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Grade 8 was much the same with one addition to his life. We were on our way to gymnastics training after school, when Steven announced to me that he had kissed a girl today and really liked it. I kept my cool but admit that I wanted to jam on the brakes and ask him all about it. Instead I just listened as he told me all about it. I told him I was happy he felt he could talk to me about this and also that he had enjoyed his first kiss. 

Not surprisingly, this led to the announcement he had a girlfriend now. Her name was Samantha Turner and the two of them had been hanging out together for the last month before Steven asked her to be his girlfriend. She had accepted so that made it official. All I could think of was the beauty of youth. 

Grade eight was the first time that Steven took notice of the middle school dances. I presumed this was because he now had a girlfriend to take. I always offered to drive them to the dance and pick them up. On the first night dance, which was the Halloween dance, he told me to come with him as he wanted to introduce me to Samantha’s parents. He was a true gentleman as he introduced me and then took her hand and escorted her to the car. Both her parents and I looked at each other and just shrugged our shoulders. 

I told them the dance was over at 9:00 and should have them home by 9:30 at the latest. Once again, I was surprised when the two of them kissed just before Samantha went into her house. Steven looked like he was in heaven. I asked him all about the dance and got the full descriptive version. He had definitely had a great time and from all he said, so had all his friends, most of which had also brought a girl to the dance. I did learn that Steven was the only one with a true girlfriend, however. I said nothing being unsure how I should respond.

By this time in our lives, an average week comprised of school, homework, gymnastics, swimming, guitar lessons and practice, sing-alongs together, house work and in the winter months, skiing. Both of us were so happy that time seemed to fly by. Sure, there had been the typical teenage emotional upheavals, but for the most part both of us enjoyed all that we were up to and each other. We were an inseparable team. Both of us had to make sacrifices and one of them was on my part when I was offered a chance for a year overseas in Australia. 

Steven and I talked about it a great deal and in truth, I think he could have gone for it. The problem was twofold; his girlfriend and his gymnastics. In the end he was very gracious saying he would accept whatever decision I made, after all it was only a year and in fact it was really only 10 months. I decided that it was possible it would come up again, so I turned it down in favor of Steven. He knew I had done this for him and gave me a big hug and kiss on the cheek. There were a few tears in his eyes. I think it was the only time in his life where he might have doubted the final decision.

I also had a plan for our spring vacation that meant Steven and I had to learn how to SCUBA. I went to The Dive Shop and signed us both up for an open water certification. Since Steven was only 14 he had to dive with an adult. For the time being, that would be me. This would take the place of his swimming lessons for the next few months. I think because we got to do this together, we really had a lot of fun. We learned and studied together for all the technical information we needed to learn, and in the pool, we were buddies as we learned all the skills needed for becoming a certified SCUBA diver. I was not very thrilled to find out our open water test would be in Jasper National Park at the start of October when I knew that the water would be very cold. I was right. We had to break the ice, even though it was thin, every time we went on a dive. Thank goodness the Jasper Park Lodge, where we stayed, had an excellent shower in the room. When we were both warmed up, we turned in for the night happy with our new aquatic endeavor.

The reason for this training was a trip to Palau over the spring break. We left on Saturday morning flying to Hawaii, Guam and finally Koror in Palau. We stayed at the beautiful Pan Pacific Resort and went out diving every day. We did three dives every day and when asked if we wanted to try a night dive, we even signed up for that. Steven was in heaven for the entire trip. In his usual form, he had done a lot of research before and so we had lists of fish and animals to see that frequent the area. By the time our vacation was over, there were very few we had not seen. Because we would fly out early on a Saturday morning, we could not do a Friday afternoon dive in case of compression problems so, we decided to go into town and look around.

I had made arrangements to hire a car and driver who would also be our guide. While very small and quaint, Koror was a very nice place to visit. We even went to the local jail since that is where, I was told by Steven, the best wood carvings are. Steven was right. He picked one out he wanted and when I gave him the money, I told him to let the person keep the change. We were both sure he needed it since the conditions were very rudimentary. We found a local diner and made sure the driver also had a lunch. Then we walked around the harbor where Steven had a great many conversations with the local boat owners.

When it was time to go home, we filled out our dive journals and figured that we now had 19 dives on our record including the two from our open water certification dives.  We struck the jackpot with the airline upgrading us to business class for our return trip. Both of us were looking really important as we sat and partook of the business class amenities. Steven actually slept for most of the Pacific crossing and when we got to Hawaii, he was recalling our past trip there.

