Competition in High School: No More Valedictorian?

So…it boggles my mind how much things have changed in high school since I walked   those halls years ago.  Some changes are for the better, such as the amount of technology and how it is leveraged in the classroom daily.  Even my elementary-aged daughters have access to tech that I could have only dreamed of.

But, some of the changes that are occurring in high school are disturbing.  The one that comes to my mind is the disappearance of the class Valedictorian.

I remember that the class Valedictorian was something that students heatedly competed for from 6th grade until the day that the Valedictorian was chosen.  I mean, kids closely watched their GPAs to ensure that they were still in the running.  In most cases, the Valedictorian barely got the honor by fractions of points over the Salutatorian, who had the 2nd highest GPA in the class.  I remember being happy for my class Valedictorian, who shall remain nameless.  This person worked their ass off to get that GPA.  This individual took as many honors and advanced classes as possible and earned that distinction.  The rest of us high achievers graduated with honors or advanced diplomas.  Everyone else got a regular diploma.  I never felt bad about not being the Valedictorian because I never competed fiercely enough to be in the running.  My goal was to graduate with honors and I did.  I don’t recall anyone in my class feeling bad about not being the #1 student in the St. Martin Class of 2003.

The idea of the person with the highest GPA being honored and allowed to speak at the graduation ceremony never struck me as something that would make the rest of the class feel bad, but apparently this is the idea being increasingly floated in high schools across the country.

I found an article from 2014 about the Broward Public School District in Florida.  Coincidentally, I attended Kindergarten in this district, but I digress.  The article speaks to how the school board was considering getting rid of both the Valedictorian and the Salutatorian because it sparks “nasty competition” among student and parents.  Instead, the school board was proposing that the top 15 percent of students would be honored as either cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude.  I have not been able to confirm if they actually went through with this or not.

More recently, the Rowan-Salisbury School Board in North Carolina proposed an amended class ranking policy during the April 2017 meeting.  The new policy would phase out the titles of Valedictorian and Salutatorian beginning with the incoming freshman class.  If the new policy is approved, current high school students would still be able to compete for the #1 and #2 slots, but the Class of 2021 would not.

So the argument for this, I guess, is that the competition is too nasty and not good for the kids.  It makes the other kids that do not earn the title feel bad about their grades.  They also say it encourages students to pick the classes that will keep them in the running for the #1 slot instead of classes that will boost their college applications.

I say BULLSHIT.

Once these young people get into the world, they will see that it is nothing but competitive.  From jobs to even the damn PTA president election, life is full of competition.  What this will do is hamstring these kids to not be ready for the fierce competition that the world smacks the in the face with on a daily basis.  This perpetuates the participation trophy mindset, which I disagree with.  Everyone can’t be the best, everyone can’t make the team and everyone can’t win.  It’s like how some people want to take money from hardworking people and give it to those who don’t do a fraction of the work.  I don’t agree with getting something for nothing.  Even in my household, my kids don’t get rewarded if it isn’t earned.  Like Ricky Bobby said, If you ain’t first, you’re last.

Ok, not really…but my point is that rewards should be earned.  The NBA Championship isn’t shared with the best team from the West and East.  No, those teams compete and the winner is the champion.  The National Spelling Bee winner doesn’t have a co-winner.  Only one kid wins that competition.  My daughter is a competitive gymnast.  She tried out and made the team, a team that has only a few girls on it, even though over 50 girls tried out.  Hell, even the President of the United States competed and beat out everyone that ran against him to ascend to the office.  I could go on and on with examples…

If there are kids that are complaining about not being the Valedictorian or Salutatorian , they need to be told to COMPETE, DON’T COMPLAIN.  They can’t complain if they are slacking off in class.  It makes no sense to try to appease the kid that is barely going to graduate just because shit got real for them 2 weeks before graduation.  That same kid could have done the hard work to be the top student in the class.

My opinion, keep the slots for the top 2 students in the class and let the top 10% of the class graduate with honors.  In other words, leave it the way it is.

 

 

 

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What Really Happened?

Seriously…what happened?

I mean, wasn’t there a time where people could disagree without it turning into a brawl? Did I imagine this time of peaceful and respectful dialogue among opposing perspectives?

