Leaders — on Sept. 18 175 students were chosen to be part of what is now a revolution of the Mattson kind.
This uprising was led by a man named Geoff McLachlan, who works with the Ovation Company. He has an amazing, youthful approach on life, and I believe that he changed the way a lot of us leaders look at others. At the beginning of the day there was a keynote assembly. This was mainly about being nice to other people no matter who they are or what they have or don’t have. The way Geoff told his stories really opened minds to a different way of seeing things. Everyone was intrigued because Geoff was hilarious! Throughout the whole assembly he was constantly making things funny. It was like watching a motivational speaker and a comedian!
But I think many kids would agree when I say it had a big impact on most of us. Sasquatch — the nick-name Geoff had given himself because of his big feet and red beard — told us about a certain kid at one of the high schools he went to for this workshop. Tim, as Geoff called him, was at the workshops as a freshman, sophomore, and on until he was in college! One of the years when Tim was in college, he and his friends had created this hand sign and it soon spread around the school. If you have seen YouTube videos for something called coning, you know what I’m talking about. Tim and his buddies took a silly prank of asking a McDonald’s drive through person if they believed in unicorns and sticking the ice cream cone they ordered to their head, and turned it into a sign that meant “I believe in you!”
So if you see a kid put their fist to their forehead then point at you, they believe in you. Yes, this spread around he school like crazy. But it was stories like that that had all us students thinking about the real meaning of silly things. After the assembly, the 175 chosen students came back after a break for the workshop piece of the day. We did exercises which involved having to do different tasks with someone you probably didn’t know. This had the effect of being able to meet new people. Also we did activities with a group, and we really get to know them. But when that activity was over, things got emotional. For the next half and hour or so, all of us stood on the sidelines of the volleyball court in the gym. When Sasquatch asked a question, you would go to the middle if it was a yes to the question, or stay on the sideline if it was no or you felt you didn’t want to answer. The twist was you weren’t allowed to talk. The questions weren’t just “Is your favorite color red?” or “Do you like pancakes?” They were personal questions. Thing like “Have you been having trouble at home, but you came to school, and nobody knew what was happening?” or “Is someone you know addicted to drugs or alcohol?”
The point was to realize that a lot of people go through hard things. Geoff said a particular comment when almost all the kids were in the middle on a certain question. “The more you know about someone, the easier it is to be nice to them.”
We all the others noticed that all but maybe three kids were in the middle on every question. Even our friends. When you know that the person to the left of you that you don’t even know, has been called names straight to their face, it’s hard to be mean to them. This was the turning point of the workshop.
Geoff’s last question was, “Who here is going to go out of their way to be extremely nice to someone?”
I think everyone, was in the middle. When we all sat down on the bleachers again, Geoff asked us why we shared such personal information out there, but we hadn’t told anyone before? The answers were something like this. When everyone is going through the same things, nobody is going to judge you. Nobody is going to make fun of you. The final thing we did that day at the workshop was when things got really emotional. After everyone had just got through expressing silently all the things that were going on in their life, we were all given a few pieces of string. The string was called a forget-me-not. We all got up, music was playing, and you would go up to somebody, it could be your best friend or someone you met that you want to get to know more. And you would tie the string onto their wrist and say something kind about them. This was the first time I cried like that at school. The first time my friends cried like that. The first time I saw everyone in the room with glossy eyes. During this time, best friends never felt closer. People you thought would never be your friend again because of something that happened, reunited. It was the happiest time of the whole day for everyone. The emotions throughout the room were so strong, I cannot express the feeling.
On a normal day, friends didn’t usually go up to each other and say something kind out of the blue. We all knew we were friends so we thought that was not necessary. But when your friends said what they really thought about you and your friendship, it was powerful. There was a lot of hugging. Almost everyone had 8 or 10 forget-me-nots on their wrist, and we left that room knowing that when you are nice to everyone, only good things will come back. Everyone was devoted to be a leader. And everyone that wasn’t in the leadership group was curious why all their friends were coming out crying. It was a long story. But all of the students at Mattson carried on, some with an experience that others haven’t had.
But I know that everyone was saying the same thing to each other when they walked down the hall at the end of the day. “I believe in you.”
Annie Livengood of Covington is an aspiring journalist and seventh grader at Mattson Middle School.