This was Steven’s last year in the age group gymnastics, and he was going to make the best of it. There were a total of four competitions during the year and Steven continued to get better and better in each one. He surprised his coach, team and me when, in the provincial finals, he did a double back ariel somersault as part of his routine and landed it perfectly. The crowd went wild as did his teammates with me at the lead. Once again, he won the age group competition, but his team still only got the silver medal. In the true spirit of sport, he and team still cheered and jumped up when it was announced. I think there were more smiles on the boys that day than at any other previous competition. Both Steven and I, once again, hosted the year end party as this had become kind of a ritual. A great time was had by all.

The end of eighth grade was celebrated with a moving on ceremony. It was on the last day of school, so everyone was in the gym for the celebration. The class had chosen Steven to give the speech to the class that was moving on. He had worked on it for the last month and when he read it to me the night before the event, I was so proud of him. Little did I know what was really going to happen.

The next morning Steven dressed in his formal clothes. Blue collar shirt, tie, sports jacket, black pants and shiny shoes. Every time I saw him like this, I could not help but tell him how handsome he looked. When his name was called to deliver the speech, I could not have been prouder of him. As soon as he started, I knew something was up. This was not the same speech he had practiced with me. Here is a script of the speech;

Good morning,

As the grade 8 class comes to end of their middle school years, there is so much to say and so many people to thank. In an attempt to cover all of this, we, the grade 8 class, have worked collaboratively and cooperatively on how to cover as much ground as possible. We thought it best to break it down into several parts.

The first is to thank all teachers that have been a solid part of our lives these past three years. We know that not all our teachers are here since some have retired and some moved to other schools. Still, we want to thank you all for the hard and dedicated work you have shown. For all the planning and marking you do to make us better, not only in our academics, but as people too. We want to thank you for your leadership in after school activities and sports, all of which we know you do to open doors for our future. We also want to thank you for the kindness you show to us even though we do not always deserve it. You have shown us what it means to have empathy and care for others as well as for ourselves. We want all of you to know that none of this will be forgotten just because we are leaving middle school. Grayson has a special tribute to all of you.

At this point Grayson stood up and led the entire grade 8 class in a roaring rendition of “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” The girls substituted she for he. I was sure I knew who thought of this idea.

There is one person from the school the entire grade would like to call out to. Mr. Derek Salt - Principal. When you think about it, this man keeps the entire middle school machine working smoothly. Generally, he does not see any of the students unless they are in trouble. I can attest to this. It is Mr. Salt that moves us forward each year and keeps us on the straight and narrow. While he is a strict man, all of us know it is for our own good and we respect that. Mr. Salt, on behalf of the grade 8 class we would like to present you with this small gift of our appreciation.

Sherry Fotheringham got up and walked to Mr. Salt and presented him with a card and small gift, which was very nicely wrapped. There was cheering and clapping as he accepted it. The entire grade 8 class gave him a standing ovation. Sherry shook his hand before returning to her seat.

The next group of people we want to thank need no introduction. Our parents are the backbone of who we are and have helped us in immeasurable ways. They have stuck with us in thick and thin, they have tucked us in at night and told us how much they love us. They have nursed us when we were feeling ill, they have cheered us at games and competitions, they have encouraged us to spread our wings. They have watched over us to make us the students we are today. They are in fact our superhero’s. We would like to honor them all this morning. Grade 8 class do your duty.

With that the entire grade 8 class got up with flowers and a card in their hands. This was a complete surprise as no one was expecting this. They walked over to their parents, presented their moms with flowers and dads with a card. Then they hugged them both. As Steven had no mom present, he asked if we could stop by the grave of his mother so he could present his flowers then. When we hugged, I told him how much I loved him and asked if it would be too embarrassing if I gave him a kiss on the forehead. He responded by giving me a kiss on the cheek and then returning to the hug. The crowd was going wild. There was hooting, cheering and clapping. There were a great many tears among the audience. The entire class returned to their place as Steven continued.

There is still one group of people we need to thank. These are the significant others that have been there for us all through our lives. It might be grandma and grandpa, aunt and uncle, coach, priest, or any number of others. I have been given permission by the class to use myself as an example and single out the one person who is very special to me. Most of you know that I am adopted. Kevin Boothwell is not my real dad, he adopted me when I was seven years old. I will not get into the situation but suffice it to say it is anything but normal. In order to go through all this there is one lady that has had my back the entire time she has known me. She has fought for me, and I do mean fought for me, she has worked tirelessly and endlessly in making sure I was protected and cared for and that I was in the best situation possible. My special person, who is here today, is Ms. Mac Redmann. She is a lawyer that my dad hired to make sure he could keep me once it was obvious, we were such a good team. All of us here have many of these special people who have shaped us so to leave you out would be a travesty. I have asked Michael, Amy and Linda to show how much we appreciate you. 