Maybe social media is to blame…

Ok, let me unpack this thing.  It is not necessary for us to agree on everything, but we should respect each other.  There are gray areas to almost every issue…almost.

It’s OK for us to have our own thoughts and feelings about the issues of the day.  We should be able to express those feelings in a way that is smart and respectful without the fear of being verbally, and sometimes, physically assaulted from someone who does not see it that way.

Take me for example.  I try to develop my opinion about things based off the facts of a situation.  I can agree with one politician on one issue, and disagree with him/her on several others.  I can totally dislike a politician as a person, but agree with their view on foreign policy if it makes sense to me and my beliefs.

I’m concerned though.  I am concerned that my daughters will live in a country where they cannot have their own opinions and thoughts.  I’m concerned that I can’t have a conversation with people because I have different viewpoints about the world, politics, etc.

You probably gathered from the home page that I am a black man, with a gorgeous black wife and 2 beautiful black daughters.

Now get this…I DON’T CONSIDER MYSELF TO BE A DEMOCRAT…

My personal thoughts about the Democratic Party is that the politicians in the Democratic Party, for the most part, look at people as “Voting Blocks”.  They come to black people during elections and say “I’m here for you”.  Well, I don’t buy it.  I really think Democrats and Liberals largely look at someone like me and think that I, a black man, am incompetent and can’t navigate life.  They think that black people need them because they happen to be the party that champions social programs that help people when they are down.  Yes, those programs have their place and do help people that need them.  I have had to use unemployment benefits before and was grateful for that program. However, don’t use these programs to attempt to convince me that I can’t do for me and mine when I know full well that I am both intellectually and mentally capable of doing it. Don’t use these programs and your “platforms” to tell me that I can’t be successful without you because I will prove you wrong every time.  I think most Democratic politicians want black people and other people of color in this country to feel obligated to them because they claim to care about us.  I don’t owe them nothing because my help comes from the Almighty, not politicians. I am an educated, melanated man of God.

So now there is a slow shift by Democratic politicians to other people of color because more and more black people are starting to see them for what they are.  It’s obvious because they are now looking at other groups, such as Hispanics and immigrants from Muslim countries.

My wife and I have worked very hard for everything we have.  We both earned advanced degrees, I served and continue to on a part-time basis, serve this country and we have plans to start our own businesses in the coming years.  I don’t need the help now, but even if I did, shouldn’t it come with no strings attached?

Now, you are probably reading this and think I am Republican or Conservative.

NOPE.  I DON’T CLAIM THEM EITHER.

My opinion is that the Republican Party largely discounts black people and other people of color from the jump.  You see, on the flip side of their illustrious colleagues, they will snatch those programs that are needed most by not only people of color, but anyone that is in need of assistance.  They tend to largely just disregard people of color, which is why they struggle to get the majority of people of color to vote for them on a widespread basis.  They have a difficult time producing candidates that appeal more as an individual and not the R beside their name.

This is why I have come to vote for the individual, not their party affiliation because the truth is, the parties are two sides of the same tattered and dented coin.  Have you seen the approval number for Congress lately?

The world is not black and white.  There are gray areas.  I am a firm believer in the 2nd amendment, but tend to lean pro-choice.  I am a Christian, but don’t condemn same sex-couples.  As a black man, I am very worried about the increase in race-related shootings by police, but I am saddened when a good cop is killed just because he or she is a cop.  I don’t agree with Colin Kaepernick’s protest last season, but will argue against anyone with his right to do so.  See?  Gray areas…

Now, I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  There are exceptions to my opinion about the political parties of this country.  I know some people that are really cool and happen to be Republican, but I have come across some pretty bigoted Republicans, as well.  On the other hand, I know some Democrats that think I’m helpless and I know others that are outstanding people.

The point is this…we should be able to disagree, have a conversation about it and get a beer afterwards.  It’s not like that with some people.  They can’t see past their opinions to see that it is OK if someone sees things differently.  Some will commit acts of violence against another just because that person sees things in a different way.  How many of us have unfriended or unfollowed people we considered friends for a long time just because they so vehemently disagreed with our opinions.  How many unfriended us?

