Cost of Setting an Example

What is the Cost of Setting an Example?

Think of a time you have given up something you really wanted. What would you have done if you had the choice? How can a personal sacrifice be turned into an example of leadership for others?

Not much seems more important in high school than fitting in, especially when you are suddenly starting high school 1,000 miles from your home town. Dustin had more than one advantage to help him adapt to his new school. He was one quarter Anglo, one quarter Korean, one quarter Puerto Rican, and one quarter Native American. “I’m a living example of groups getting along,” was his motto. But, the real ace up his sleeve was card tricks. Before coming to Tempe, he researched the internet, bought a book, and practiced until he had a collection of impressive tricks. His card tricks always attracted a crowd and opened doors for forming new friendships.

Unfortunately, cards would not be the only thing to be shuffled in his life. After his freshman year, Dustin and his family would follow his father to a new job in California. Football and cards paved the way to connecting with another new group. Dustin’s groups always included everyone: athletes, musicians, serious students, and the people on the fringes whom he took under his wing. Starting in middle school, Dustin had made a point of befriending and defending those who were bullied or isolated. There was something about his charisma, confidence, and leadership that made his actions the accepted standard.

Just two weeks before the start of his junior year, the economic crisis which began in 2008 took its toll on Dustin’s family. His parents made the critical decision to return to the Phoenix area and search for new jobs. Arriving just as the first week of football practice started, they made a commitment to Dustin that he would spend his last two years in this, his third high school.

Even before the two rental trucks were unloaded and the family’s belongings were arranged, Dustin began to make friends. Two neighbors helped with the unloading and took him to observe football practice. For Dustin, his junior year would be good in many ways. His leadership skills continued to develop as he turned the family’s garage into a weight room and spent many hours bonding with the new younger members of the football team. His grades hovered in the B range and he was able to take part in several co-curricular activities. That spring he was selected to represent his school at Arizona’s Boys’ State Conference in June. Dustin saw this as a great opportunity.

However, the family’s financial situation had become more and more desperate as months went by with his father unable to find a job. His parents kept the commitment to allow Dustin to remain in the same school for one more year until graduation, even though keeping that promise caused hardships and separation. Just before the school year was out, Dustin’s father left to take a job a thousand miles away, where he would live with a relative and send almost all of his paycheck back to the family. His mother commuted to her hospital job in the family’s only vehicle, which had been given to Dustin for his sixteenth birthday. She returned home exhausted more than twelve hours later. Dustin and his siblings needed to be responsible for themselves and the house that summer before his senior year.

The bright spot in Dustin’s spring and early summer had been his preparation for the week at Boys’ State in Flagstaff. He had the opportunity to make contacts with some of the adults on the Governing Board and had been encouraged to run for an office. Leadership was an important part of Dustin’s character and he understood the benefits of participation in Boy’s State at both the state and national levels. At one meeting for the delegates, Dustin met the candidate from a nearby school. This new friend was going to need transportation. “No problem,” Dustin said. “My mom will pick you up on our way.” His dreams, clothing, and the ever-present deck of cards were packed and ready two days before Saturday’s departure. The Friday morning before they were to leave, Dustin’s coaches gave him the word that he was expected to join a small group representing their team at an informal 3-day football training event beginning in two days. The fact that he had been chosen to represent the school at Boy’s State was inconsequential. Choosing to serve as the school’s representative instead of attending this sudden training event would cause the coaches to label him as “not a team player.” His consequences would include possible reduced playing time in the fall and the loss of his position as one of the team captains. Even under this pressure, Dustin remained determined to serve as his school’s representative to Boys’ State. Only the implication that the younger teammates would see his choice as abandoning the team broke that determination.

Under normal conditions, there would have been an administrator, counselors, or some adult with the ability to defuse the situation. But no one else was available to counsel Dustin that Friday. His devotion to his the younger teammates was the factor driving his decision. “I’ve worked so hard to bring them together. I’ve told them over and over that if you really want something, you have to sacrifice for it. If I don’t make this sacrifice, how will they ever believe me?” That was the question this student athlete asked an adult who urged him to go ahead with the Boys’ State experience he had anticipated for months. No one else really knew the level of sacrifice Dustin’s decision required.

Dustin’s mother got home very late that night and found him asleep, but with two packed duffle bags in the corner. In the morning, she woke him with the cry, “Hey, it’s time to pick up your friend and head to Flagstaff.” That was when she learned of his decision. “But don’t worry, Mom. He’s still going. I made sure he found someone who would give him a ride.” The ill-advised decision was made. Dustin would neither look back nor complain.

Dustin’s goal was to become a teacher and coach. His math skills were high, and he knew football coaches were often math teachers. His senior year of football season came and went. After the first game, he gave his captain’s position to another player. “He’s been at this school all four years. It would be more fair for him to be a captain,” was Dustin’s explanation. No hoped-for college offers appeared. College and a teaching/coaching position seemed out of reach.

Dustin’s father was able to come back and be there in person for the last game and the end-of-season banquet. He witnessed what had made everything worthwhile for his son. Several of the nervous first-year players asked Dustin to come and meet their parents. “Thank you for the attention and friendship you’ve given my son this year. He talks about you all the time and really looks up to you,” said one mother. That comment was the award Dustin treasured. The day after graduation, the family once again loaded up and headed to the city where Dustin’s father was working. By August, Dustin had lined up his future. In January, he would leave for Basic Training and Jump School as part of his year-and-a-half training for Special Forces. Before departing, he worked, took classes at the community college…and coached a youth football team. Two afternoons a week and on Saturday, Dustin lived his dream of being a coach. The dream is still there. It is just taking a time-out.

  1. Do Dustin’s actions reflect living the Golden Rule? Explain your opinion.
  2. What circumstances might have prevented his parents from over-ruling this high school student’s decision not to go to Boys’ State?
  3. What is your reaction to the statement: “I’ve told them over and over that if you really want something, you have to sacrifice for it. If I don’t make this sacrifice, how will they ever believe me?”
  4. What does giving his captain’s position to a player who had been at the school all four years indicate about Dustin’s character?
  5. What advice would you have given Dustin about attending Boys’ State?
  6. What are some other questions a person reading this article might have?