I heard a news brief the other day that I found to be both disillusioning and heartwarming at the same time. It seems that a young man showed up for his high school graduation in shoes that were not deemed worthy of the event. A school official refused to budge. Rules were rules. The young man was out of compliance. He could not march.
I watched as the young man described his emotions on the fateful day. "I felt humiliated, shame; words can't describe how I felt." And so he paced outside. The door closed in his face.
Four years of projects, exams, mathematical equations, essays. A student worthy of recognition. Banned from joining the ceremony by the white soles on his black leather shoes.
But that is not the end of the story. Enter John Butler. Eager to watch his daughter graduate, the high school teacher approached the entrance to the gym. That is when he noticed the angst on the young man’s face. It didn’t take long for Butler to provide a solution. And so it was that one grateful young man slid across the graduation stage in shoes two sizes too large and one self-effacing teacher observed the event in sock feet.
As I reflected on the role of all the players in the scenario, I couldn’t help but wonder about the school official who refused to budge on the rules. It appears that black shoes were on the list of acceptable attire. It was the white undersides that knocked the young man out of the line-up. Was the school official so afraid of even a hint of noncompliance that she lost all sense of generosity and human kindness?
And the teacher who surrendered his own footwear. What did it take to break from the ranks, think outside the box, put personal pride aside for empathy and compassion?
The story touches us because John Butler’s act represents something we all wish we might have the courage to do. In the midst of tightly controlled organizational expectations, think for ourselves. Resist the urge to slide along the slope of group think. Make a brave decision. Act.
The three angels of Revelation 14 tell us the day will come when we will be called upon to stand for our faith when it is wildly unpopular and threatening to do so. Perhaps it’s time to practice standing out from the crowd now. Listening to our hearts. Tuning into the needs of others even when it is not popular to do so. Summoning the courage to do what is right, kind, and honorable. Because in the final analysis, if we cannot think for ourselves now, what will we do when the stakes get higher?