Wonder, p.22
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       Wonder, p.22

           R. J. Palacio
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  “Hard to believe this year’s almost over, huh?” he said, almost like he was reading my mind.


  “Has it been a good year for you, Auggie? Has it been okay?”

  “Yeah, it’s been good.” I nodded.

  “I know academically it’s been a great year for you. You’re one of our top students. Congrats on the High Honor Roll.”

  “Thanks. Yeah, that’s cool.”

  “But I know it’s had its share of ups and downs,” he said, raising his eyebrows. “Certainly, that night at the nature reserve was one of the low points.”

  “Yeah.” I nodded. “But it was also kind of good, too.”

  “In what way?”

  “Well, you know, how people stood up for me and stuff?”

  “That was pretty wonderful,” he said, smiling.


  “I know in school things got a little hairy with Julian at times.”

  I have to admit: he surprised me with that one.

  “You know about that stuff?” I asked him.

  “Middle-school directors have a way of knowing about a lot of stuff.”

  “Do you have, like, secret security cameras in the hallways?” I joked.

  “And microphones everywhere,” he laughed.

  “No, seriously?”

  He laughed again. “No, not seriously.”


  “But teachers know more than kids think, Auggie. I wish you and Jack had come to me about the mean notes that were left in your lockers.”

  “How do you know about that?” I said.

  “I’m telling you: middle-school directors know all.”

  “It wasn’t that big a deal,” I answered. “And we wrote notes, too.”

  He smiled. “I don’t know if it’s public yet,” he said, “though it will be soon anyway, but Julian Albans is not coming back to Beecher Prep next year.”

  “What!” I said. I honestly couldn’t hide how surprised I was.

  “His parents don’t think Beecher Prep is a good fit for him,” Mr. Tushman continued, raising his shoulders.

  “Wow, that’s big news,” I said.

  “Yeah, I thought you should know.”

  Then suddenly I noticed that the pumpkin portrait that used to be behind his desk was gone and my drawing, my Self-Portrait as an Animal that I drew for the New Year Art Show, was now framed and hanging behind his desk.

  “Hey, that’s mine!” I pointed.

  Mr. Tushman turned around like he didn’t know what I was talking about. “Oh, that’s right!” he said, tapping his forehead. “I’ve been meaning to show this to you for months now.”

  “My self-portrait as a duck.” I nodded.

  “I love this piece, Auggie,” he said. “When your art teacher showed it to me, I asked her if I could keep it for my wall. I hope that’s okay with you.”

  “Oh, yeah! Sure. What happened to the pumpkin portrait?”

  “Right behind you.”

  “Oh, yeah. Nice.”

  “I’ve been meaning to ask you since I hung this up …,” he said, looking at it. “Why did you choose to represent yourself as a duck?”

  “What do you mean?” I answered. “That was the assignment.”

  “Yes, but why a duck?” he said. “Is it safe to assume that it was because of the story of the … um, the duckling that turns into a swan?”

  “No,” I laughed, shaking my head. “It’s because I think I look like a duck.”

  “Oh!” said Mr. Tushman, his eyes opening wide. He started laughing. “Really? Huh. Here I was looking for symbolism and metaphors and, um … sometimes a duck is just a duck!”

  “Yeah, I guess,” I said, not quite getting why he thought that was so funny. He laughed to himself for a good thirty seconds.

  “Anyway, Auggie, thanks for chatting with me,” he said, finally. “I just want you to know it’s truly a pleasure having you here at Beecher Prep, and I’m really looking forward to next year.” He reached across the desk and we shook hands. “See you tomorrow at graduation.”

  “See you tomorrow, Mr. Tushman.”

  The Last Precept

  This was written on Mr. Browne’s chalkboard when we walked into English class for the last time:



  (The Polyphonic Spree)

  Have a great summer vacation, Class 5B!

  It’s been a great year and you’ve been a wonderful group of students.

  If you remember, please send me a postcard this summer with YOUR personal precept. It can be something you made up for yourself or something you’ve read somewhere that means something to you. (If so, don’t forget the attribution, please!) I really look forward to getting them.

