Coyote People

A Short Speech for Lakeside Sixth Grade Graduation
10 June 1997

The first time I met most of you was in Mrs. Rainville's kindergarten class. I was doing a research project with my friend Rachel for Apple Computer. We were trying to learn more about how children tell stories, and so we studied you. Mrs. Rainville told you lots of Native American stories about a character called Coyote. As you may remember, Coyote is a kind of fellow that we call a trickster. He is arrogant and sassy and loves to play tricks and tries to out- smart people. Some Native Americans feel that Coyote stories should only be told in the winter, and it was winter when we told you then, and I'm hoping I'll be pardoned for repeating a few of those stories now.

For example, one day Coyote was showing off for Crow, who was sitting up in a tree. Coyote was bragging about all kinds of things — how much he could eat, how energetic he was, how long he could go without sleep, how far he could see. Crow was unimpressed. So in order to make the point, Coyote took out his eyes and started juggling them up over his head. He tossed those eyeballs up — he could see all the way to Mount Diablo! — and caught 'em again in his eyeholes, pop! He tossed 'em a little higher — he could see all the way to Yosemite! — and caught 'em again, just like that, pop! The third time he tossed 'em very high, and Crow just flew right over and ate 'em in midair, pop! pop! Coyote waited and waited but his eyeballs didn't fall back into his head. And so he started scrabbling around on the ground looking for his eyes. It was a sad sight to see blind Coyote feeling around in the dirt. Finally he felt a gooseberry bush, which happened to be full of plump, ripe, bright green gooseberries. And so he found two gooseberries about the same size and he popped a gooseberry into each eye socket and he could see again, almost as good as new. And that is why Coyote's eyes are green.

After we had told you lots and lots of Coyote stories we asked you to make some up just to see what you'd come up with. I have to tell you that you guys were the best storytellers I ever came across. Crissy, Alvino, Hilary, Glenn, Andy, Yorleny, Jason, Mika — you made up stories; you wrote stories; you acted out stories with puppets. — Billy Stanley told us a truly amazing story that I still remember to this day. Mrs. Peck, Mrs. Rainville's mother, made little round green cookies shaped like Coyote's eyes and you ate 'em all up. You guys did an original play about Coyote in costumes that you made yourselves.

To you that probably seems like a lifetime ago, if you remember it at all, but some of us remember it really well and we're amazed at how fast time has passed since then. You Coyote kids have sashayed through seven years at Lakeside in a heartbeat. I've seen you all out there on the playground, juggling your eyeballs and bragging to the crows, and teaching all these lovely, well-mannered children who joined your class later to be just as bold — Amber, Nicole, Whitney, Sahra, Felisa, Max, Michael, Deneka, Ashley, Scott, Safari, Lupita and David. And look at you all now. You clean up real nice, as my grandma used to say, but if anyone who taught your class had to describe you in terms of an animal spirit, I'll bet Coyote would be at the top of the list.

I wonder, what will you remember of the adults you've run into during your time here? What will you remember about your teachers - Mrs. Rainville, Mrs. Green, Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Bjorlie, Mr. Haff, Mrs. Pitts, Mr. Savage, Mrs. Offer, Mrs. Knipe? How will you remember Dr. Kelban and Mr. St. John? All those parents who drove you on field trips and put together parties in your classrooms? Those seafarin' parents who went with you on the Balclutha? Mert and Rhonda and Linda in the office, or Joyce Barnby and Nancy Birang searching through your hair, or Marty Walker teaching ballet, or Wally Johnson teaching music? I look around this place and I remember grown-ups setting up the stage before a show, driving the bus, tending the garden, making pancakes, running the auction, mowing the grass. I remember the parents in the audiences at all those plays and concerts and graduations. When you try to remember all the grown-ups you probably remember little details — how some teacher talked or what they said, a time you got in trouble, maybe, or a time when somebody helped you out.

I want you to pick one of your memories of Lakeside adults and concentrate on it for a minute. Play it like little movie in your head. Now I want you to freeze the picture. Imagine the adults slowly drops whatever they are doing in your memory pictures and just straighten up and look right at you. Sort of like they all are now. And I want you to notice what you see on their faces. Chances are, it's love — just love, just straight-ahead love. That's the big secret of these days you've spent at Lakeside. We love you. This place, and all the things that happened in it, are manifestations of how this community loves its children - that is to say, YOU. We won't tell you this secret again for a while. The next time you look, we'll just be normal adults, going about our business. And you'll be in junior high — meeting new people, beginning a new voyage, getting on with growing up.

When the world was about as old as you are now, one story goes, the Great Spirit told all the animals, "Come to my tipi tomorrow morning to be given your True Names." Coyote was really glad to hear it. Coyote didn't like his name; he wanted a newer, nobler name. He wanted a fine name like Eagle, Lion, or Bear. So Coyote vowed that he would stay awake all night so he could be the very first to visit the Great Spirit's tipi at Sunrise.

Coyote asked his wife and his children to help him stay awake. They all tried to entertain him and told him stories, but one by one, beginning with the youngest, each of them fell asleep. Finally Coyote was all alone with a bunch of snoring relatives. Then he had a great idea. He went outside and snapped some little twigs off the birch tree — snap! snap! — and he propped open his eyelids with those twigs — pop! pop! — and sat down by the fire. He thought that he would stay awake all night. But try as he might, Coyote fell asleep anyway, with his green eyes wide open.

Coyote slept all day long, and finally he woke up with a start at twilight. He thought it was Dawn, and he pulled the birch twigs out of his eyes and ran off to the tipi of the Great Spirit. "I would like to be called Eagle," Coyote said, confident that he was first to arrive. "That name has already been taken," said the Great Spirit. Not to be discouraged, Coyote said, "Well, then, I would like to be called Lion." "That name, too, is taken." "Well," Coyote said, "then I would very much like to be called Bear."

"All the names have been taken," the Great Spirit said. Coyote's heart sank. "All but one. From this time forward, you will be called — Coyote."

Coyote was devastated. He hated that name and all it meant: braggart, trickster, clown, person who needs to prove himself. The Great Spirit spoke again, answering Coyote's thoughts. "You are all these things, Coyote. But because of who you are, you have a special power: Of all the animals, you alone have the power to change things." And Coyote could see that it was true. His ingenuity and spirit gave him power; knowledge of his true self would increase it. From that time on he would be proud of who he was, and he would change what needed changing, and he would not despair.

Be strong and well, Coyote people. Remember that we love you. Never doubt your power. Work hard and keep your eyes open. Learn your true names. Change what needs changing. We bless you on your way.

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