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It's Hip to Be Square

Photograph by Getty Images

There are so many negative things said about teenagers these days. With all of the horror stories you hear from friends plus all of the bad hype in the media, you’re probably convinced that right this minute every teenager in the world is binge drinking at a party naked, getting pregnant and about to smash in your mailbox with a baseball bat.

So here’s a story that might show you another side of these mysterious creatures. Teenagers can be beautiful beings if you give them a chance. And hey, maybe your mailbox was really taken out by a car.

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A few weeks ago there was a show at my daughters’ high school. They call it Thursday Night Theater, and it’s a chance for any of the kids in the school to get up on stage and perform. It could be singing, playing an instrument, dancing, comedy, poetry—everyone is invited and encouraged to share their talents, as long as it isn’t X-rated, offensive or involving dancing on a pole in a thong.

Because the school is a performing arts high school, the majority of the kids who end up taking the stage tend to be from that pool of students; kids who regularly audition and perform in the school musicals, plays and vocal shows. It’s a tight-knit group, and they naturally come out and support their fellow performers with generous clapping, whistles, fist pumps and hugs. After awhile it starts to feel like one big artsy, hipster lovefest.

On this night, around two acts into the show, the emcee (another student) paused to look at his notes. Clearly it was a name he didn’t recognize, but he introduced this young man with all the enthusiasm he had used when reading off the names of his friends.

“And now we have … Thomas. And he’s going to be performing—or doing—the Rubik’s Cube!”

Would the emcee have to—God forbid—ask him to leave the stage before he was done?

That was followed by a second of silence and then enthusiastic clapping as everyone pondered whether Rubik’s Cube was the name of a song? An interpretive dance? And the speculation continued until Thomas walked up on the stage, requested a chair and held up—a Rubik’s Cube.

What followed next was uplifting and remarkable. The entire audience sat patiently and waited for this young man to finish that Rubik’s cube, and he wasn’t very quick, so there was a lot of sitting. And waiting. And watching Thomas intently twist and turn that plastic cube in his hands. Knowing that I never mastered that damn puzzle, I wondered how long we might be watching this performance. Five minutes? Twenty minutes? An hour? Would the emcee have to—God forbid—ask him to leave the stage before he was done?

The audience was silent at first, but then began to hum songs, clap their hands, shout out words of encouragement. At one point they all started to whistle the Jeopardy theme song but Thomas, obviously finding the tune distracting, held up the “talk to the hand” gesture and the audience fell back into a respectful silence. I’m telling you this dude was good.

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But no one—not one person—booed or said anything to make this kid feel bad about being up on that stage. At a time when bullying is such a problem in schools, and kids, especially teens, are being called out for their insensitivity and meanness, Thomas and his cube got nothing but respect from this young crowd.

I’m not sure how long it ended up taking him to finish, but I do know that when he did the audience erupted into cheers. He may have gotten one of the most enthusiastic ovations of the night. It was the sweetest moment, watching him walk back to his seat, filled with pride over his performance and clutching that cube that he held, along with his classmate’s support, in his hands.

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