  Tom Browne

  563 Sebastian Place

  Bronx, NY 10053

  The Drop-Off

  The graduation ceremony was held in the Beecher Prep Upper School auditorium. It was only about a fifteen-minute walk from our house to the other campus building, but Dad drove me because I was all dressed up and had on new shiny black shoes that weren’t broken in yet and I didn’t want my feet to hurt. Students were supposed to arrive at the auditorium an hour before the ceremony started, but we got there even earlier, so we sat in the car and waited. Dad turned on the CD player, and our favorite song come on. We both smiled and started bobbing our heads to the music.

  Dad sang along with the song: “Andy would bicycle across town in the rain to bring you candy.”

  “Hey, is my tie on straight?” I said.

  He looked and straightened it a tiny bit as he kept on singing: “And John would buy the gown for you to wear to the prom …”

  “Does my hair look okay?” I said.

  He smiled and nodded. “Perfect,” he said. “You look great, Auggie.”

  “Via put some gel in it this morning,” I said, pulling down the sun visor and looking in the little mirror. “It doesn’t look too puffy?”

  “No, it’s very, very cool, Auggie. I don’t think you’ve ever had it this short before, have you?”

  “No, I got it cut yesterday. I think it makes me look more grown-up, don’t you?”

  “Definitely!” He was smiling, looking at me and nodding. “But I’m the luckiest guy on the Lower East Side, ’cause I got wheels, and you want to go for a ride.”

  “Look at you, Auggie!” he said, smiling from ear to ear. “Look at you, looking so grown-up and spiffy. I can’t believe you’re graduating from the fifth grade!”

  “I know, it’s pretty awesome, right?” I nodded.

  “It feels like just yesterday that you started.”

  “Remember I still had that Star Wars braid hanging from the back of my head?”

  “Oh my gosh, that’s right,” he said, rubbing his palm over his forehead.

  “You hated that braid, didn’t you, Dad?”

  “Hate is too strong a word, but I definitely didn’t love it.”

  “You hated it, come on, admit it,” I teased.

  “No, I didn’t hate it.” He smiled, shaking his head. “But I will admit to hating that astronaut helmet you used to wear, do you remember?”

  “The one Miranda gave me? Of course I remember! I used to wear that thing all the time.”

  “Good God, I hated that thing,” he laughed, almost more to himself.

  “I was so bummed when it got lost,” I said.

  “Oh, it didn’t get lost,” he answered casually. “I threw it out.”

  “Wait. What?” I said. I honestly didn’t think I heard him right.

  “The day is beautiful, and so are you,” he was singing.

  “Dad!” I said, turning the volume down.

  “What?” he said.

  “You threw it out?!”

  He finally looked at my face and saw how mad I was. I couldn’t believe he was being so matter-of-fact about the whole thing. I mean, to me this was a major revelat
ion, and he was acting like it was no big deal.

  “Auggie, I couldn’t stand seeing that thing cover your face anymore,” he said clumsily.

  “Dad, I loved that helmet! It meant a lot to me! I was bummed beyond belief when it got lost—don’t you remember?”

  “Of course I remember, Auggie,” he said softly. “Ohh, Auggie, don’t be mad. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t stand seeing you wear that thing on your head anymore, you know? I didn’t think it was good for you.” He was trying to look me in the eye, but I wouldn’t look at him.

  “Come on, Auggie, please try to understand,” he continued, putting his hand under my chin and tilting my face toward him. “You were wearing that helmet all the time. And the real, real, real, real truth is: I missed seeing your face, Auggie. I know you don’t always love it, but you have to understand … I love it. I love this face of yours, Auggie, completely and passionately. And it kind of broke my heart that you were always covering it up.”

  He was squinting at me like he really wanted me to understand.

  “Does Mom know?” I said.

  He opened his eyes wide. “No way. Are you kidding? She would have killed me!”

  “She tore the place apart looking for that helmet, Dad,” I said. “I mean, she spent like a week looking for it in every closet, in the laundry room, everywhere.”

