Image Source:  recognition | The Strengths-Based Leader's Toolkit
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My grandson AJ has this to say about greatness: “I want you to realize that we are all set on our own path. Don’t let the world come crashing down on you because you don’t know how to push it back. We all have our own way of becoming great; perhaps, too often, we let others set the standard for ourselves. I want you to walk away from this — despite everything you read about the program that I am so honored and privileged to be a part of — knowing that greatness lies out there not in the seats of honor roll students nor in the halls of the most prestigious schools.

 “Greatness is never about the recognition or the ceremonies; it’s about the work and the fulfillment of the individual. In many ways, just know that being great takes work, and despite not having the highest pedestal, you have just as many steps to climb as that of the next guy.”

 A few years ago, AJ heard about a high-school international baccalaureate program, a four-year course noted worldwide for its academic rigor. He heard it from the school coordinator, Christopher Layson, who presented the outline of program to the junior high students. With his mom’s consent, he signed up for the examination, which was in three parts: Mathematics, English and Socratic Circle.

The last exam is foreign to me, so I asked him to explain it.

He said, “A Socratic Circle is a circle where people engage in meaningful discussion—not debate—about a certain topic. The Greek philosopher Socrates said that all problems are man-made, therefore through respectful and educated discussion, humans could solve every problem presented to them. The Socratic Circle is a key element of my program, as it allows students to engage themselves and one another in insightful discussions with little or no teacher intervention; in a way, it’s an ideal form of self-education.”

The next part of the entry process, after passing two out the three exams, is a lottery. Those who passed the exam participated in the lottery. Those whose names were drawn were invited to participate in the program. Out of the 300 students applied, the names of only about 100 were drawn.

“This school is composed of about 400 students, so much so that it helps to foster fellowship and brotherhood. It is a community where one person’s struggle is everyone’s struggle,” my grandson said.

Asked what an international school has done to him in the last nine months, he answered without hesitation. From the perspective of an international school, he said, he learned that problems today in all homes are the same problems faced around the world. To him, the school perspective taught him that many problems that we face as human beings transcend cultural and geographical barriers.

He says, “I never cared so much about recognition or an honor roll. The most important thing I appreciate about my school is that while we all come from different paths, we all walk upon a common level. We are all here because we are exceptional people, waiting to show our specialties and reveal our weaknesses. I am fortunate to have found my footing, and I am excited to see those around me find theirs. For me, the real awards will come when we all find our own definitions of glory. In short, there’s no need for comparison.”

As a grandmother, I wrote this piece to share the information to others who might be interested in sending their children to an international baccalaureate program.

Modesty aside, a few days before Mother’s Day, the family received gifts that, to us, are priceless. It is a gift that surpasses all the gifts we received recently, a gift that every member of the family is so proud of and happy about. It is about the remarkable achievements of two grandchildren.

Aber John Espinoza, or “AJ” as he is fondly called by his friends, was awarded four distinctive awards, but the one that touched our hearts was the “UAIS Outstanding Freshman Learner of the Year.” The presenter of the award, school principal Thomas Lietz, described AJ based on his observations as well as those of his other teachers.

Mr. Lietz described AJ as “an inquirer, knowledgeable, a thinker, a communicator, principled, open-minded, caring, and a risk-taker.”  Among the 10 awardees, AJ was the only male. At the school, the ratio of women to men is 2:1.

The other gift we received last Mother’s Day came from Ella,  younger sister of AJ. Ella sang two songs at the Spring Recital of 2014. On the stage, she was so cool and confident. She sang the songs beautifully, and we were so proud of her.

To you our dear AJ and Ella, congratulations! Carry on and meet courageously the challenges that lay ahead. This is from all of us, your mom Lalai, your dad Michael, grandpa Roman, nona Daisy, Tito Jojo, Tita Lana and all other relatives.