The Award I Never Wanted

The Award I Never Wanted

The 6th grade me was a true idealist. 

Not an unconditional optimist. Not a stargazing pipe-dreamer.

But a steadfast believer in noble principles.

I really thought we were going to save those whales...


I believed in the greater good, convinced that a better world was just a compassionate gesture away. You just needed good heart. And good intentions.

And maybe a t-shirt that reflected your cause.



The activist t-shirts of the 80's and 90's really brought politics and fashion together. 

But my idealism went beyond embracing the liberal agendas of the time.

I valued the content of one’s character beyond all else. I rejected the materialistic and the superficial.


I wouldn't even consider being a school cheerleader because I considered it fake, shallow and demeaning to women.

Looking back, it's kinda sad that I took everything so dang serious. As an adult, I wouldn't mind a little dose of that optimism, that hope.

— • —

At the end of 6th grade, our teachers announced that each student would be honored with an end-of-year award. I was secretly excited to discover my greatest accomplishment of the 1991-1992 school year.

Our team crammed into a classroom, students sitting cross-legged on the floor, and the teachers began handing out the award certificates.

“Most Improved in Math!” they announced

That’s a good one, I thought as my friend collected his official document. I didn't deserve a math award, but I’d settle for Best Creative Writer or —

Kathleen Grebe!"

My name was called. 

“The Earring Tree Award!”

I practically choked. The what?!..The Earring Tree Award?!

SIDEBAR: In case you didn't know, Earring Tree was the less successful predecessor of Claire’s Accessories. The store at the mall that sells cheap jewelry. And an 'earring tree' is an earring organizer. 

Image courtesy of Syracuse Nostalgia


I hesitated to move from the floor.

Was I nothing more than a pair of ears from which an impressive variety of earrings dangled!? Did my brimming jewelry box overshadow any and all academic achievement?

I started to picture a trophy made of one of those tacky brass earring holders from the 80's. You know, the ones with all the punctured holes...



I collected my award without enthusiasm. 

The teachers couldn’t have known that their cute observation meant so much to me by meaning so little, but I was genuinely insulted. Reduced to a person with a lot of earrings.

I threw the award in the garbage with disgust.

— • —

Twenty-five years later, I still support my reaction.

But it looks like those teachers were on to something.

I gotta give them credit 'cause here I am, hanging yet another pair of dangles on my ever-growing earring tree.

At least this time the designs are my own. 

For the record, this is what my earring organizers looked like circa 1992.



Back to blog