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Dune Harrison walked into the 7th grade history classroom, taking a seat in the back. He sat there regularly, always afraid to sit in the front for having more of a chance to be called on.
The bell rang, and Mrs. Brown - a small old woman with gray hair and wrinkles - walked in. She was usually nice, but sometimes could be mean and annoying in Dune’s opinion – as she was doing now.
“Dune,” she said in her unsteady voice. “What is the name of the second state to be founded?” The question was simple. The class had spent the last week learning about the fifty states and their capitols. Yet, Dune didn’t know, and answered “Um…Vermont?”
The other students laughed. It was like an everyday routine for them. Everyone had already memorized all the states founding orders, and most of the capitols – all except for Dune. It wasn’t that he was dumb, it was just that something did not click in his mind. If Dune tried, he could actually be smart and not idiotic like his classmates said he was. Sadly, he didn’t seem to realize that.
“No Dune,” Mrs. Brown said with a sigh. “The correct answer is Pennsylvania.” Dune stared back blankly, spending the rest of the class period carving his name into the desk with a pencil. Already you could find his name carved into many back desks at Cloud Borough Middle School.
The rest of the day remained uneventful, except for the occasional wrong answer and the laugh that followed afterwards. Dune felt angry inside. It was the same thing repeatedly, always being teased and laughed at. No one else was laughed at if they missed a question. It had been like that for years, and he felt as if he was about to snap!
Dune walked home solemnly. It was still September; the beginning of the school year, and so far it wasn’t working out so well. He couldn’t concentrate. There was already enough problems going on at home for him.
Home – the very word was almost as dreadful as school was. A few years ago, his mother filed for divorce due to his dad being an alcoholic and drug addict, as well as abusive. Since then, his mother has been working three jobs. She is never home so his grandma, whom is very sick, lives with Dune. He takes care of her, as well as the apartment where they live, located in a rundown plaza. It was very dirty, and there was hardly any food in the house.
Dune unlocked the front door, stepping inside to his kitchen/living room area. After checking on his grandma who was sleeping, he started his homework. After a while, he started to lose concentration, and put random answers down while staring at the falling plaster on the ceiling, worrying. Everything felt wrong to him.
As he sat there, he remembered Mrs. Brown saying that she was going out of town for a day. There would be a substitute teacher called Mr. Howard. Dune went to bed that night hoping he wouldn’t be called on in the morning…
Dune walked into history class the next morning taking his usual seat. Mr. Howard sat at the front desk, looking over some papers. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, wore glasses, and was very tall. He also seemed to be clever, but Dune wasn’t sure. Aren’t all teachers clever, he thought?
Class began with Mr. Howard introducing himself.
“Good morning all! What a wonderful morning it is too. For those of you who don’t know my name, I am Mr. Howard.”
“Good Morning Mr. Howard,” said the class simultaneously.
He taught the material that was left for him very well. Dune liked him, especially since he didn’t call on him. That was… until the end of class!
“Dune,” he said. “What is the capitol of New Mexico?”
“Incorrect! That is the capitol of Texas. New Mexico is Albuquerque. You were close though,” he replied.
Then the laugh came. Mr. Howard stared with a frustrated look creasing at his brow. Dune wondered if he was going to do something to embarrass him, like a speech about the laughter.
“Excuse me class,” he said. “Why are you laughing? I find it inappropriate.”
Here we go, thought Dune.
One of the braver kids in the front said, “Oh that’s just Dune. He can’t answer one question right, so we always laugh at him. It’s sort of an everyday thing.”
Mr. Howard actually looked angry. Dune wondered why. It was like he knew exactly what was happening, as if he was recalling it from a past experience. Meanwhile, Dune sat as low as he could go in his seat, trying to disappear.
“Children, that is not nice at all. I prefer that you do not laugh again. I have always said that everyone is smart. In fact, every one of you are. Not one person alive in this world today is dumb. You can’t be dumb until your dead.”
His words rang in Dune’s ears. They actually made sense, and it seemed they made sense to the other students as well. He didn’t feel so embarrassed anymore, so he sat up straight again. Mr. Howard looked at him with a very concerned expression. “Now class, where were we,” he said. He acted as if nothing ever happened, and continued with what he was teaching.
That was the last time Dune saw Mr. Howard. He glanced at Dune with an encouraging look as he exited the class. Even though Mr. Howard had only said a short little speech, it had great effect.
After that, everything actually started to get better for Dune. It started out slowly, but it happened. He went from getting E’s to D’s, then to C’s and B’s and finally after about two months, A’s. In fact, his entire life seemed to get better. His grandma was no longer sick; his mother got a new job that paid well, and quit the other three jobs. She actually was able to be home now.
It seemed as if the cord in Dune’s brain had been struck. He thought positive, and maintained a good mindset. He excelled, and eventually went on to becoming a doctor. However, in all of his life, Dune Harrison never forgot Mr. Howard and his short little speech, or the one line that changed everything:
“You’re not dumb until your dead!”