  “I know!” he said, nodding. “That’s why she’d kill me!”

  And then he looked at me, and something about his expression made me start laughing, which made him open his mouth wide like he’d just realized something.

  “Wait a minute, Auggie,” he said, pointing his finger at me. “You have to promise me you will never tell Mommy anything about this.”

  I smiled and rubbed my palms together like I was about to get very greedy.

  “Let’s see,” I said, stroking my chin. “I’ll be wanting that new Xbox when it comes out next month. And I’ll definitely be wanting my own car in about six years, a red Porsche would be nice, and …”

  He started laughing. I love it when I’m the one who makes Dad laugh, since he’s usually the funnyman that gets everybody else laughing.

  “Oh boy, oh boy,” he said, shaking his head. “You really have grown up.”

  The part of the song we love to sing the most started to play, and I turned up the volume. We both started singing.

  “I’m the ugliest guy on the Lower East Side, but I’ve got wheels and you want to go for a ride. Want to go for a ride. Want to go for a ride. Want to go for a riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide.”

  We always sang this last part at the top of our lungs, trying to hold that last note as long as the guy who sang the song, which always made us crack up. While we were laughing, we noticed Jack had arrived and was walking over to our car. I started to get out.

  “Hold on,” said Dad. “I just want to make sure you’ve forgiven me, okay?”

  “Yes, I forgive you.”

  He looked at me gratefully. “Thank you.”

  “But don’t ever throw anything else of mine out again without telling me!”

  “I promise.”

  I opened the door and got out just as Jack reached the car.

  “Hey, Jack,” I said.

  “Hey, Auggie. Hey, Mr. Pullman,” said Jack.

  “How you doin’, Jack?” said Dad.

  “See you later, Dad,” I said, closing the door.

  “Good luck, guys!” Dad called out, rolling down the front window. “See you on the other side of fifth grade!”

  We waved as he turned on the ignition and started to pull away, but then I ran over and he stopped the car. I put my head in the window so Jack wouldn’t hear what I was saying.

  “Can you guys not kiss me a lot after graduation?” I asked quietly. “It’s kind of embarrassing.”

  “I’ll try my best.”

  “Tell Mom, too?”

  “I don’t think she’ll be able to resist, Auggie, but I’ll pass it along.”

  “Bye, dear ol’ Dad.”

  He smiled. “Bye, my son, my son.”

  Take Your Seats, Everyone

  Jack and I walked right behind a couple of sixth graders into the building, and then followed them to the auditorium.

  Mrs. G was at the entrance, handing out the programs and telling kids where to go.

  “Fifth graders down the aisle to the left,” she said. “Sixth graders go to the right. Everyone come in. Come in. Good morning. Go to your staging areas. Fifth graders to the left, sixth grade to the right …”

  The auditorium was huge inside. Big sparkly chandeliers. Red velvet walls. Rows and rows and rows of cushioned seats leading up to the giant stage. We walked down the wide aisle and followed the signs to the fifth-grade staging area, which was in a big room to the left of the stage. Inside were four rows of folding chairs facing the front of the room, which is where Ms. Rubin was standing, waving us in as soon as we walked in the room.

  “Okay, kids, take your seats. Take your seats,” she was saying, pointing to the rows of chairs. “Don’t forget, you’re sitting alphabetically. Come on, everybody, take your seats.” Not too many kids had arrived yet, though, and the ones who had weren’t listening to her. Me and Jack were sword-fighting with our rolled-up programs.

  “Hey, guys.”

  It was Summer walking over to us. She was wearing a light pink dress and, I think, a little makeup.

  “Wow, Summer, you look awesome,” I told her, because she really did.

  “Really? Thanks, you do, too, Auggie.”

  “Yeah, you look okay, Summer,” said Jack, kind of matter-of-factly. And for the first time, I realized that Jack had a crush on her.

  “This is so exciting, isn’t it?” said Summer.

  “Yeah, kind of,” I answered, nodding.

  “Oh man, look at this program,” said Jack, scratching his forehead. “We’re going to be here all freakin’ day.”

