Leadership consultant Houston Kraft urged students at Jones Middle School to change their school, community and the world last week by doing one simple thing.
His message: Be kind.
Kraft, also known as a "kindness expert," said he experienced embarrassment and social isolation at a young age and by the time he reached middle school in Washington State, he had learned he could boost his self-confidence and gain friends by making fun of others.
But in high school, his perspectives changed when he began to understand that some of his peers' appearances and shyness often were driven by financial constraints and other domestic problems.
Now Kraft speaks to at middle schools and high schools throughout the country, hoping to influence young people to be considerate of one another for the betterment of themselves and their environments.
The Upper Arlington Education Foundation and parent teacher organizations at Jones and Hastings middle schools brought Kraft to Upper Arlington to share his message with students.
On Sept. 18, Kraft challenged students at Jones to plot a more harmonious course for their school.
"You decide what is normal," Kraft said. "If it's not good enough, let's make it better.
"Kindness in our world isn't normal and I think we can change that," he said. "Sometimes, the big things happen because someone like you does something different."
During a roughly hour-long presentation, Kraft told of watching a school cafeteria become flooded with joy after everyone in the room, in small increments, began to dance.
He said that movement started with a single student who was brave enough to be the first to rise from his seat and who continued to dance through the initial snickers from his peers.
"I think for all of us in our lives, fear can get in the way of doing and being what we want to be," he said.
He also related a personal story of how he made fun of a girl in sixth-grade because she regularly wore the same clothes and acted differently than others. To this day, he said, he regrets not being able to find that girl to apologize after he learned of extreme economic and emotional hardships she experienced in her childhood.
"We don't always get a second chance to treat people well," Kraft said. "We don't always get a chance to ask for forgiveness, so we've got to live in a way that we don't have to."
The event at Jones tied into the school's annual Service Learning Day in which students take part in workshops and other activities to enhance their school and the community around them.
Kraft's presentation, as well as one slated for Sept. 19 at Hastings, was meant to facilitate character development.
Jones Principal Jason Fine fought back emotions listening to Kraft's speech. He said he believed nearly everyone in the school auditorium could relate to times when they fell short of being a good person and made fun of others to prop up themselves.
"We have to normalize kindness," he told students. "We can do this. We believe in this every day. We've got a really nice school. I want to change it into a kind school."
With that, students were told they'd be dispersed into their Service Learning workshops and activities where they would work directly with Kraft to develop ideas and projects aimed at knocking down social anxieties and helping each other.
"You get to now spend the rest of your time thinking about others," Fine said. "Let's have a great day."