Tonight we drove an hour to hear Olivia read her book that she created for her Senior creative writing course.  On this night there were 15 soon to be graduates displaying their writing prowess to an easy crowd of 200 friends and families.  As I listened to the first 6 students, each had a unique voice.  I listened to a girl talk about her alcohol addicted mother and how she spoke to her of important things when she was sober.  I found out from a young man’s lighthearted telling about the drug culture that I wasn’t current on modern drug terms.  Even if I disagreed with the writer, I was drawn into their stories, their words and their personalities.

Then Olivia, all 5 foot 2 inches of her, took the podium.  She would tell about her experiences on CBS’s Kid Nation.  I guess that I expected some satire and some biting humor.  As she read, Mallory cried, Tina held herself in check like a good Depauw graduate, Griffin squirmed and I was in awe.  Her words were beautiful and her telling was dramatic.  In 5 short minutes I was awakened to the haunting nature of this experience.  She had been cold but determined not to quit.  She was young but she made herself a Mother to her younger sister.  She displayed strength beyond her 12 sheltered years.  I was proud, beyond proud.

Olivia MalloryAfter Olivia’s reading there was an intermission.  My girls scurried off to a corner, Mallory embraced Olivia leaving tears on her shoulders.  As I stood there watching the mix of smiles and tears, I noticed someone else taking note.  The creative writing professor was looking at Mallory hug Olivia.  You could see in his eyes that he knew something of Mallory from this story.  He then looked at Griffin jumping and being silly and smiled.  He saw Tina and then he glanced at me.  This man that I don’t know, knew my family and now he had faces to attach to Olivia’s compelling story.  Other members of Olivia’s class came up to Mallory and said that they were so glad to meet her in person.

Olivia’s Kid Nation story isn’t just her own, it dances with Mallory’s story too.  They lived 40 long days together without us.  They slept in a bunkhouse, cooked their own food, had no running water or indoor plumbing.  It was more difficult than I imagined or was told by CBS’ casting agents.  But my two girls resolved to endure the hardships to reach the last day.

They are stronger than they imagined, then and now.

Written by Ron Cloer