The sooner we realize that it is fine to have a difference in ideas and opinions, the sooner I will stop being concerned for my little girls.  Look at the people who just went through the biggest natural disaster to hit the US.  Political ideas, skin color and religious beliefs were put to the side so that neighbors could help each other.  Texans helped Texans regardless of opposing viewpoints.  Remember, this happened only a few days after the race violence in Charlottesville, VA.

At the end of the day, we all just want to be happy and live our lives.  I still hope, out of all things, we can at least agree on that.

 

 

 

It’s Been Awhile…

I know…I suck…I haven’t been keeping up with my blog at all these past few months. Shame on me, too.  I told myself today that I need to get better with this, even if it means posting short posts.  I also told myself that this blog will be about more than just military-related content, although I will still post those things here.  I also plan to post about everything that is important to me and my world.  Which is why I’ve re-titled the site “Just James.”

Warning:  You may not like or agree with some of these posts.  That’s OK.  I invite other viewpoints, as long as the comments are respectful.  We can disagree without insulting each other.

In fact, my next post will be about this very thing…stay tuned.

Is the Black TV Family a Dying Breed?

Back in the Day…

I’m proud to be a true 90s kid, a millennial by birth year (1985, to be exact).  I think all 90s kids will agree when I say that the 90s were amazing.  From good music to legendary TV shows, the 90s had it all.  Great Saturday morning cartoons, SNICK and TGIF…ah, the good old days.  I believe in my heart that the 1990s was the Golden Era of not only modern TV, but black television as a whole.  I think about how black people are mostly portrayed on TV nowadays and frankly, I’m disappointed.  There are some shows that make me wonder if we are losing the image of intact and successful black families on TV that was more prevalent in the 1990s.

Reality Can Shape Perception…

I consider myself a conscious and successful young black man but when it comes to positive TV images of black people, I feel for this generation of black youth, especially my two little girls.  More times than not, black men and black women are shown at their worse, especially on reality TV.  Seriously, how often do you turn on the TV to see gorgeous black women throwing wine at each other and fighting over something that happened 2 years ago?  How about those same shows that make black men look like womanizers, aimlessly chasing after countless women?  Even the reality shows that have successful black people on them, in my opinion, tend to show more negative situations than positive.  I know some people may read this and argue that it’s just entertainment, but a lot of black people live their lives based on what they see on TV.  They are not able to separate the so-called entertainment factor from reality.  I guess another argument is that it makes for great ratings, but the people in charge at these networks don’t care that they are making millions of dollars at the expense of the reputation of the black race.  Black people are being perceived negatively worldwide, largely because of what is shown on the TV screen.

When Melanated Excellence Ruled the Airwaves

I remember shows like The Cosby Show, A Different World and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  These shows were great because for many black people in my generation, these shows were the only time they saw a successful and intact black family.  For a good decade or more, you could tune into multiple major TV networks and see melanated excellence all over the place.  Sure, these shows had, and thanks to syndication, still maintain the entertainment factor with captivating storylines, famous lead characters and comedic elements.  More importantly though,  they showed America that black people are successful professionals, lawyers, doctors, college professors and judges with families at home.  It is abundantly clear that a sizeable portion of Americans still view black people negatively and these reality shows don’t help.  It seems that the Golden Era of intact and successful black TV families has suffered a setback.  Furthermore, recent legal events have dealt a major blow to the legacy of the gold standard of black TV dads.

Syndicated Punishment, Not Fair and Impartial

From the mid-80s to the early 90s, Bill Cosby was “America’s Dad”.  Not just black America, but a considerable number of American viewers from all walks of life tuned in weekly to watch The Huxtables.  Yet, The Cosby Show was pulled from TV syndication and streaming services at the height of sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby, none of which he has been convicted, by the way.  Now let’s look at Stephen Collins who portrayed Rev. Eric Camden on 7th Heaven, a successful family-oriented show from the late 90s and early 2000s.  He confessed…wait…let me repeat, he confessed to molesting a young girl in 1972 and exposing himself to 2 other children, but 7th Heaven still has a hefty syndication presence across the country.  Fair?  I don’t think so.  Let me be clear… if Bill Cosby committed those assaults, he absolutely deserves to be punished.  However, the fact that Stephan Collins admitted to his bad behavior and his show continues to have a widespread syndication presence baffles me.  Here’s my point…bring back The Cosby Show in mass syndication so that black youth today, like my daughters, can see an intact and successful black family on TV.  Yes, there are some networks that have slowly started to show the Cosby Show in syndication again, but it is not like it was before these allegations.

