For most of my life, one of my nicknames has been “Pollyanna.” Do I deserve it? Probably. I try to smile a lot and generally be cheerful. I like to make people laugh and feel good about themselves. I give hugs.
A glass half full? I suppose so. Rose-colored glasses? Maybe. But being a bit of a cockeyed optimist and making other people happier makes me happy, too.
Yeah, I know. Those seem like strange traits for a journalist. A reporter should have a healthy dose of skepticism, spiced occasionally with a soupçon of cynicism.
Got those, too.
I do try to keep both extremes in check, looking for and acknowledging the inherent good in everybody while recognizing when things have gone awry for or within some people.
Most folks are innately smart, kind and gentle, I believe, even people who try to hide those admirable qualities under a mantle of machismo.
What wonderful luck I’ve had to meet, be friends with and write about so many North Coast residents who regularly go out of their way to do good things for other people and the communities we all love.
Not for money. Not for glory. Because they want to.
They’re exceptional people, every one.
However, when Coast Union High School Principal Wade Lawrence talked recently about “C.U. Lauder,” I yearned to know more. The student seemed to be taking the “random acts of kindness” ethic to a higher plane.
(By the way, Lauder is an alias, since the person behind the name wants to remain anonymous. I’m going to honor that request. For reasons of simplicity, I’m going to identify Lauder as being male, not because I know something I’m not sharing with you, but because “he” is shorter than “she.” “To laud,” of course, means “to praise.”)
Lawrence said Lauder attended a Jan. 17 school assembly, “Teen Truth Live” (www.teentruthlive.com), a student-made, 22-minute film and motivational speeches about bullying, school violence and the often chilling, sometimes horrifying, effect of the spoken, written or posted word.
After the program’s decidedly somber, but somehow uplifting, “we can do it” message, Lauder decided he had to help raise the tone of personal interaction on campus.
Think about that for a minute, and you may come to the same conclusion I did at this stage of the story: There just aren’t a lot of ways for a bright teen to overtly “make happy” at school without being labeled a geek, a goofball or just plain weird.
Lauder, being nobody’s dummy, had that figured out even before the assembly. With a nom de plume, he could do his uplifting good deeds without having to take the peer-pressure heat.
I asked Lawrence to have Lauder contact me. Soon thereafter, in this high-speed digital world, I received a letter in the mail.
In the typed Feb. 26 missive, the young happiness-spreader acknowledged that “I am ‘Coast Union (C.U.) Lauder.’”
Under that pen name for some time, Lauder has been writing complimentary notes to students and teachers at the high school. He explained, “I plan to write a note to every student and teacher before the end of the school year. My inspiration is to make a difference in people’s lives to ‘change the world.’”
Or, as our mothers used to lecture us, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” (the antithesis of Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s original quote, “If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.”)
And Lauder’s anonymity request? “Part of the uniqueness of getting a complimentary note is not knowing who sent it,” he said. “I wanted to give without receiving, which is why I have chosen to keep my identity a secret.
“The funny thing is I have actually received so much by doing this. By looking for the good in everybody else, it has made me a happier person who focuses on the good in my life.”
Lawrence said softly, “I’m just so thankful we have kids like that” at Coast.
Under Lauder’s typed signature in the letter, the student wrote, “You can change the world.”
Pollyanna thinks that’s a pretty profound mantra for anybody, let alone a teenager.
Now, what can we do to make a difference?
Kathe Tanner is a reporter for The Cambrian and The Tribune. Her Slice of Life column appears biweekly. Follow her on Twitter: @CambriaReporter.