Not Really About Art

We had our first Dragon Fellow Graduation yesterday.  It was remarkable.  This summer, we had our first class of ten Dragon Fellows, running programs to share their passions all over Southern California.  Now that their projects were done, we had each group present to an assembled team of parents, siblings, Board members, panelists, and friends.  One thing panelist and Board member, Teren Shaffer said yesterday really stuck with me. After hearing Kyra and Emilia’s presentation about their art program, Teren said, “What you’ve done, it’s remarkable.  But, it’s not really even about art.”

How true, I thought to myself.  And as the morning went on, I was struck by the comment again and again.  It wasn’t about art or computer science or swimming… it was about believing in kids and building their self-confidence. Kyra and Emilia told us about Enerel, a young girl who moved here recently from Mongolia.  Enerel came here not speaking a word of English, and months later, had become fluent enough to communicate with everyone in class. She thrived in the summer art camp Kyra and Emilia ran for kids in a Los Angeles transitional shelter.  Austin talked about Lucy, a girl who had trouble swimming at the beginning of their program, and who, weeks later, had mastered swimming and first aid skills, and had earned a lifeguarding certificate that now enables her to find employment paying $25/hour.  Bryan, our Dragon Fellow who ran a computer science program, talked about Brooklyn, a young African American girl who started out completely hesitant to touch any of the inner parts of the computer – the motor, the motherboard, the fan.  She did not believe she could handle these fragile components.  But with encouragement from Bryan and Ruben, she started picking up pieces, one by one.  Within the hour, Brooklyn was learning how to place these components inside the computer shell, and confidently started screwing shut the outer casing.  Brooklyn needed someone to give her the opportunity to build a computer and to show her how.  But most of all, Brooklyn needed someone to believe in her.

We all do.  We all need someone to believe in us.  I know who that person was for me, from high school.  Mrs. Michel.  She was my sophomore Honors English teacher. Mrs. Michel thought my writing was great, and she often told me so, which meant a lot to me since no one else was telling me so.  She wrote my college recommendation. I reread it the other day. She complimented me for having something fresh to say about The Great Gatsby – the great American novel that hundreds of thousands of high schoolers had analyzed and taken apart before me.  She cited an essay I had written about the green light at the end of Daisy’s pier, the one Gatsby looked at every night, the one that signified a new land, a new life, the American dream.  I don’t know what I wrote in that essay, but I do know that Mrs. Michel’s recommendation, her constant encouragement, and her belief in me helped me get into Harvard.  She believed I was smart when I didn’t believe that about myself.  We all need someone like that.

Who was that person for you? And for whom are you that person?

Our Dragon Fellows gave that out in spades this summer.  Between them, they shared their passions with dozens of children, teaching them about art and computers and technology and the love of the great outdoors.  They cared about these kids, they gave them opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise, and they made learning fun.  But most of all, they gave these children the self confidence to learn new skills. And the next time these kids are faced with a challenge, they will remember that. They are learning to believe in themselves and to believe in their dreams.  They are starting to believe they can do whatever they put their minds to doing.  That is priceless.  That is how we start today to build the leaders of tomorrow.

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