Miller: All those things to learn |

Miller: All those things to learn

Summit Daily/Mark FoxSummit County Rotarian and County Commissioner Thomas Davidson talks with a group of Summit Middle School students Thursday during the Rotary's 4-Way Test.

This past week I had the distinct pleasure and opportunity to get involved with local students trying to make sense of some of life’s thornier questions. Every year, the Summit County Rotary Club sends members into the middle school to talk about the club’s “Four-Way Test.” It’s pretty simple, and it goes like this:

– Is it the truth?

– Is it fair to all concerned?

– Will it build good will and better friendships?

– Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

As a relatively new Rotarian, it took a little while to allow the test to sink in and start incorporating it into my own life. Once I did, I came to admire the beauty and simplicity behind it and how well it seems to apply to just about any scenario imaginable. So when the opportunity came up to go in and talk to middle schoolers about it, I signed up.

We’re currently between middle school in my family, with three high-schoolers and a first grader (plus one out of the nest). Having been there several times before, I know how critical an age it is, coming between childhood and adulthood. While the early years are hugely important in terms of development, it’s in the middle years that the die is often cast, setting the course for high school and adulthood. Our ideas about the world at this age are still in formation, and the adolescent mind is a highly malleable thing. Forks in the road require tough decisions at times, and it’s not always the case that a 13-year-old will make the best one.

What, then, can these four questions do to help guide those choices? As it turned out, quite a lot. We sat with six or seven students at each table, and from an envelope we produced different scenarios to tackle: What if you’re at a party and alcohol is being served? What do you do if your good friend asks you out and you’re not interested? How do you confront that kid who’s spreading rumors about you?

With little hesitation, the group members had strong feelings and opinions about each one. And although there was no right or wrong answer, I was impressed with their instinctive replies. They nodded when I suggested that they’re probably seeing more of these fuzzier scenarios as they grow up and will most certainly see the number increase in coming years. Conventional wisdom may say that “kids these days” don’t have the moral and ethical background of previous generations, but if my small sample of SMS students is any indication, they’ve got a better start than most.

Later on the same day, I got to help judge an oratory contest held at the middle school by the Summit County Optimists. Again, I was taken by the poise exhibited by six young ladies, all of whom had written their own speech about optimism and presented it in front of a group of parents and judges. Most of us fall into two categories when it comes to public speaking (love it or hate it), so we were witnessing what was likely the first time these girls had ever “soloed” in front of an audience. And no doubt the experience would be a formative one for them all.

It used to be just with my own kids, but I find it harder and harder to watch any of our local kids do this good stuff without feeling all mushy. Maybe it’s the advancing age or all the experiences I’ve now had as a parent. Either way, it makes me wonder how qualified I am to be a judge of any kind any more – I think they’re all amazing.

Alex Miller is the editor of the Summit Daily News. He can be reached at 668-4618, or

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