that the judges would have a difficult time discerning whose arguments were the strongest and defect to personal beliefs. Still, I felt very good about the abilities of my student whether or not he ultimately won.
During the time that we were waiting for results my student admitted that he had indeed been apprehensive the entire time. He was impressed with the abilities of the other debater and felt that in many ways the contest had been a draw. We were all quite tense until the judges finally returned.
They too spoke of how difficult it had been to make a decision. They noted the consistently excellent debating skills of both young men. Ultimately they had leaned toward my student as the winner. He would earn a nice check to apply to his tuition at Georgetown University where he planned to begin his college studies in the fall. We cheered with the greatest of joy.
We rode back to the airport in the limousine catching the eyes of everyone we passed on the road. I’m sure they wondered if some dignitary was inside. I knew that the young man at the center of our ride was one day going to do such great things that he would indeed be a distinguished individual. For now his future lay ahead and it seemed fitting that he would launch it like the rockstar that he was.
I doubt I will ride in a limousine ever again but I’ll always remember those two unique times with my students. Nothing gives an educator more joy than being part of the lives of truly wonderful young people. Both of these boys were winners then just as they are now. They deserved to be treated like someone special because they were. It’s too bad that everyone does not have such a wonderful experience as a reward for just being good. We too often neglect to acknowledge the most exceptional young people among us, complaining instead about those who are troubled. Maybe we’d do well to spend more time rewarding the virtue that abounds.