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  • Austin Stember, Together Tulsa Storyteller

The meaning behind our student competition

The greatest praise a person can grant another is that of admiration. The joyous admission that someone else has a quality, habit, ability, worldview, or capacity that we venerate. It’s a wonderful feeling to admire. Because although it may take days, or weeks, or years to grow, it takes a single moment of genuine attention to bloom. A flash of brilliance that we’ve caught, a confluence of the incredible person and the circumstance that allows us to see them. To truly see them for what they are: remarkable, inspirational, and present.

This week is part of the SPIRE competition kickoff. The competition being a celebration of community, we’ve asked Tulsa’s kids to submit their individual works of art or media highlighting a peer in their lives that inspires them. We ask our kids to do this in an effort to expand their world. We ask them to look beyond what’s constant and apparent, and see the hope in those around them.

Too often we seek the routine. We seek the homogeneity. There’s comfort in the familiar. But there isn’t often growth in that comfort. Our students can fall into this, this attenuation of comfort over growth. And when we argue for the explosive expanse of “you can be anything” it seems insincere. It’s hard for a young student in the poorest schools in Tulsa to see the world as one of endless possibility. But to ask them to see opportunity, to ask them to gaze beyond their familiar and to derive motivation from that, it opens up the world ever so slightly. And they make something.

The competition asks for works of art. The result almost superfluous to the process of ideation, planning, execution, editing, and submitting. It marks a tangible result born of their imagination and conviction. And between the methodical and persistent growth of their worldview, the search for the novel and wondrous in the familiar, and the confidence born of creation, we inch them closer to belief in the themselves. To the naivety of “you can be anything”.

We believe in our kids. In a great many cases, more than they believe in themselves. The world screams that it is a hard, dreary place, that hope is naïve. And to tell them that they are special, unique, talented, creative, and worthwhile is met with a resolved incredulity.

But it isn’t forgotten. It is stored in a safe place within their minds, unblemished from the world. And it is grown with each word of praise.

It is grown with the focused attention of a mentor. It is grown in creation, in the most powerful way. They learn to let their inspiration give them hope. We ask our creatives to look for those they admire to remind them that we, all of us, admire them. That they are worthy of praise, growth, time, and effort. That hope is not forgone for them. That in community, in effort and creation, there is more. There is more to their world, as there is more to the person that inspires them. This is that moment, that singular moment where admiration bursts forth.

We ask them to tell us about their inspirational peers, because through the process we hope the person they come to esteem is themselves.

#SPIRE #studentcompetition #tulsa #togetherwecan

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