Ruthie Runs for President
soph·o·more | \ ˈsäf-ˌmȯr, also ˈsȯf-, or ˈsä-fə-, or ˈsȯ-fə- \
a student in the second year at college or a 4-year secondary school
History and Etymology:
perhaps from Greek sophos wise + mōros foolish
It started as a prank.
In late fall, we had nominations for spring student government.
One of the “wise fools” decided to nominate Ruthie for sophomore class president of the spring semester.
Ruthie was not one of the popular pack who had their collective fingers in every pie, but everybody knew who she was. You couldn’t miss her.
Ruthie! She was in Special Ed.
She walked with her head tilted toward one shoulder and had the rolling gait of a sailor. She could cuss like a sailor, too! Her voice was coarse and raspy, her speech not clearly enunciated, but every word was intelligible.
One day I was making my way from PE to my next class and here came Ruthie, heading to her adaptive PE class. She always had a jaunty look as she swayed along, with a half-smile as if thinking secret thoughts, intermittently tossing her somewhat large head.
One of the boys called out as he passed her,
“Hey! Ruthie! Joey likes you. Will you go out with him?”
The comment and question were just as much to embarrass Joey as to razz Ruthie. Maybe more so.
Joey turned red and batted his friend on the shoulder.
Ruthie was oblivious…
Or was she?
Without missing a beat, she jerked her head toward the boys and let loose.
“^%#$& #*%^£? &$*%^#!”
Several students laughed, and a few clapped. One of the boys cheered,
Ruthie grinned saucily and continued on her way, flat feet slapping the pavement.
At another point, she broke her leg and missed a few days of school. When she came back, she hobbled along on crutches — pretty well, too.
Then came the cane.
Ruthie, careening along with her furtive smile, gave the impression of a slapstick comedian as she swung the cane by her side and only occasionally used it to steady herself.
The cane became a prop, which she twirled to the rhythm of her bouncy walk.
Flump-Flump (Swish!). Flump-Flump (Swish!)
“Hey, Ruthie! Can I borrow your cane?”
It was always the same group of boys trying to be funny. Ruthie’s response was funnier than they were though; she brandished her cane at them (with a twinkle in her eye) and shouted,
“^%#$& #*%^£? &$*%^#!”
Like many cognitively impaired people, she seemed to have a deep sense of morals and ethics — an innate wisdom. She meted out her own brand of retribution for wrongdoing!
I usually didn’t pay any attention to the student government. The same group always got involved; one or another was bound to be class president.
Word started going around that Ruthie was a nominee. There was a lot of snickering, chuckling, and eye-rolling.
“Ruthie? Whose idea was that?”
“She’ll never win! She might get a few votes.”
The prank backfired.
Ruthie joined the campaign with gusto! She wanted to be class president. No one told her she couldn’t.
Someone, or several someones, painted posters to put up in the hallways:
“RUTHIE FOR SOPHOMORE CLASS PRESIDENT!”
She wasn’t just a nominee — she was a candidate!
The junior class, the group that always seemed to be the worst of the lot all the way through school, mocked our class.
“Yeah, the sophomores are gonna have a retard for class president!” (That’s the way they talked.)
Ruthie gained a following. She was greeted as she crossed the quad; lurched down the hallways; waited in the lunch line.
She blossomed in the warmth, which had somehow become genuine. The other nominees declared, “If Ruthie wins anything, we’ll help her!”
It was fairly common to overhear snippets of conversations such as:
“Hey, who are you voting for as class president?”
“You are? … Maybe I will too. That would be great if she won!”
Election Day came.
The way school elections worked, whoever got the most votes was class president. The one with the second highest votes was vice president, and so on.
I voted for Ruthie first, because if she won, that would be cool! For the other positions, I chose the nicest people, not necessarily the most popular.
(That’s not to say all the popular kids were objectionable — some of them were quite nice. Maybe it was even one of them who nominated Ruthie…
Ballot counting commenced, and we waited for the results.
“What if Ruthie wins?”
“She won’t win. She might get a lot of votes, but not enough to win anything.”
The day came. Results were announced on the PA.
Ruthie didn’t win.
Lisa got the most votes, and became class president. She was a likable, dependable girl.
But Ruthie didn’t lose.
She got the second highest number of votes, making her vice president of the sophomore class.
She was jubilant, ecstatic, thrilled! She beamed, and so did we.
Ruthie had a good year. As promised, the others helped with her responsibilities. They had the privilege of getting to know a girl they had previously overlooked. She had the opportunity to be part of a group. She’s pictured in the yearbook, “Sophomore Class Vice President, Spring Semester.”
She became something of a class mascot.
What Ruthie really accomplished that year, in her role as vice president of the sophomore class, was not performing duties of office. It was the forging of bonds, the planting of seeds of empathy.
And it started as a prank!
Ruthie graduated with our class.
A few years later, in a supermarket I rarely visit, I noticed a familiar-looking employee. The young woman, carefully placing merchandise on a shelf, was absorbed in her work. Her name tag read, “Ruthie”.
Several years went by before I returned to that store. This time, I saw a middle-aged woman stocking shelves. She moved down the aisle with a distinctive rocking motion, flat feet slapping the linoleum.
Just then another employee came by and gave the woman a “thumbs up” signal.
“Good work, Ruthie! When you’re finished with that, take your lunch break.”
Ruthie smiled and tossed her head.