T he girl whose eyes always looked like a deer in the headlights was hogging the class. She stared at me for a long moment before asking, “When you do your engravings, I observed a particular tension in your left index finger, though you are right-handed and are only using your non-dominant hand to secure the metal.”

I waited; was there a question? But interesting that there’s “particular tension in my left index finger” — I didn’t know that. She waited too, eyes wide as ever, and the big guy jumped to her rescue. “Is there a reason you, uh, do that with your finger?”

I wanted to roll my eyes. Seriously? Instead, I shrugged at both of them. “I never knew I did that, and I don’t know why. For some people, that’s just how they work. For others, this kind of thing can interfere with their work, it could make them put too much pressure on the metal or the saw. If your work looks good, I wouldn’t worry about it. But definitely, don’t look to copy someone else’s idiosyncrasies.”

That sounded like a smart, thoughtful, I’m-taking-you-seriously answer, right?

Everyone in the class nodded. Phew. I had them break up to work on their final project, which they’d be presenting at the end of the term. I was supposed to mentor them one-on-one for it, and I was almost excited about that, but Deer-eyes Girl was seated at the first workbench, and she made me uncomfortable. I know, I know, I was being mean.

I pulled up a seat next to her. “Hi,” I started. She stuck her hand out to shake. Hope the others don’t follow suit, that’ll get sticky fast.

“Vanessa Perry,” she said.

I nodded. “Hi, Vanessa. Show me what you’re working on.”

She fumbled a moment and then started taking out several components of her piece.

“I know we’re only required to create one piece of jewelry, but thematically I think my pieces can best be understood as a collection. I dubbed it ‘The Evolution of Jewelry.’”

My first instinct has always been doubt, but looking at the girl’s work, I realized I might have to reconsider. She certainly earned my respect.

Her collection was a set of earrings, a ring, a bracelet, and a necklace. Each piece was fashioned out of a different metal, but shared a motif — a bit odd there, it was a DNA double-helix design — but each piece was done slightly differently. One was in a pavé setting — many small stones embedded in the metal — another engraved, another cut out, and the fourth set in larger stones. I don’t know who’s funding her project, but it was amazing. She wasn’t done, not nearly, but the idea was clear enough and developed enough that I could see what it would be.

“Wow,” I breathed. She looked at me expectantly, and blinked slowly as if she couldn’t believe what she heard.

“It’s a creative and ambitious project,” I said, picking up the start of the ring to examine it. “You’re doing a great job.” Vanessa seemed to blink and shrink with every positive comment. I pointed out a few areas where she could work on technique. But really, she didn’t need me, she probably would’ve work it out herself.

She set the bar high, and of course the rest of the class fell short. They weren’t bad, but they lacked Vanessa’s creativity, skill, and ambition. Who’da thought. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 565)