Westminster, Colorado. Before school ended a few weeks ago, 12-year-old Brody Ridder did what every kid does at the end of the school year. He took his yearbook to classmates and asked them:
“Will you sign my yearbook?”
It’s a humbling question for a sixth-grader to ask. In fact, it’s a humbling question at any age. Because what if the person turns you down? What if they reject you? Frankly I’d rather try to sell someone Amway.
Getting signatures in your yearbook has always been a big deal. When I was in sixth grade, the year before my father died, I remember when a history teacher wrote into my yearbook:
“You have no idea how high you will fly, young man. You will fly not because flying is easy, but because you’re Sean Freaking Dietrich!”
Her comment really stuck with me.
So while everyone in school was cheerfully signing yearbooks, Brody joined in and asked people to sign his book. To his horror, almost all students refused to sign it.
At first it seemed like everyone was playing a collective joke. But no, it was no joke. Students simply didn’t care about Brody’s yearbook. Most just ignored him. The few that did sign his book just halfheartedly scribbled their names, nothing more.
He got two, maybe three autographs.
Brody went home with empty pages and a hollow heart. To make himself feel better, the 12-year-old wrote himself a note in his own yearbook, then signed it himself. It read:
“Hope you make some more friends.—Brody Ridder.”
His mother saw the note and it broke her. Cassandra Ridder could hardly believe kids would refuse to write in a 12-year-old’s yearbook. Moreover, why? Brody has been bullied in the past, but this was a new low. What is this world coming to?
Have we gotten so mean spirited as a culture that our children are numb to the basal needs of others? What does this say about us adults? Isn’t this our fault? Aren’t we responsible? Furthermore, what specifically does “basal” mean?
Brody’s mom snapped a photo of her son’s handwritten note and posted it to a Facebook group. She was asking other parents to speak out against bullying.
But something else happened. People saw her post and showed it to their high-schoolers.
Many high-schoolers were outraged.
Seventeen-year-old Joanna Cooper received a text message from her mother with a screenshot of the post about Brody. Joanna had never met Brody, but she knew immediately that she wanted to help. Because, in Joanna Cooper’s words, “no kid deserves to feel like that.”
Meantime, other high-schoolers had been seeing the post online and thinking the same thing, they wanted to help. Students such as Simone Lightfoot, a junior who found out about Brody from her fellow student. And Logan South, a junior whose family had spent a few hours discussing the issue.
Ideas were hatched. Plans were formed. A day later, there was a knock on Brody’s classroom door. Whereupon a throng of high-schoolers entered his middle-school classroom unannounced.
“We walked in,” said Joanna, “and we were like ‘Where’s Brody at…? We’re here to sign your yearbook, bud.’”
So just imagine. You’re Brody Ridder. There you are, minding your own business when a group of high-schoolers—all of whom you have never met—arrives in YOUR classroom to visit you.
There are senior girls in crop tops, junior guys in athletic jerseys, upperclassmen with multiple piercings, and young people with angular trendy haircuts that look like they’ve mistakenly fallen headfirst into a Weed Eater. And these people are all here for you.
The high-schoolers signed his yearbook. And the signatures never quit coming. Before long, Brody had over a hundred autographs from older kids he’d never met. Most entries were long paragraphs with uplifting words. Some notes contained phone numbers.
Joanna Cooper’s yearbook entry said:
“I know we don’t know you, but I know you are the coolest kid! If you ever need anything, call your senior friends!”
And while I’m overawed at the act of kindness from the young men and young women of Westminster, I’m only sorry I wasn’t part of it. Which, I suppose, is why I’m writing this.
Because If I would have had a chance, I know what I would have written in Brody’s yearbook. I would have said:
No matter what your naysayers and oppressors say or do to you, Brody, these small-minded people have no idea how high you will soar one day, my friend. You will fly not because flying is easy, but because you are Brody Freaking Ridder.
And don’t you ever forget it.