It was interesting to hear graduation speakers from the senior class at Storm Lake High School at commencement Sunday speak of diversity - as an advantage.
Not as something to endure, or to succeed in spite of - but as an experience that has better prepared them for their futures and rich lives.
This is a slow philosophical journey, I think, that had been a lot of years in the making, but one that is finally nearing its destination.
Storm Lake was once roundly insulted, feared and degraded for its multi-ethnic population. So much so, that too often, it began to accept this ignorance as the truth. The change was slow. Some who came here as immigrant or refugee children who went to to graduate at the top of their class and achieve great things chipped slowly away at this foolishness. Steps like the then-unheard-of Diversity Day events the high school invented many years ago began to illustrate what each culture could bring to the mix.
Then, ever-so-slowly, the process evolved from appreciating our differences, to seeing the real truth... that people are people. We all want the same things, like the best possible education and future for our children. Sitting in that gym, it didn't matter where those parents came from. Jockeying around to get that proud picture of their kid in cap and gown, they were all feeling the same things.
About advantages. Storm Lake is not the wealthiest or fanciest or biggest. But in the end, when a teenager graduates from Storm Lake High School, they've seen a slice of the world, up close and personal. They have learned to communicate and work as teammates with people of different backgrounds, beliefs and native languages.
That counts for something. The world isn't a little caucasian place of neat picket fences where everyone looks the same, speaks the same, thinks the same, worships the same, celebrates the same. Most colleges aren't either, and kids who come to them having never experienced any culture but their own are disadvantaged - no matter how wealthily and well educated they may be. More and more jobs, and the military too, need people adept in a multicultural world.
At least as important as math, science or social studies is the ability to bridge gaps with all kinds of people. In virtually every field, the ability to coexist in a diverse world, or perhaps to thrive living and working in other countries, is more important by the year.
Already today, expect job interviewers not to ask what you scored on those standardized tests in high school, but whether you are at least bilingual. Before they ask what honor societies you were in at college, they may ask what countries you have traveled to. Before they ask if you know spreadsheets software, they will ask what you know about the international marketplace.
When he addressed grads Sunday, the Storm Lake High School principal said that some people don't believe the school can offer a quality education, and that he begs to differ.
The heck with begging. If you think a school can't be good because it has kids with different backgrounds, you're plain wrong. If you think skin color has anything to do with intelligence, you're a racist. And, if you think SLHS is failing, you're not very well informed.
It's true, Storm Lake schools have not always been at the top of the list in those ITED and other standardized tests.
It's not hard to figure out why, either. A number of our kids aren't just working to pass classes in school, they are playing catch-up to learn the language and fit into a new culture. A lot come from places domestic and abroad, where schools aren't so great. That's the truth.
Not every student is going to turn into a standardized test star overnight. But it doesn't mean those kids are less intelligent or have less to offer - I've seen them grow up to be valedictorians, class presidents, homecoming kings and queens, incredibly talented attests and musicians, athletic leaders.
I'm not saying that standardized tests don't have some value - there must be some measure to ensure schools are progressing. But they are also incredibly flawed. Comparing students of one grade against those in other schools is not very meaningful. Nor would there be much to gain in comparing students in one grade to students in that grade in other years.
Classes are not made up of statistics, they are made up of kids. Individual human beings with different talents and challenges. Each class, each year, is unique. In each seat, somebody's son or daughter. The only real measure that is how that individual child learns from year to year.
I don't care how our third grade compares to kids in Fort Dodge, our how our 11th graders compare to kids in Delaware. Are those kids learning and progressing from where they were before? - that matters.
In the big view of things, your standardized test scores in high school and $5 will buy you a sub sandwich bargain of the month.
Oh, by the way, if you think going to a diverse high school means you can't be a great student, let me introduce you to that bunch of students on stage Sunday with perfect 4.0 grade-points over their entire four-year careers. Or you can just wait until we're reporting on the amazing things they do in college and great careers and leadership roles they achieve beyond.
Storm Lake High School has nothing to apologize for, but it is certainly owed some apologies by those who have sold it short. I've seen wonderful things happen in that place, aided by a staff that is as good as any in the business, anywhere.
We're not white, we're not black. We're not Mexicans or southeast Asians. We're all Storm Lake. Take pride in that. And don't take any crap from anybody over it.