I didn’t expect it would make me so sad. After all, we were simply packing up the trophies from the mantel. High school graduation was over and Rachel had one gloriously free week before beginning her summer job as a counselor at a sleep-away camp. There was so much to do.
Third on her to-do list was “pack trophies.” We did it with her sister and now it was her turn.
It’s funny how quickly little acts morph into family traditions. By the time Molly graduated in 2004, she had accumulated an impressive array of plaques, trophies, ribbons and certificates. She had never returned from a debate tournament empty-handed. Naturally the awards had all been proudly displayed on and around the mantelpiece in our living room.
Once she graduated, we had to make a decision. Should we maintain this shrine to high school excellence or clear the space and make room for the next competitor?
Eventually Molly decided to store all but a few of the awards. She kept out the Roy C. Moore Fine Arts Award for her work with Gainesville High School theater and a magnificent hand-blown glass sculpture that she won in a fiercely-fought debate tournament at the Westminister Schools in Atlanta. Everything else was consigned to Rubbermaid tubs in the garage.
Over the next eight years Molly’s little sister forged her own path through the world of middle and high school competitions, leaning more heavily toward writing but with similar successes in debate and theater. Soon the mantel was full again.
All too quickly, it was June 2012. Rachel casually suggested that we needed to buy some Rubbermaid tubs. At first I misunderstood. “You’re taking your stuff to camp in tubs?” I questioned. Nope. It was time to put away the trophies. I didn’t see any need to rush. After all, Rachel’s the youngest. No longer do we have to make space for more high school triumphs. It could wait.
She was persistent. Finally, I got it. This was more than a household chore. This was a rite of passage. Out with the old to make way for whatever life brings next.
So we started packing. Down came the debate trophies with their glittery faux marble bases topped by statuettes of a golden orator, a man in a business suit who had a striking resemblance to Ward Cleaver. Down came the trophies bearing the alternative stock decoration, a winged goddess, or perhaps it’s a angel, holding aloft a torch.
I had time to do some reminiscing. I talked about the trophies that GHS awarded back when Sam Harben was the debate coach. They were ceramic elephants created by the school’s art department. They had weighted bases so if a speaker won two events, voilà — bookends. I love that kind of practicality.
Rachel chose to keep out the awards that came with scholarships. There were plaques for state-wide oratorical and essay competitions, Kiwanis writing and performing arts trophies, the Jan Ewing performance scholarship. While I was busy looking back she was already looking ahead.
The mantel is cleaner now. Gone is the glorious clutter memorializing so many victories and accomplishments. From here on out there will be far fewer tangible recognitions for superior work. The rewards will be more internal, the satisfaction that comes from doing their best and making a difference, whether it’s in college, on the job or out in the world.
The mantel has been cleared but these young women carry with them the talents, skills and attitudes that those trophies celebrated. Molly is well on her way to becoming a leader in the field of Jewish education. Rachel starts college this fall, supported by both the scholarships she’s earned and the abilities she’s developed.
With all that, who needs trophies? I think I’ll buy a set of nice candlesticks.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.