Rising above it all
â€śNo pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.â€ť â€”Helen Keller
Thirty years ago, Karen Northcraft, a psychiatric social worker in Evansville, taped 20 hours of interviews with a West Virginia girl named Elizabeth. The subject of Northcraftâ€™s doctoral dissertation, Elizabeth became a widely-known case study in beating the odds and exceeding expectations.
Elizabeth was abandoned by her mother and reared by an abusive aunt and uncle. The aunt administered bone-breaking beatings. The uncle, when she was 8, began five years of nightly sexual assaults.
Elizabethâ€™s main source of self-respect was her long, blonde curls. In the fourth grade, when her aunt shaved her head, Elizabeth reached a kind of tipping point. Something inside her said, â€śEnough! I can do better than this.â€ť
When the school counselor told her she was dirty, having no bathtub at home, she went out for the swimming team so she could get a daily shower. Too impoverished to hope ever to own a clarinet, she joined the school band, ready to learn to play whatever spare instrument the school had available.
Northcraft named children like Elizabeth â€śtranscenders,â€ť children who do well in spite of conditions that crush many at-risk children. Transcenders think for themselves, reject behaviors and expectations of the negative people around them and determine to find or create a more excellent path forward.
I hurt with students who were cheated out of their senior prom or pomp-and-circumstance graduation and especially athletes cheated out of their field hockey or football senior season by the pandemic.
Transcenders smart and mope for a time. Then, they suck it up and start picking up the pieces. They rise above it (what transcend means) and begin again, wiser and more empathic.