Educating Others
Apology To 8th Graders

NOTE: This letter (actually 400+ copies of it) was delivered to the school, but to the best of our knowledge was not distributed to the students.  And, to clarify the situation, our presentation was not laced with profanity, Black used one word (bull----) once and her logic is explained in bullet point 5. (To download a pdf of the letter, click on Apology Letter.) 

The letter and the "lessons to be learned" ultimately became the basis of our column titled "
Red & Black … Oops - It Is. Or Is It Oopsitis?

Dear 8th grade students,

We would like to apologize to the entire 8th grade class of Dulles Middle School, as well as any other individuals who were in the audience, if our language offended you during our keynote presentation at your Career Day. This apology is based on carefully reading your comments and suggestions in the surveys you completed after our presentation. Equally important, after reading your feedback, we immediately changed our speaking notes for the following week's 8th Grade Career Day keynote presentation at another local school.

Our intention, as we believe Black explained, was to get your attention for several key points we wanted to make. Although some of the surveys indicated we did that, and other comments indicated our language made us "real," there were also comments and suggestions stating we needed to "clean up" our language.

We believe there are some important lessons to be learned from this situation, and hope you will take the time to read this entire letter.

  1. ADMIT THERE IS AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. Many times people will know there is a major issue everyone is thinking about or even talking about, and yet they try to ignore it … thinking it will go away. It does not. We believe you are better off admitting "there is an elephant in the room." In other words, address the obvious - do not pretend it does not exist. In our case, we know that some people are disappointed by the language we used so we want to address the situation.
  2. DECIDING IF A TRADE-OFF IS WORTH IT CAN BE VERY CONFUSING. When it comes to making decisions related to spending money, you can crunch the numbers. However, not all decisions and trade-offs are that straightforward. We know that listening to speakers can sometimes be boring, and other times you may not immediately understand the relevance of their message. We also know that speakers may sound as if they are preaching to you versus understanding who you are, what is important, and what is relevant to your life. This can easily happen with "experts," but we are not experts. We are real people who wanted to share the mistakes we made, and the lessons we have learned along the way, hoping they will help you. We felt it was important to come across as we are in real life. However, we took a risk (our language) hoping there would be a worthy reward (your attention.) We miscalculated in that the risk was greater than the reward.
  3. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. First rule of public speaking is "know your audience." We felt we understood the key concepts that would be relevant to you, and would be able to explain it in an entertaining way. However, we did not do enough research (as Black says, that's the grown-up version of homework) as to what would be "unacceptable language." We should have spoken with your school principals in advance to make sure we understood the school rules, and that all of us knew what was expected of each other.
  4. HOLD YOURSELF TO A HIGHER STANDARD. We have heard from various sources that sometimes teachers use the same "s" words we used. We also know that some of you use the acronym (first letter of each word) Black mentioned when describing "Point Of Sale." However, that does not make our actions right. We - all of us - need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.
  5. REMEMBER, PEOPLE REMEMBER THINGS DIFFERENTLY. Some of you may remember a sentence or phrase, and forget the message it was used to explain. There is nothing any of us can do when that happens, although we can hope that someone else will correct them or explain it to them. Have you ever said something to someone and they totally misunderstood what you said? It can be very frustrating. It also re-emphasizes our message about the importance about being able to communicate. A perfect example is this letter - someone who was not present could read this and think we used "bad words" that we did not use. However, we do not feel it appropriate to "write" the words we used in this letter, as the point of this letter is to apologize for saying them.
  6. APOLOGIZE WHEN YOU MAKE A MISTAKE. This is probably one of the most difficult things for people (of all ages) to do. A funny thing happened last week (at our third 8th Grade Career Day) when Black mentioned that the phrase "My bad" drives her crazy, until someone made her stop and think about it … that this phrase is used as a way to apologize, or at least acknowledge a mistake was made. The discussion changed her mind. So we would like to once again apologize, and say "Our bad."
  7. BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR ACTIONS. We saved the most important item for last. As Black mentioned in her closing remarks, you have two choices in life: You can be a passenger and let your life control you. Or you can be a driver and take control of your life. You may not be able to control everything that happens in your life, but you - and only you - control how you react. We each need to take responsibility for our actions, which is why we wrote this letter.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk to your class, and for taking the time to read this letter. We hope you will accept our heartfelt apology.


Tina Pennington (aka "Red") and Mandy Williams (aka "Black")