The hall of the middle school was packed full of kids slowly walking into the large, open gym. It was awards day, toward the end of the school year, about a week before the last day of eighth grade when I would be released from middle school and into a whole new world; high school. The air was buzzing with chatter and excitement as all of the students knew what was coming up next in a few short minutes. A few students from every grade would get an award; kids from sixth, seventh, and eighth grade would be called down in front of the stage to receive the honors the teachers had bestowed on them. But, the eighth graders had the most to be excited for because they would get honors in math, science, band, choir, and writing. I had worked my hardest throughout middle school in order to earn just one award, right now, at this moment. All of the stress I had endured, and, believe it or not, tears that I had shed, would be worth it if I could snag just one honor, one prize that would represent my work ethic and mindset. What I wanted the most was the Outstanding Achievement Award, the highest award one could receive.
As I headed into the gym with my friends from my first period language arts class, I was full of excitement and my heart started to beat faster and faster. One award I knew was going to be given was a writing achievement award. I had entered the contest to receive the prize, a few months earlier, and I had submitted by best, most descriptive piece of work entitled The Monster in the Woods which I had written in my gifted language arts class. This masterpiece, or so I liked to call it, was something I had tried my hardest on and it was based off of a “monster” that one might find in the woods. It could be a weird looking flower, and oddly shaped twig, or a face in the trees. It was based on our vivid imaginations and I thought my story exemplified the best of my abilities.
I walked into the gym with Caitlyn, one of my closest friends, who was also in my language arts class. She was surely among my most talented group of friends. She was an insane reader, as she could read high school and college level books in a surprisingly short amount of time and still retain most of the information. We sat down near the front of the gym and watched streams of students come from multiple entrances into the room. As people filed into the bleachers and into seats lined up row after row on the basketball court, I looked at the stage in front of me and saw how three art pieces were on three easels, but covered with a sheet to prevent anyone from looking at them before the winners were announced. I knew I would never possibly get an art award because I cannot draw, even in my wildest dreams. However, I had hopes for one of my friends, Brooke, because she is one of the most gifted artists I have ever met. I shifted my focus to stare at the albino wildcat on the back of the stage. It was an interesting piece of art, a white cat with red eyes even though the Fremont colors were green, white, and black. I gazed around the gym, itching with excitement and full of anticipation.
“Alright Fremont, ready for awards?” Ms. Motsenbocker, our school principal, asked over the microphone. We responded with a cheer. She went on to give a few awards to the younger sixth and seventh graders. Once the person’s name was called, there were cheers and applause as the student, or students, headed down to receive their prize and then went through a set of doors into another hallway to have their picture taken. I paid mild attention to the winners and clapped along with the rest of the school, but my mind was still mostly focused on the awards for the eighth graders that were to be given later, towards the end of the ceremony.
“And now for the awards to the eighth graders!” Ms. Motsenbocker cried out. I perked up in my seat in anticipation of what was about to happen.
“Oh my gosh! I’m so excited! I can’t wait to see if I get the writing scholarship award!” I exclaimed to Caitlyn, sitting beside me. “But, I bet you too are going to get at least one award.”
“I don’t know, I hope I do, but I bet you’re definitely going to get one. They would be crazy not to give you one,” Caitlyn replied.
“Which one do you think you have the best chances of getting?” I asked her.
“I don’t know, honestly. Maybe a math award?”
The awards finally started. First, the band and choir awards were given, and I was 100% positive I wouldn’t get any type of band or choir award simply because I wasn’t in either of the activities. I clapped as people I knew got the awards and went into the hallway to have their picture taken. The next award up was science. My heart started pounding harder and my palms started to sweat a little. I had gotten an A on my final project and I had done well in Mr. Fennell’s class. Mr. Fennell was my eighth grade science teacher and he was one of the best teachers at Fremont. His sarcastic personality made science class a fun and exciting event every day. He made sure all of his students understood what they were doing and, although he could be intimidating at times, he was really a helpful and kind teacher. He seemed to like me, which I thought increased my chances of getting a science award. Personally, I thought I deserved a science award, but, as the winners were announced, it turned out that not one of the people who won were me. My heart sank a little, but then rose again as the math award was announced to be next. I had gotten an A on every test or quiz in my math class which was already a year above an eighth grader’s regular math class. I waited for the winners to be announced thinking that I might actually get a math award. The winners were announced, and my heart leapt at the sound of one of the names.
