It's not every day a teacher encounters a piece of writing so intensely personal from a student that it practically moves them to tears, but that's exactly what Benjamin Giroux did back in 2016.
There's a curious thing that happens with students in school over time. Children usually start their "careers" in school wide-eyed and hopeful. In pre-school and kindergarten, we can see them excitedly play and interact with their peers.
Each child has their own distinct personality, and there's a clear sense of importance and direction, at least in my experience, from faculty and staff members, that is solely dedicated to ensuring that their individual needs based on their personalities are never compromised.
Even if they throw tantrums, even if they give their teachers hell, there's usually a distinct understanding that no matter what, their needs, especially the need to express themselves, is placed above the needs of everyone else.
But over time, kids are trained out of that. I remember that shift distinctly: around 5th grade, we're expected to just sit down and shut up. We're expected to tow the line and not really cause much of a ruckus, even when we're faced with something we think is worthy of protestation. Starting "trouble" or an argument that might disrupt the "order" of a classroom is immediately frowned upon and chastised, just so no one else is made uncomfortable.
In turn, our own feelings are suppressed.
Which is why creative arts are so important. For young Benjamin Giroux, an autistic student, he saw a homework assignment as an opportunity to vent his gripes with the world and his position in it. So he penned this hauntingly beautiful poem titled, "I am odd. I am new." It's such a moving piece of writing that it's difficult to imagine a 10-year-old wrote it.
The writing received attention all over the internet, earning him distinction and praise from the National Autism Association, along with countless other prizes and awards. He won the Princess Ronkonkoma productions poetry contest, and was named Poet Laureate for Plattsburgh and his hometown of Beekmantown, NY as well.
He couldn't have imagined how celebrated his work would've been before turning the assignment in, however.
His father, Sonny, said that the day the poem was due, his son had an anxiety attack before handing it in. The emotion the young man was experiencing at the time is understandable: in the piece he got extremely personal about the isolation he felt on a daily basis while dealing with his autism, especially his perceptions in dealing with his peers.
But his willingness to confront that part of himself is what ultimately earned him his viral fame, and respect from not only his school, but news outlets and respected literary figures.
Benjamin also teamed up with Becket, literary assistant to Anne Rice (Interview with a Vampire) to create a children's book, with pictures, of the young man's poem.
For the young student, however, the most rewarding part of the experience was the outreach he received from other autistic young children all over the world, who thanked him for penning such a beautiful poem expressing what they deal with daily.
Sun Community News reported that Benjamin told them in an email that, "I’ve gotten letters from students thanking me for writing my poem. I liked that."
His work has also been turned into numerous songs and is still, years later, inspiring other artists and writers for how he was able to pen such a personal piece of writing.
It just goes to show that if you pour your everything into something and are willing to express something, no matter how scary and how vulnerable and alone it makes you feel, that it will resonate with others. Amazing work, Benjamin. Keep it up young man!