Kindness roars like a stock car engine at MEMS

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MANCHESTER — Somehow, they managed to keep it a secret from Tyler Keyes until the last minute.

Even when the race car rolled out of the hauler and onto the pavement in front of the playground at Manchester Elementary Middle School on Monday, Keyes, a fifth-grade student, had no idea his writing about the importance and health benefits of kindness had earned him, his family and some of his classmates tickets to see a NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Thanks to Keyes' efforts, NHMS is providing 30 tickets to the July 22 race, first to Keyes and his family, and then via a lottery to Keyes' classmates and their families.

And there was another surprise for Keyes — a few laps around the MEMS parking lot in the passenger seat of that race car.

The assembled students shouted in surprise as the car roared to life — there's no muffler on a stock car — and Keyes and John Wright, the show car driver for NHMS, took off for a quick ride.

Keyes, who is 11, had thought about riding in the pace car instead. But his mother, Jennifer Keyes of Manchester, told him that he might not get another chance to ride in a race car, so he chose the more difficult option — climbing in and out of its narrow windows. (There's no doors on a stock car, either.)

He was beaming afterwards.

"It was hard to get in and out but otherwise it was just phenomenal," he said. "You could feel the vibrations of the engine, but you couldn't feel them when he was going because all you could feel was the wind coming at you."

Jennifer Cyr, marketing director for NHMS, explained to the assembled students that she had come to award a special gift to the essay contest winner. The New Hampshire chapter of Speedway Children's Charities and NHMS, in cooperation with the New England League of Middle Schools, had challenged middle school students to write on the topic "Kindness Matters: How kindness is, and can be, demonstrated in our school."

As Cyr told the assembled students that the fifth-grade class at MEMS had turned in "the best whole class effort in the entire New England region," Keyes sat on the basketball court with his younger brother Max in front of him.

"I figured I had a one in 39 shot," he said afterwards, referring to the number of fifth-graders at MEMS.

Keyes' winning essay focused on how kindness is just as beneficial to the person showing it as the person receiving it. "It releases endorphins to the giver and everyone watching. so it helps everyone," he said.

"I also wrote about how being kind is more than something you do. It's something you can promote," he said. "If you're feeling down, being kind not only cheers you up, it cheers the other person up. And it's not just healthy for you — it's nice to be kind."

Fifth-grade teacher Anna Nicholson said the essay contest dovetailed neatly with her class' annual lessons and activities around the concepts of caring and kindness.

"When we heard about the essay contest, the fifth grade had just organized Caring Day celebrating people in the community who exhibited compassion. We actually talk about kindness all of the time," Nicholson said.

Of Keyes, she said, "Tyler has always been one to share his views on kindness and treating people right. He was moved by RJ Palacio's book ["Wonder"] and frequently mentions the lessons learned around kindness."

"I am so proud of our fifth-graders reflecting on what kindness is, how we show it in this building, and ways that we can do more," Nicholson said. "I am proud of Tyler for reflecting on his own feelings around this topic and advocating for more kindness in this school, community, and world. Kindness can heal."

Keyes doesn't watch as much NASCAR racing as he used to now that his favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is retired, but he still watches. His new favorite driver is Chase Elliott.

But he knows his grandmother, Donna Keyes, is going to appreciate a trip to Loudon a great deal.

"It feels amazing because my grandmother watches and records every single NASCAR race," he said. "So I feel like this an extremely early Christmas present for her."

Donna Keyes said it wasn't easy keeping the big news a secret all weekend. "We've been trying to keep it quiet since Friday. It's been very hard!" she said.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com or at 802-490-6000. For a photo gallery, click here.


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