There’s Hope

The good news is that it’s not all bad.  Shows like ABC’s Blackish portrays an intact, successful and multi-generational black family navigating said success in a predominantly white suburb of Los Angeles.  Blackish hits on the comedic elements of its predecessors, with a modern twist, but also tackles serious issues that affect black people.  Other shows, like OWN’s For Peete’s Sake and TV One’s The Manns, show intact, famous black families in a reality TV format and how they handle real situations, some serious and some very funny.  Bottom line, there is some positivity, but it is often overshadowed by shows that insist on showing more negative images of black people.

…But Perception is Not Always Reality

To black people I say don’t let these shows dictate how you should carry yourself.  For every fight shown on reality TV, there is a young black woman building a successful and profitable business.  For every scene showing a black man at a strip club “making it rain”, there is a black man sitting at home with his wife, helping his kids do homework.  Even if the images of successful and intact black TV families are decreasing, real and intellectual black people do exist and more are becoming “woke” every day.  Black people watch more TV than any other demographic, so I think it will help for black people to be portrayed positively on the TV screen more, especially for those young black kids that are not always exposed to the possibilities of the excellence they can achieve.

3 Misconceptions That Can Tank Your Military Transition

Let’s face it…we did what most Americans won’t do.  We made the decision, for whatever reason, to serve in the military.  We did great things, endured hard times and some of us may have possibly shed blood for this great country of ours.  During a time of extended conflict, we chose to join and/or stay in the military and for that, we should be commended.  However, if we think that just because we served in the military that we are entitled to, well, anything after our service has ended, we need to seriously revaluate that way of thinking.

Difference Between Deserving and Entitlement

            Webster defines the word deserve as doing something or have or show qualities worthy of.  Webster defines entitlement as the belief that one is inherently supposed to have privileges or special treatment.  It can be very easy to confuse the two words, but as you can see, they are different in meaning.  Let me translate this to your eventual or past transition from military life:  You absolutely deserve to find a good job, make good money, have awesome benefits and live in a nice home.  I am of the opinion that mostly everyone deserves these things.

               With that being said, you are entitled to absolutely none of it.  Period.   

No one will roll out the red carpet at interviews and no one will give you a job simply because you served.  Be proud of your service and know that people, generally, do appreciate it, but understand that just because you served does not mean you are supposed to have a guarantee of success after the uniform.  In order to navigate around this issue, we have to examine some of the misconceptions (and solutions to those misconceptions) of the entitlement mindset that can sneak upon us during the process (and it is a process) of leaving the military.

Misconception #1:  I’m Unique

            As I stated before, we did what most of our fellow Americans decided not to do.  In that setting, we are unique to around 99% of the country.  In the military, some of us decide to undertake some of the more “clandestine” or secretive jobs and missions.  This makes us elite among the already unique.  So, it is very easy to carry over this attitude as we prepare to leave the military, but let me bring you back to a sobering reality:

                           In the civilian world, you are just another face in the crowd. 

When it comes to looking for, applying to and interviewing for jobs, we are not elite or unique.  There are a multitude of people that apply for the same jobs.  Competition is fierce and believing that our service will get us in the door is not a good way of thinking.  Including everyone else that is leaving the military at any given time, there are recent college graduates and experienced professionals competing against us.  Additionally, employers, although grateful for your service, are not going to be amused by your service alone.  When it comes down to it, they will want to know how your experience will help their bottom line and help the organization achieve success.

Solution:  Instead of attempting to use the fact that we served as the launching pad into a great civilian life, we need to highlight what we did in service.  Getting a degree and certifications in your desired field can go a long way toward finding your success after the uniform and the good news about this is you can do this before leaving the military. 

