Students offer heart-felt advice about friendship

Take the advice of theses Sellman fourth-graders and remember your friends on Valentine’s Day. From left: front row, Sophia Sieng, Brian Peterson and Krista Braun; back row, Joey Pauley, Stevie Tensmeyer, Stephanie Cox, Anna Grosse and Jessica Anderson.

By Regina Villiers.  Originally published in The Suburban Life February 12, 1997, 

added February 13, 2019.

Since the fourth century, the friendship of Damon and Pythias has been the classic example of the perfect friendship and of love between friends.  The poet, Lord Byron, wrote:  “Friendship is love without his wings.”

     If you have any trouble figuring out who your friends are, or deciding what friendship is, maybe you should ask the fourth-graders at Sellman School.  They could tell you all you need to know about friendship.

     Last fall, all fourth-grade students in Sellman’s language arts classes read and studied the book,  “There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom,” by Louis Sacher.

      The book is about Bradley Chalkers, who has no friends.  Not one. He sits in the last seat in the back row.  No one will sit next to him, and no one likes him, not even his teacher.  But a new, young counselor, Carla, comes to school, and she likes Bradley.

     She teaches him to believe in himself and to change.  When Bradley becomes a friend to others, he finds he has friends, people who like and who want to be with him.

     It’s a funny book, but it also teaches a great lesson.

     After he class finished the book, teacher Dianna Bartles asked her students to think about it.  Then she asked them to write out the answers to two questions:  What makes someone a friend?  Are you a good friend? 

     Some of their answers were standard statements and came out pretty much the same.

     But others showed originality and bordered on profundity.

     For instance, Sophia Sieng said:  “A good friend likes your name.”

     Our names are important to all of us.  We want our names remembered by the people who love us, and Shakespeare wrote:  “Good name in man and woman is the immediate jewel in their souls.”

     But it means even more to Sophia for someone to like her name.  She has just moved here from Cambodia.  This is her first year here, and she is awash in new things to learn – new language, new school, and new friends.  To have a friend who knows and likes her name must, indeed, be the “jewel of her soul.”

     There are certain times in life when a kid especially needs a friend.  A kid, just because he’s shorter or skinnier, doesn’t want to be always chosen last when there’s a game to be played.

     Brian Peterson addressed this:  “ A good friend would not choose you last,” he wrote.

     Riding a school bus can be a frightening thing for a shy kid.  It can make you feel all alone in a crowd.

     “A good friend will sit on the bus with you,” Stephanie Cox wrote.  I agree with that. I’d want a friend to sit with me.

     Many of the students put loyalty highest on their list of friendship requirements.

     “A good friend would stand up for you,” Jessica Anderson wrote.

     And Anna Grosse echoed the loyalty theme with:  “A good friend won’t rat on you.”

     Krista Braun made a statement that hit me in the heart.  “ A good friend won’t read your diary,” she wrote.

     Now, I don’t know if anyone has read Krista’s diary, but someone read mine when I was young.  I never quite recovered from it.  Not only did she read it, but she confronted me and told others.  It wasn’t that I’d written something as bad as a crime committed, but it was private.  This was a person close to me, who destroyed our relationship, destroyed my trust, and worst of all, invaded my privacy.

     For years and years after, I never kept another diary, or even wrote things down.  Being a writer, this hampered me a lot.  There are tears in my life devoid of written details.

     Several of the kids were on my wavelength about one of the most important things a friend can do.

     “A good friend will tell jokes to you.”  Brian Peterson said.

     And Joey Pauley said:  “A good friend will make you laugh.”

     Having a friend who makes you laugh is much better than having a psychiatrist.  And it’s lots and lots cheaper, even when you have a friendship by long-distance telephone.

     For years, my friend, Louise, kept me out of therapy.  She still does, even though she now lives in Colorado, and our laughs are transmitted by AT&T and the mailman.

     Finally, Stevie Tensmeyer came up with my favorite.

     “A good friend,” he wrote, “won’t act like an idiot and annoy you.”

     That’s for sure.  Not only did Stevie not act like and idiot and annoy me, but he also made me lough.  I think that makes him my friend.

     So on this Valentine’s Day, take the advice of these young friendship experts.  Think of who your friends are, and remember them.

     Better yet, be a friend to someone.  And make someone laugh.  It’s something a friend would do.