“Most Likely to Succeed” – The Weight of a Senior Superlative

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Before June completely escapes me, let me share one of the many things rumbling about my brain over the past few weeks. I know that as a teacher, summer is supposed to start once school lets out in early June (at least here in Western Pennsylvania). But June brims over with national speech and debate tournaments, homeschool evaluations, and, this year, serving as an AP English Literature reader. I have yet to take a breath.

As the class of 2021 graduated earlier this month, I thought back to a phrase that has haunted me for nearly three decades: most likely to succeed. This evening, I quickly thumbed through my own yearbook, and though I couldn’t find it immediately, I distinctly remember being voted “Most Likely to Succeed” as my senior superlative. That’s been a heavy yoke.

I’ve read alumni magazines and heard about what others have accomplished over the years, and in that moment of measuring, I’ve felt the failure. But I don’t stay there. In fact, as I came back to that phrase this year, having heard the senior superlatives for the class of 2021 where I teach, I felt more in line with the sentiments found in the following quote best attributed to Bessie A. Stanley (not Ralph Waldo Emerson). You’ll also find the greatest testimony to fulfilling that superlative in a short documentary filmed by a former student that tells the story of the band Treebeard Brown, a band I formed with a few colleagues years ago to support a fellow colleague and his family in a difficult season of life.

I’m no longer haunted by that superlative, rather humbled by fresh perspective. And I’m brimming with gratitude.

What is Success? – Bessie A. Stanley

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent persons
And the affection of children;
To earn the approbation of honest critics
And to endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty,
To find the best in others;
To give of one's self;
To leave the world a bit better,
Whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch
Or a redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm
And sung with exultation;
To know that even one life has breathed easier
Because you have lived -
This is to have succeeded.

Heart Throbs, Volume Two, [ed. Joseph Mitchell Chapple] (Boston: Chapple Publishing Company, 1911), pp. ii, 1-2.

The Story of Treebeard Brown

The Story of Treebeard Brown – A Reminder of What is Means to Be Successful

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