What Does ‘Outstanding Citizenship with Suitable Academic Merit’ Really Mean?

Dictionary

As the Presidential Election enters prime time, I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of words. Not just how one word can change the context of a speech – – inciting some while motivating others – – but how pundits, mavens and the self-proclaimed well-informed, describe the political candidates.

Even if you subscribe to the “sticks and stones” theory, it is safe to say we have all been mesmerized, engulfed, exasperated and dumbfounded by the power of words.

For me, words have had always had an impact in my life. As an example, let me take you back to my sixth grade graduation…

I know where it is. Florida. Parent’s bookshelf. One of hundreds.

I’m not sure if I questioned it immediately or not. Either way, it made an impact.

During my sixth grade graduation, I was “awarded” a dictionary. In it, the following was written – – “Awarded to Andrew Shane for outstanding citizenship with suitable academic merit.”

Suitable?

Really?

Now, if I received this in high school or college, I wouldn’t have much of an issue, but in sixth grade I’m pretty sure I was rockin’ some more than suitable grades. Even if I wasn’t recording stellar grades, don’t you think we could have come up with a better word than suitable? If only, the person who wrote this had some resource that could be used to come up with a better word…

Speaking of the person who wrote this, I’ve pondered trying to reach out to him or her (I know…). Ask what were they thinking. Was this the first award they ever presented? Did they scar others?

Couple of foreseeable roadblocks: Good chance the person who wrote it is either dead or has absolutely no recollection. Asking my parents to get the dictionary and tell me the name of the person would end up as an Abbott and Costello routine.

Me: Can you get the dictionary I got during my sixth grade graduation?

Dad: Why?

Mom: What? (hearing is not a strength these days)

Me: I want to see who wrote the inscription.

Dad: Why?

Mom: What?

I actually thought this could be the basis of a movie. Not saying a good movie necessarily, but a movie where our hero (hey, I’m a hero) realizes what he has, what is important and who he is, as he tries to track down who wrote (and why) “with suitable academic merit.”

***

In high school, I ended up managing the wrestling team. I had always wanted to wrestle – – my older brother was an outstanding wrestler (don’t know about his academic merit) and I tried to follow in his footsteps. I wrestled in junior high and was actually captain of my eighth grade team. Not because I was the best wrestler, but because I wrestled the right way – – always trying my best and being an excellent teammate.

In tenth grade, just prior to the start of the season, I dislocated my knee screwing around with friends. My coach wasn’t happy, but when I asked if I could manage the team instead, he agreed. Once my knee heeled, I would work out with the team and – if I do say so myself – could’ve beaten most of the managers on the other teams (okay, truth be told, many of them were girls, but I still could’ve taken them…most of them…).

I ended up managing the team throughout high school and my coach, who also coached the football team, asked if I would manage football as well. During the different end of season banquets, coach awarded me with several plaques for my efforts and attitude – – something I’m sure he didn’t present to other managers.

No mention of academic merit; just good guy. Good heart.

***

So, what’s really wrong with the word ‘suitable’ anyway? According to Webster (the dictionary, not the little kid from the 80s TV show), the definition of suitable is, “having the qualities that are right, needed, or appropriate for something.”

Not awful. Have I been making too much of this? Webster lists synonyms as able, capable, equal, fit, good, qualified, competent.

Outstanding citizenship with competent academic merit… No, still doesn’t feel right.

***

Odds are, whoever wrote the words didn’t think twice about it. It’s just that suitable isn’t an everyday word. Probably not one you would associate with an award or achievement.

  • Most Suitable Player.
  • Academy Award for Suitable Actress is a Supporting Role.
  • Grammy for Suitable New Artist.

Just doesn’t have the same ring to it. But am I falling into the trap of the “woosification of America” where every kiddo gets a participation ribbon?

Don’t think so. Like I said, words are powerful. And for some reason, suitable just doesn’t feel like the right word. Feels like a dig of sorts. Great kid. Not super smart. Here’s a dictionary.

***

What is my point?

A. Think before you speak or post? Sure…

B. There’s a difference between free speech and well-thought-out speech? Yes, just look at social sites, candidate speeches, etc.…

C. Words matter? You bet…

D. I haven’t written anything in a while and just wanted to do a little free-flow writing?

E. All of the Above

And the answer is: E – All of the Above. Thanks for reading.

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One thought on “What Does ‘Outstanding Citizenship with Suitable Academic Merit’ Really Mean?

  1. Ha! This did make me laugh. I think “suitable” is kind of a dig too. Like “you’ll do. Average. Good enough.” What about suitable suitors? Stream of thought writing here.

    I don’t know how old I was but around that same age. My uncle promised me a present if I memorized my social security number. Didn’t take long but I practiced it over and over hoping for a concert Tee or tickets (he was a truck driver for amazing musicians). I proudly recited my # to him and he presented me with a….. Dictionary. He knew I loved to read and thought I would find it useful. And I did. But I was hoping for something more glamouros. I wish I still had that dictionary though. No inscription but it came from his heart. Funny how we view things as kiddos vs. adults. My adult self thanks him every time I need my social security number or don’t know a word (online dictionary/thesaurus). Which is often. Much better reward than a concert Tee.

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