Fact Check

Who I Am Makes a Difference

Teacher's classroom lesson about making a difference prevents a teenage suicide.

Published Jul 19, 2008


Glurge:   Teacher's classroom lesson about making a difference prevents a teenage suicide.

Status:   Undetermined.

Examples:   [Collected via e-mail, August 2005]

A teacher in New York decided to honor each of her seniors in high school by telling them the difference they each made. She called each student to the front of the class, one at a time. First she told each of them how they made a difference to her and the class. Then she presented each of them with a blue ribbon imprinted with gold letters, which read, "Who I Am Makes A Difference".

Afterwards the teacher decided to do a class project to see what kind of impact recognition would have on the community. She gave each of the students three more ribbons and instructed them to go out and spread this acknowledgment ceremony. Then they were to follow up on the results, see who honored whom and report back to the class in about a week.

One of the boys in the class went to a junior executive in a nearby company and honored him for helping him with his career planning. He gave him a blue ribbon and put it on his shirt. Then he gave him the two extra ribbons and said, "We're doing a class project on recognition, and we'd like you to go out, find somebody to honor, give them a blue ribbon, then give them the extra blue ribbon so they can acknowledge a third person to keep this acknowledgment ceremony going. Then please report back to me and tell me what happened."

Later that day the junior executive went to see his boss. Who had been noted, by the way, as being kind of a grouchy fellow. He sat his boss down and he told him that he deeply admired him for being a creative genius. The boss seemed very surprised. The junior executive asked him if he would accept the gift of the blue ribbon and would he give him permission to put it on him. His surprised boss said, "Well sure." The junior executive took the blue ribbon and placed it right on his boss's jacket above his heart. As he gave him the last extra ribbon, he said, "Would you do me a favor? Would you take this extra ribbon and pass it on by honoring somebody else? The young boy who first gave me the ribbons is doing a project in school and he wants to keep this recognition ceremony going and find out how it affects people."

That night the boss came home to his 14-year old son and sat him down. He said, "The most incredible thing happened to me today. I was in my office and one of the junior executives came in and told me he admired me and gave me a blue ribbon for being a creative genius. Imagine, he thinks I'm a creative genius. Then he put this blue ribbon that says 'Who I Am Makes A Difference' on my jacket above my heart. He gave me an extra ribbon and asked me to find somebody else to honor."

"As I was driving home tonight, I started thinking about whom I would honor with this ribbon and I thought about you. I want to honor you. My days are really hectic and when I come home I don't pay a lot of attention to you. Sometimes I scream at you for not getting good enough grades in school and for your bedroom being a mess, but somehow tonight, I just wanted to sit here and, well, just let you know that you do make a difference to me. Besides your mother, you are the most important person in my life. You're a great kid and I love you!" The startled boy started to sob and sob, and he wouldn't stop crying. His whole body shook.

He looked up at his father and said through his tears, "Dad, earlier tonight I sat in my room and wrote a letter to you and Mom explaining why I killed myself and asking you to forgive me. I was going to commit suicide tonight after you were asleep. I just didn't think you cared at all. The letter is upstairs, I don't think I need it after all." His Father walked upstairs and found a heartfelt letter full of anguish and pain. The
envelope was addressed, "Mom and Dad."

The boss went back to work a changed man. He was no longer a grouch but made sure to let all his employees know that they made a difference. The junior executive helped several other young people with career planning and never forgot to let them know that they made a difference in his
life ... one being the boss's son. And the young boy and his classmates learned a valuable lesson. Who you are DOES make a difference.

Variations:   A visual version of this glurge was produced in 2008:

Origins:   This account of a kindness that saved a life has been kicking around on the Internet since at least 2000. It is, however, older than its online pedigree would indicate: The story was copyrighted by Helice Bridges in 1988 and was published in the 1993 best seller Chicken Soup for the Soul as "Who You Are Makes a Difference." It was subsequently turned into a made-for-television movie which aired on PAX TV (now ION Television).

In 1983, author and motivational speaker Helice Bridges founded Difference Makers International, a nonprofit educational

organization that works to raise self-esteem. It was she who devised the eight-step blue ribbon program which sends people out to award others with blue ribbons that are stamped in gold with a "Who I Am Makes A Difference" message.

Bridges encourages people to acknowledge and honor those who have changed their lives. She believes people are starved for recognition and appreciation, and that the application of even small amounts of same can work wonders. "Self-esteem is your relationship with yourself," she says. "Once you feel good about yourself, you can bond positively with others."

Now, as to whether the tale about the 14-year-old snatched back from the brink of suicide by a recognition ribbon presented to him by his father actually happened, too little is known to make that determination. Neither the father nor the son are identified by name, the question of when all of this might have happened is left open, and only the vaguest sense of where this tragedy was averted is provided by the story's opening "A teacher in New York" line. Its theme of an anguished soul dissuaded from killing himself barely in the nick of time by an unexpected act is also a common one (e.g., "Kyle and Error," "Heeding the Call").

Until more information can be unearthed, it is might be more prudent to regard the narrative as an example of the power such ribbons and recognitions could have rather than as a factual account of the impact one actually did have.

Barbara "esteem room" Mikkelson

Last updated:   28 July 2008

  Sources Sources:

    Canfield, Jack and Mark Victor Hansen.   Chicken Soup for the Soul.

    Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, 1993.   ISBN 1-55874-291-3   (pp. 18-20).

    Reynolds, Maura.   "Seventh-Graders Bare Emotions in Order to Build Self-Esteem."

    The San Diego Union-Tribune.   12 April 1991   (p. B1).

    Roach, Ron.   "State Self-Esteem Task Force Successful, Lawmaker Says."

    The San Diego Union-Tribune.   28 January 1989   (p. A3).

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