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Wearing a red T-shirt emblazoned with the words "I love Crestline," Payton Rush looks like a regular 9-year-old boy looking forward to spring break.
But he's not your run-of-the-mill kid. He has a serious demeanor, an unusual resolve. And he was quoted by Gov. Jay Inslee in a speech this week.
"Not all kids get to meet the governor," he said, adding it was "really cool."
After his school, Crestline Elementary, was destroyed by fire on Feb. 3, Payton was selected to be one of the students to meet Inslee when he toured the remnants of the school on March 22.
When Inslee rolled out his budget and asked the Legislature to choose education over tax breaks, he spoke for about two minutes touting the resilience of the Crestline community.
He singled out Payton and the sign his mom made that read, "We can do hard things." That sign now hangs in Payton's new fourth-grade classroom at Fircrest Elementary, his new school. The governor said that since meeting Payton, he now has a similar sign in his office in Olympia, to remind him to be resilient.
Payton explained resilience as "being able to push through something hard. To be proud," Payton said.
He and his sister, Ellie, a second-grader, attended Crestline together. Since the Feb. 3 Crestline fire, Payton attends Fircrest; Ellie attends Columbia Valley Elementary.
The morning of the fire, Payton's parents gathered the children together and gently told them about the fire. Then they went to Crestline and saw teachers and friends, said his mom, Heidi Rush. "It was a rough day," she said.
She'd made the "You can do hard things" sign for her family a year earlier.
"I wanted our kids to know that they're capable of handling a lot tougher things than they think they can," she said.
After the fire, "we sat down and talked about how we could be an encouragement. Making the Crestline community a community again," she said. "Letting them know it was something they could weather."
Rush made a second "You can do hard things" sign for Payton's classroom and delivered it to his teacher, Mary Kryzsiak. It hangs on a wall as a reminder to all the students.
"Some kids say they wish their school would burn down so they'd get time off from school, but it's so much more than that." Payton said. "Why would you want your school to burn down? It's not something you'd want to happen."