“... and Caitlyn M.! Come up and receive your award!” Mr. Knox announced. I looked at Caitlyn, disappointed that I hadn’t received one, but just as happy that Caitlyn had gotten a prize for how hard she worked at school and how passionate she was about math. She looked at me in surprise, but she also had a look of pure glee on her face. I clapped loudly for her as she walked up and shook hands with her math teacher. After the math award recipients had taken their pictures and returned to their seats, the next award was going to be announced. Writing. My language arts teacher, Mrs. Salte, went up to announce the winner of the writing scholarship and I was starting to get even more nervous and excited, knowing this award was the one I thought I had the best chance at getting. My heart was pounding harder, beating in my head like a drum. I held my breath in anticipation of her announcement.
“And the winner of the writing scholarship goes to…Olivia H.!” Mrs. Salte announced. Olivia got up to receive her award, and I applauded along with the rest of the school, but I could feel tears coming to my eyes and I struggled to keep the sadness from showing in my face.
“What? How could they not give the writing scholarship to you?” Caitlyn exclaimed, turning to me.
“Oh, well. It’s fine. I’m happy for Olivia,” I answered. I was happy for Olivia, but I was also jealous and I began to feel guilty that I was starting to feel that way of everyone that had gotten an award, everyone that wasn’t me.
The last award given included the unveiling of the three pieces of art that still stood covered on the side of the stage. The award granted the students the honor of having their picture hung in the hallways of Fremont along with the other previous graduates. Ms. Miska, the art teacher, walked over and pulled the canvases off of the art pieces. There was only one name that I cared about that had won the award.
“Brooke T.'s interior wall design!” Ms. Miska cried. Brooke got up and walked over embarrassed, but smiling, to shake our art teacher’s hand. I cheered and clapped for my friend as she went into the hallway to have her picture taken with the other two recipients. While I had thought my story was a masterpiece, her artwork surely was and it was no surprise to me that she was recognized as one of the best artists in the entire eighth grade. But, there was a thought nagging at the back of my mind. What about the Outstanding Achievement Award I had heard all about? My question was shortly answered.
“The Outstanding Achievement Award will be announced at graduation. Congratulations to all of the students that won an award today!” Ms. Motsenbocker announced over the microphone, and with that we were dismissed. We shuffled out of the gym and to our next period, chatting with one another over what had just occurred. I tried to refrain from talking because I didn’t know if I could trust my voice to not give my feelings away. I felt like breaking into tears. After all the hard work I had done, all the effort in every class all three years of middle school, I wasn’t given an award? I knew these were selfish thoughts and I knew I was overreacting a bit, but that didn’t calm me down in any way. I just wanted middle school to be over, for us to go to graduation and officially leave Fremont. I knew that there was still one more award to be given, but the hope inside of me that I would actually receive the honor was very small.
The next week leading up to graduation flew by like a race car shooting around a track. Before I knew it, the entire eighth grade class was sitting in the gym of the College of Lake County getting ready for the graduation ceremony and our final time together as eighth graders. Parents and families watched from the bleachers on either sides; a mix of bored siblings and excited mothers, fathers, and grandparents. Our class speaker, Kate, went up to give her speech, and, when it was over, Ms. Motsenbocker stepped up to announce the final award; the Outstanding Achievement Award. My heart started beating faster than it had a week ago in the middle school gym. My palms started to sweat profusely as our principal raised the microphone to her lips.
“I will now announce this year’s winners of the Outstanding Achievement Award. Two boys and two girls were selected from the eighth grade by the teachers. These students showed excellence in academics, involvement in extracurricular activities, and were helpful to both students and teachers. The award goes to…” I held my breath, waiting, hoping, desperately wanting my name to be called. “Brandon L., Garrett M., Diya J., and... MacKenzie S.! Congratulations and come on up!” Although I had hoped for this award for many months, I couldn’t actually believe I was receiving it. I was overjoyed and ecstatic beyond explanation. I slowly got to my feet, shaking a little in disbelief and excitement. I made my way down to the end of the row toward the aisle. People cheered and shouted congratulations to me as I made my way down the path toward the stage. I went up the stairs to the platform and met my fellow classmates on the stage overlooking the entire gym. I shook hands with my principal as she congratulated me and I then stood next to Diya, one of my best friends. A photographer was waiting below the stage to take our picture, and what she captured was the exact moment Diya and I looked at each other, both smiling our hearts out. When we returned back to our seats, I was still not sure that I had come to the full realization of my achievement. To this day, it is still hard to believe that I had gotten this honor.
This moment is one of my most vivid memories from middle school and it will resonate with me for the rest of my life. It has boosted my self-esteem and self-confidence more than any other event in my life. It showed me that I could anything that I set my mind too, that I could push past my self doubts and rise to the occasion with hard work and strong willpower. Now, when I struggle in a class in high school, I think back to the elation I felt when I received the award and how all the hard work I am doing now will soon be worth it. The Outstanding Achievement Award has made me realize that I am capable of becoming a successful woman, and, I believe, that it is a foreshadowing of the wonderful events to come in high school, college, and in the real world.