 Misconception #2:  The Civilian World Needs to Adjust to Veterans

            I think we can all agree that military life is vastly different from that of civilian life.  Everything from mentality to lingo could be worlds apart.  One mistake that we, as Veterans, tend to make is that we believe that the civilian world, specifically civilian workplaces, need to “adjust to us”.  Hard truth…they have to do no such thing.  Let me be clear: I’m not talking about making special accommodations for a wheelchair bound combat Veteran.  I mean mentality and way of thinking.  Let’s keep it real…some of the things we do and say to get the job done in service do not go over well in the civilian workplace.  To my fellow NCOs across the Armed Forces, you cannot give the knife hand to a subordinate and talk to them using “colorful” language to put out instructions.  You cannot motivate a co-worker by insulting them.  Unlike the military, civilians have the option to quit before they will take what they may consider “harsh treatment” from anyone.  In other words, it may be our demeanor that needs to adjust, not the civilian workplace.

Solution:  From the day of your phone screen to the first day on the job, convey that you are a team player.  Let them know, verbally and through action, that you are now one of them and want to achieve success for the team and, ultimately, the organization as a whole.  Get to know the people working around you to understand how you can effectively communicate with them, regardless of whether they are subordinates or co-workers. 

Misconception #3:  I Don’t Have to Start from the Bottom

            Honestly, I struggled with this one.  I told myself that I won’t have to take an entry-level position anywhere because I have a Master’s Degree in IT Management, a couple of IT certifications and 6 years of experience.  I felt I was entitled to a mid-management IT position.  I applied for countless management-level jobs and guess what?

                                        I hardly received callbacks, let alone interviews. 

However, once I came down from my high horse and stopped thinking so foolishly, the job search started yielding more phone screens and interviews and led to a great job at the headquarters for a Fortune 500 company.  It was essentially a paid internship, but it was still an awesome opportunity that I was grateful for and that eventually led to a higher paying opportunity later on.

Let me pose a few questions to you that may change your thinking when it comes to this particular misconception:  When initially enlisting in the military, can you come in as a Master Chief, Sergeant Major or Chief Master Sergeant?  How about new officers coming in as the commander of a unit from day one?  Would you respect a “leader” without an ounce of military experience?  For some of us, our only work experience is the military so why on Earth would we believe that we won’t have to start from the bottom in a civilian job?  Although not impossible, it is unlikely that you will start above entry-level at your new civilian job.  Also, if you are making $45,000 a year as an E-4, don’t expect to get paid $70,000 a year on your first job after leaving the military.  There may be rare cases where this is true, but don’t count on it.  Truthfully, you are not ready to handle the responsibility of that $70,000 annual salary.  We have to be realistic.

Solution: Accept early in your transition process that you will likely have to start in an entry-level position, but understand that you don’t have to stay in an entry-level position very long.  Take the time and do the work required to show that you do deserve (but are not entitled to) a more senior level position and more compensation to go with it.

Be Competitive, but Humble

            These 3 misconceptions can derail your transition like nothing else.  Having an entitled mindset is not the way to logically approach this huge change in your life.  Once again, know that you are competing against hundreds, if not thousands, of other job applicants.  So, I advise you to be highly competitive.  Set the foundation of success after the uniform while you are still in uniform.  Learn as much as you possibly can and get the education and/or certifications that can set you apart from the crowd, but know that there is a fine line between being competitive and entitled.  Always be humble and gracious for whatever opportunity comes your way and know that your first job after the military can be a stepping stone to a great civilian career.

     

Dress for Success and Beyond

After landing your post-military job, one of the many things that you will need to tackle is your company’s dress code.  Some of you have been wearing this nation’s uniform for 20 or more years.  Your only concern in that time has been whether you are within regulations.  Now, you have the opportunity to show your personality by dressing for success.

What Do I Wear?

Most companies nowadays have a strict dress code.  You have to make sure to understand what this means.  Easiest way to do this?  Ask your boss.  They’ll be more than understanding of the fact that this may be a new concept to you after leaving the military.  Some companies may send you a welcome packet that outlines, in great detail, what is expected.  If you have landed a job where the dress code is very relaxed (Google, anyone?), then this will probably be less of a concern.  However, even in a relaxed environment it couldn’t hurt to ask what your left and right limits are.  For example, I can wear jeans on my current job, but they cannot have holes or tears.