  I looked at my program.

  Headmaster’s Opening Remarks:

  Dr. Harold Jansen

  Middle-School Director’s Address:

  Mr. Lawrence Tushman

  “Light and Day”:

  Middle-School Choir

  Fifth-Grade Student Commencement Address:

  Ximena Chin

  Pachelbel: “Canon in D”:

  Middle-School Chamber Music Ensemble

  Sixth-Grade Student Commencement Address:

  Mark Antoniak

  “Under Pressure”:

  Middle-School Choir

  Middle-School Dean’s Address:

  Ms. Jennifer Rubin

  Awards Presentation (see back)

  Roll Call of Names

  “Why do you think that?” I asked.

  “Because Mr. Jansen’s speeches go on forever,” said Jack. “He’s even worse than Tushman!”

  “My mom said she actually dozed off when he spoke last year,” Summer added.

  “What’s the awards presentation?” I asked.

  “That’s where they give medals to the biggest brainiacs,” Jack answered. “Which would mean Charlotte and Ximena will win everything in the fifth grade, like they won everything in the fourth grade and in the third grade.”

  “Not in the second grade?” I laughed.

  “They didn’t give those awards out in the second grade,” he answered.

  “Maybe you’ll win this year,” I joked.

  “Not unless they give awards for the most Cs!” he laughed.

  “Everybody, take your seats!” Ms. Rubin started yelling louder now, like she was getting annoyed that nobody was listening. “We have a lot to get through, so take your seats. Don’t forget you’re sitting in alphabetical order! A through G is the first row! H through N is the second row; O through Q is the third row; R through Z is the last row. Let’s go, people.”

  “We should go sit down,” said Summer, walking toward the front section.

  “You guys are definitely coming over my house after this, right?” I called out after her.

  “Definitely!” she said, taking her seat next to Ximena Chin.

  “When did Summer get so hot?” Jack muttered in my ear.

  “Shut up, dude,” I said, laughing as we headed toward the third row.

  “Seriously, when did that happen?” he whispered, taking the seat next to mine.

  “Mr. Will!” Ms. Rubin shouted. “Last time I checked, W came between R and Z, yes?”

  Jack looked at her blankly.

  “Dude, you’re in the wrong row!” I said.

  “I am?” And the face he made as he got up to leave, which was a mixture of looking completely confused and looking like he’s just played a joke on someone, totally cracked me up.

  A Simple Thing

  About an hour later we were all seated in the giant auditorium waiting for Mr. Tushman to give his “middle-school address.” The auditorium was even bigger than I imagined it would be—bigger even than the one at Via’s school. I looked around, and there must have been a million people in the audience. Okay, maybe not a million, but definitely a lot.

  “Thank you, Headmaster Jansen, for those very kind words of introduction,” said Mr. Tushman, standing behind the podium on the stage as he talked into the microphone. “Welcome, my fellow teachers and members of the faculty.…

  “Welcome, parents and grandparents, friends and honored guests, and most especially, welcome to my fifth- and sixth-grade students.…

  “Welcome to the Beecher Prep Middle School graduation ceremonies!!!”

  Everyone applauded.

  “Every year,” continued Mr. Tushman, reading from his notes with his reading glasses way down on the tip of his nose, “I am charged with writing two commencement addresses: one for the fifth- and sixth-grade graduation ceremony today, and one for the seventh- and eighth-grade ceremony that will take place tomorrow. And every year I say to myself, Let me cut down on my work and write just one address that I can use for both situations. Seems like it shouldn’t be such a hard thing to do, right? And yet each year I still end up with two different speeches, no matter what my intentions, and I finally figured out why this year. It’s not, as you might assume, simply because tomorrow I’ll be talking to an older crowd with a middle-school experience that is largely behind them—whereas your middle-school experience is largely in front of you. No, I think it has to do more with this particular age that you are right now, this particular moment in your lives that, even after twenty years of my being around students this age, still moves me. Because you’re at the cusp, kids. You’re at the edge between childhood and everything that comes after. You’re in transition.

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