My heart ached as the sixth-graders walked one by one to the microphone at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center, gave their first name and said what they want to be when they grow up.
Most appeared nervous. In some, that translated into a stiff gait, gaze locked forward. Some walked as if they were on a high wire, so conscious of the eyes on them that they perhaps feared tripping or stumbling. One skinny, gangly girl’s nerves made her long limbs jiggle as she walked, and she flashed a broad, self-conscious smile.
Some, like that girl, had begun the physical growth spurt that soon will make their parents feel suddenly much older. But most, even the taller ones, still had a child’s voice.
As each one, still brimming with a child’s energy but not yet a teenager’s bravado, spoke into the microphone, that child’s voice announcing a career ambition stabbed at the place in my heart where I keep sentimentality locked away.
“I want to be a technology designer,” a boy said, and the sweet earnestness bored into me.
These 41 children were this year’s recipients of Dream Awards from the Foundation of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute. They were nominated by their teachers and guidance counselors because they show great potential to achieve these goals – or others that may replace them in the coming years.
“I want to be a paleontologist, vet or author,” a girl said, and the broad range of options she is considering swept me along like a river. She believes in these, I saw it in her eyes, she believes she can do it, and hearing that child’s voice speaking it, I wanted to pick her up and help her along.
These are all children who could become the first members of their families to attend college. Sixth-graders surely don’t realize what a barrier that is, but it is one, as adults come to understand. The understanding is part of what creates the ache when you look into a young face full of life and energy and dreams. An adult knows how many obstacles will come along.
A lack of money to pay tuition may be the least of the problems a child will confront before graduating high school, but unlike so many of those problems, it’s one that is easily addressed.
Not easily enough, of course. The 41 recipients of this year’s awards are not the only students who would be worthy of this attention. The money the foundation has raised goes only so far.
“I want to be a pediatrician,” a girl said, and I thought how many other girls might have said that but weren’t lucky enough to be chosen and brought to this room.
During their 25 years the Dream Awards have helped hundreds of students take a critical step closer to achieving their dreams.
It’s not enough. It’s not nearly enough.