"This year my favorite holiday gift was not from Laurie or Chris or Andy. It was from a stranger. I didn't receive it around our evergreen. Instead, it was given to me in court. In May or June, a young lady appeared before me in Poulsbo Municipal Court on a speeding ticket. It was more than the usual five-over ticket. She had made a fairly significant error in judgement and a penalty needed to be imposed. There was something about her and her dad as they appeared at the defense table that seemed refreshing. She was nervous. Obviously she had not spent much time in court and planned not to in the future. Also, her father was with her. Her error was a family matter, not just a legal issue. Sir, I said after I had heard the young woman's version of the incident, tell me about your daughter. He looked me right in the eye, anxious to tell me about the child he was obviously proud of. Recently my daughter came across a fatality accident. Instead of passing by as most of us do, she stopped and cared for the injured folks until the aid car arrived. She couldn't save them, but she gave her best to help. That's typical of my daughter. Ma'am, I said to the young woman, I'm going to give you a very harsh sentence. In December, you'll return-hopefully with your dad in tow-and one of two things will happen. If you can show me how this community is better off because of you, I will dismiss your ticket. If not, you'll pay the full fine. I'll see you in December. And I did. She once again nervously approached the bench and handed me an envelope. Here's what I have, she said, wondering if her evidence would be enough to convince me. I opened the envelope and saw four letters. The first one was from a teacher. It began, I have a policy not to write letters for students. I broke the policy for this fine young woman. She is not only the top student in my class, she actively seeks out students who are struggling to tutor them. The second letter was from another teacher. In my 28 years of teaching, I have never had such a fine student or person. Letter three was from a health care provider. This young woman thinks she may want to be a doctor. To discover what that really entails, she has volunteered here. She has become nearly as proficient as the nurses I work with. The final letter was from another health care professional. What strikes me most about this young woman is the nights I have been called to the hospital and, while there, seen her with patients recovering from surgery. Holding their hand, talking to them. Assuring them the pain will subside. On her own time. Because she's that kind of a person. Have you shown your father these? I asked in a firm voice, almost overcome by the outstanding things the young woman had done. No. Please give them to him. Then looking her father in the eye as the envelope was passed to him, I said, Merry Christmas, sir. To her I simply said, Case dismissed. Keep up the good work. You have many great things ahead in your life. The gift the young woman gave me was renewed optimism. She and others like her will keep the world going in the right direction. They will remind people around them of the value of caring and the reward of hard work. They will give others hope, whether it is recovering from surgery or simply struggling in a class. When the time comes to pass the baton to her generation, I will be more comfortable, thanks to a speeding ticket given to an outstanding young lady. "

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