Dress for the Job You Want…Not the One You Have 

Let me make a very generalized statement:  Most companies have a “Business Casual” dress code.  In most cases, this is nice slacks/dress and buttoned up shirt/blouse.  Even polo shirts can be included in this guideline.  Some places may or may not require males to wear a tie.  Consider this, though:  You can dress above the established dress code.  What do I mean?  Let me explain:

As previously stated, I am allowed to wear jeans on my current job.  Some of my co-workers do this, but I only wear jeans on Fridays.  Why?  Because I dress for the job I want, not the one I have.  In my role, I interface with some fairly high-ranking people and I can assure you, they are not wearing jeans.  Even though I am allowed to wear jeans any day of the week, my mindset is that eventually, I want to be one of those high-ranking people.  The other reason is that I wore the same uniform every day for nearly 7 years.  Now that I have the opportunity, I want to dress in accordance with my personality.  So, most days, I wear dress slacks, nice shirt (sometimes, polo), and loafers.  This concept is completely optional, but I suggest that you consider it.  It could make you stand out in a positive way to the right people in your company.

Enjoy Your New Dress Code

You may look at your company’s dress code as a way for someone to tell you what to wear.  Make no mistake…it is exactly that.  My advice is to enjoy this opportunity.  You deserve it!  If your company requires a suit and tie for males, go to your nearest men’s clothing store and get a tailor to measure you.  If females are required to wear a blouse, go to the closest women’s clothing store and pick out blouses in different colors.  Again, someone is telling you what to wear, but you have flexibility.  Use those guidelines and apply them to your personality.  Have fun with it!

How to Fight New-Job Jitters     (Featured in the April 2017 Issue of G.I. JOBS Magazine and GIJobs.com)

Warning:  The following is a personal account from August 2015 as I left active duty.  You may or may not experience the same when leaving the military…

So, there I was.  I landed a job with a great company, cleared CIF and received my discharge papers.  I even submitted my VA disability claim early!  Now, it was time focus on my new job.  For me, I went from wearing the uniform on a Friday to wearing a collared shirt and tie on the following Monday.  I was very gracious it played out like this because getting paid from DFAS and my new job was awesome!  However, something hit me that weekend before I started my new job…

I was a nervous wreck!

I found myself Saturday saying “Dude, you have been in the Army for the last 6 years of your life.  You haven’t worked in the civilian workplace since before Obama moved into the White House…What are you going to do?!”

Here’s the strange part. I wasn’t nervous about the job itself.  At the time, I had been working in IT for 6 years, obtained a Master of Science in IT Management and had the capability to learn new concepts in technology.  Sure, there would be a learning curve because of the nature of my company’s business but otherwise, I knew I could do the job.  What was causing this feeling?  Honestly, I couldn’t put it into words.  I could not tell my wife why my stomach was in knots on that Monday morning as I put on my tie.

Corporate culture? No.  Co-workers that don’t “get me”? Not really.  My boss being upset that I will have to take time to go to those pesky VA appointments as I navigate the compensation for disability process? Not that either.  I just couldn’t explain it.

While driving to work for my first day, I realized what was going on.  My time over the year prior to leaving active duty was so consumed with finding a job that I forgot about the first day jitters that were going to accompany that new job…and jitters is putting it lightly.

Once I arrived to my new job for New Hire Orientation, those jitters seemed to float away.  Seriously, they disappeared faster than steaks on “steak day” in the DFAC downrange.

So here is my advice as it relates to that crucial first day:

First, the jitters will probably hit you, too!  You’re excited about your new beginnings but you will be nervous.  It doesn’t matter whether you were an E-4 that separated after your initial enlistment or an E-9 that served over 20 years, those jitters will hit you smack-dab in the face!  Ride it out…most likely you won’t be able to explain it either, but they will disappear almost immediately after arriving at your new work digs.

Secondly, try to fit in.  This isn’t the military, so don’t use the knife-hand when talking to employees if you are in a supervisory role and please don’t use acronyms when speaking to co-workers.  Learn the culture and embrace it because this is your life now.

Lastly, do your best.  I shouldn’t have to say this because as Veterans, we (most of us) inherently do this.  When I say do your best I mean ask questions and be willing to learn.  You aren’t expected to be an expert the first day, but do your best at becoming a good employee.

By the way, congratulations! This is indeed an exciting time in your life!