A Forty-Year-Old Compliment
by Ken Gardner

When I was in high school we had a debate in biology class on evolution. Nearly everyone in class felt that evolution was an established fact and that someone would have to be foolish not to realize that. I knew I’d be fighting a losing battle and would probably subject myself to a lot of ridicule if I got involved in the debate, but I felt that someone ought to stand up for the truth. So I volunteered to argue against evolution.

I never felt I did a very good job in the debate, especially not after another student, a very smart student and popular athlete, argued for evolution. Nearly everyone in class agreed with him, including, of course, the teacher. I don’t remember anyone congratulating me or telling me I did a good job. I felt alone. I felt embarrassed.

However, just last week I received a Facebook message from a student who was in the class. Here’s what he said:

“In front of our 10th grade biology class you talked about how you could not endorse evolution…you were pretty much alone. Boy were you ever right. I can’t believe I still remember that. Hope all has gone well for you & yours.”

This was a message out of the blue from a classmate I had not seen in forty years! I doubt my inept refutation of evolution influenced his views on evolution one way or the other. But forty years later he at least remembered what I did. And he paid me a compliment that I’ll remember the next forty years.

What if I hadn’t taken a risk that day in high school forty years ago? What if I hadn’t raised my hand when the teacher asked if there was anyone who was willing to argue against evolution? What if I hadn’t gone out on a limb and embarrassed myself?

I would have never had the satisfaction of knowing I did the right thing. And I would have never received a forty-year-old compliment that I’ll remember the rest of my life.

Forty years from now will anyone remember what you did today?

Someone will—if you stand up for what’s right.