Not often does a seemingly ordinary idea expand to place an entirely newfound meaning into a simple holiday, but that is precisely what one of Spanish Fork High School’s remarkable youth accomplished this February 14th. It may merely be a Valentine’s Day Project, catalyzed by a quiet thought, which restores one’s faith in humanity and the goodness found deep within, often so willingly neglected.
Last October, what began with an unspoken question quickly evolved into significantly more when Sterling Brinkerhoff, a Junior at Spanish Fork High School, took it upon himself to ensure that not a single student felt left out or forgotten through his Valentine’s Day project. Upon contemplating the unfortunate suicide which took place in the community last year, Brinkerhoff fostered his resolve to prevent similar instances from occuring when he developed the simple idea of presenting a small treat to each girl on Valentines Day. In doing so, his hope was to remind each high school girl that she was appreciated at a time when such a statement mattered the most.
The expanse of this project accelerated when Brinkerhoff was able to find two candy companies who were willing to donate enough to supply not only the girls at the school, but a total of 1,247 students, along with over 40 staff members. As opposed to a simple square of candy, each girl received an entire pound of Mrs. Call’s Chocolates, with each boy obtaining multiple caramels, as the courtesy of V Chocolates. From the seemingly ordinary foundation of ideas upon which such a project was built rose the extraordinary 500 hours, nearly 100 volunteers, two colossal donations, and a quality of work which can be rendered indescribable when compared with the quantity of those it reached.
Surprisingly enough, not all this work involved the passing out of chocolates on Valentine’s Day, but rather a week’s worth of preparation in other areas. Arguably more astonishing than the chocolate donation itself were the origami creations accompanying it. Sterling had acquired the hobby of constructing origami figures in third grade, and determined that he would use give this talent a major role in his project. While boys received boxes holding their candies, girls were given an intricate paper flower. Each was hand made, with carefully chosen quotes to emphasize the purpose behind the gift. For girls, Brinkerhoff decided on the saying, “Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and even more beautiful than you can imagine,” while boys were encouraged to, “Dare to dream,” in the words written on their gift. Behind each of these handmade items and thoughtful quotes was the intent that, “They will know that they will be remembered, this time of year and always, no matter who they are,” in the words of Sterling himself.
With the ambition of such an idea in mind, this exceptional student went above and beyond to ensure that these Valentine’s Day presents were not merely general gifts, handed out to all, but rather that when delivered, they came across as meaningful. To accomplish this, class lists were made, and each student was called forward by name as their individualized gift was presented. When asked why this particular aspect meant such a great deal to him, Brinkerhoff responded with, “I want to help people know that whoever they are, they’re not forgotten here.” The aim was to aid all 1,247 individuals in feeling recognized and validated as more than another face in the hallway, a goal which students and teachers alike can attest was exceeded by far.
After a week of nearly sleepless nights, the factor which made Sterling’s work worth it were the reactions exhibited by all as the Student Council delivered these well-prepared treats. It took no special effort to see each student’s face light up as his or her name was called, and it required no genius to discover that hundreds of days had been made by such a seemingly insignificant act. Classrooms were illuminated with smiles as the quotes were read, and it was not at all difficult to sense that by this small gesture, lives were being changed. To the students of Spanish Fork High School, an origami flower and a few chocolates made a world of difference, but perhaps it was not these two objects which produced such a reaction at all.
Admittedly, handing out the treats was without a doubt Sterling’s favorite part of the project. “It took so much work,” he shared, “and it was nice to finally see it all falling into place.” The Valentine’s Day hero described witnessing his fellow students’ reactions as all he had expected and more, proving that his extensive efforts had finally paid off in far better ways than he had imagined; and pay off it did, not only for Sterling but for his parents, church organization, and the Youth City Council, who offered their efforts towards this project.
Brinkerhoff admitted he could not have carried out the activity without them, as their help proved so crucial in his planning. Little did he comprehend his impact on them as well. Further from the eyes of the public and less recognized than Brinkerhoff’s major effect on Valentine’s Day was the miracle his preparation did in bringing together not only the school, but the community. Countless hours and hands can be counted, when it came to constructing the origami flowers, in addition to organizing the handouts. In line with everything Sterling’s goal encompassed, the hours of work placed into his project brought the school together as one, enabling students to become more conscious of all those surrounding them.
At one point during the handing-out process, speaking the only words anyone could possibly muster, a teacher posed the question, “It’s remarkable, isn’t it?” Truly, it was, in every sense of the word, and not only for the preparation, but the amount of thought and ultimately the overall effect which exceeded the cost at which it came.
When asked about plans to further the project, Brinkerhoff said, without skipping a beat, “I plan to thank the people who helped me by welding metal flowers for them, and next year, I want to extend this project to another school as well.” Clearly, Sterling is not one to stop at his initial goal, but continues to strive for excellence. Spanish Fork High School owes its utmost gratitude to Sterling for demonstrating to all students what the “Day of Love” is really about.
It is not every day that such grandiose events take place, but Sterling Brinkerhoff’s Valentine’s Day project reflects better than all else on what being a member of Spanish Fork High School is. As Principal Dave McKee put it, “At this school, we thrive on doing things for other people. It’s a culture of caring.” Surely this student has manifested exactly that in making this Valentine’s Day one to remember.