The three came to the front of the stage while Amy belted out, “Three Cheers for all our supporters.” The entire grade 8 class stood up and called out Hip, Hip Hooray three times. Once again, the audience went wild clapping, cheering and hooting. 

Our last note is to the other students who are present today. You are the next generation of middle schoolers. You are the ones that hopefully we have left with a good impression of what it takes to be in middle school. We all hope that our leadership will spur you on to bigger and better things as you grow up and one day enter grade 8.

For all of you here, the one thing that we really wanted to show today is how much love there is here in this room. The entire class of grade 8 salutes everyone in the school. We have a song we would like to sing to all of you as we end our time in middle school. 

With that Steven pulled out his guitar. I was not sure how he got it to school since I know he did not have it when we left this morning. Someone brought him a stool, the microphone was lowered to the level of the guitar and the class sang their rewritten version of a song called The Glory of Love, from the Karate Kid movie. There was not a dry eye in the room by the time it was over. Everyone cheered and Steven took a bow as he headed back to his seat. I could not help but notice the rest of the grade 8 class try to almost maul him as they thanked and congratulated him.

Mr. Salt, the school principal came back to the podium and thanked Steven and the grade 8 class for what he claimed was the most memorable moving on speech ever. I was sure there were tears in his eyes as well.

“The last part of this ceremony is the awarding of the Middle School Citizenship Award. This award is given to the student who has shown to the rest of the school, just how important and worthwhile it is to be honorable, truthful and respectful. I think this year I would also like to add and shows great love to all fellow humans. I want everyone in this room to know something about the award this year. As in past years, the teachers sit down to determine who the recipient will be. They then hand their suggestions to me. This year there was another turn of events. Over the past 6-7 weeks, knowing that this was coming up, I have received literally hundreds of letters, phone calls and been part of many more conversations all letting me know who the recipient should be this year. Never in my 31 years of being in education have I seen so much solidarity from the community. It is a testament to the fine character of this student and the grade 8 class that this has happened. In fact, the entire grade 8 class also came to see me to say the same thing. I want to say that in all these instances, and I do mean in all of them, only one name came up. It should be no surprise that this year’s winner is none other than Steven Boothwell. I have asked a special person to present this award to Steven.

Steven went red in the face and looked stunned. Everyone in the room stood up and gave him a standing ovation. What surprised me even more was that Mac Redmann walked up to the stage to present Steven with his medal and certificate. He hugged her to say thank-you and she hugged him back. Mr. Salt announced this so that everyone in the room knew who this woman was. I could not help it, the tears were running down my face as the people around me congratulated me, patted my shoulders and told me how proud I must be. I was sure I would never forget this for the rest of my life. Thank goodness there were people there taking pictures. I was too dumbstruck to be doing so.

At the end of the ceremony, Steven walked over to me and, in no soft voice, said, “I love you dad,” and gave me a big hug. Walking side by side we got congratulations from parents, teachers and other students. This time it was me that was in heaven. I actually was thinking back to the day I first met Steven in the garbage dumpster outside the swimming pool. When he said, “A penny for your thoughts,” I told him I was thinking about what made all this possible. I was sure that he completely understood.

We stopped by his mom’s grave and I made sure that I stood out of earshot, as I always did, while he talked with his mom. It was much longer than normal, so I could only guess he was giving a play by play of what had happened today. He laid the flowers on her grave and kissed the grave stone. This was his ritual and I knew the time was over. We walked holding hands back to the car and went straight home.

We had to unpack the car with all his gear from school, the guitar and my things from my classroom. I would be moving to a new school next year, so I had been busy packing and moving my things. We then changed out of our formal clothes and sat in the living room. There was absolutely no noise. It was perfectly quiet. In a surprising move, Steven shuffled over to me and cuddled at my side. We had not done this for a very long time. I was reveling in the feelings of this. He was still the center of my universe.

“Were you surprised dad?” was all he said.

It told him that surprise is not a strong enough word. I also told him I was so proud of him and how much he had accomplished. When we were done, we decided to head off to the rec center for some laps and exercise. It felt good to move the body and I was noticing that Steven was really working out hard. I let him burn off the steam and after our shower and clean up, we headed off home. We talked about the day and the year. Steven was very positive all the way home. When we arrived home, he asked if it was OK for him to call Samantha. I told him that he did not need my permission to call his friends or girlfriends.

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Harold Daw
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