Friday, May 21, 2021

Letter to the Class of 2021

Every year I talk with my seniors about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and the lessons that I have learned on my journey in life along the way.  Last year, because of the shutdown, I had to have my senior chat via letter, because trying to have this sort of discussion over one more endless Zoom seemed like a really bad idea.

Jump forward to this year's class, and we are back in school in person, but still masked, socially distanced and trying to get our seniors through their graduation without a Covid outbreak, so careful is pretty much the word of the day every day.  As a result, it felt like a letter was a good idea this year as well.

So for those parents whose seniors did not share the contents of their senior awards bag, or who didn't notice this letter tucked into the bag along with the book and award certificate, I thought I'd post the letter, too.  

This class is like a group full of my own children, mostly because The Peanut has grown up with a lot of them all the way through school, starting in kindergarten.  We truly are a family at Notre Dame, and I am so proud of every student in this class.  Congratulations to all the kids and their parents!


Dear Notre Dame Class of 2021:

The Class of 2021 has survived a lot of ups and down over the past year and a half.  The Covid-19 pandemic upended our world, but your class has shown all of us what it means to make the best of a bad situation and still come out smiling.  After the shutdown last March, you all pulled together, found ways to stay close despite the distance we all had to keep in quarantine.  You found ways to support each other through FaceTime tutoring, Snapchat texts of cheer, class group chat silly memes, and calls across town just to check on someone who hadn’t shown up for Zoom classes.  Back in school this year (and out and back in again then out then back in), you have found ways to stay connected and savor the little things:  senior lunches spaced out on the bleachers in the gym; bucket filler notes on each other’s lockers; lunchtime with Kim Possible and in the Marvel movie universe with games and snacks in Mrs. Butera’s room; picnics on the St. Mary’s playground when weather permitted, and even a Halloween drive-in movie night.  Senior Week was a blast this year - so glad you got to have it!

Each year, no seniors leave my classes without a chat about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Not just your own happiness or mine, but what your actions mean for the happiness of the world around you. Unfortunately, this year the Covid virus has gotten in the way for most of the year, so I have to impart my words of wisdom to all of you at once, and I beg your forgiveness for the impersonal nature of a mass letter instead of the usual heartfelt, individual discussions.

It is what it is, right?  Let this letter serve as cheers for your successes and prayers over your challenges that I wasn’t always able to do in person this year. 

These are things that have been important lessons I have learned — some the hard way — over the course of my life. That sounds very geezer in tone, but you’ll see what I mean as you go further down the pathway of life. 

1. At the end of the day, at the very end of your life, what you have left is your integrity and your soul. Guard them closely and choose wisely in how you act and what you do. 

2. No one can make you do something you know in your heart to be wrong. No one can make you do something mean or dangerous or unkind or hurtful. The only person who can make that happen is you. So when you have to choose?  Choose to be wise. Choose to be kind. Choose to do the right thing. 

3. People will not always remember the good things that you do, but they will remember that one horrible, mean thing that made them feel afraid or sad. What people will remember about you most is how you made them feel. Choose to be kind.

4. Be the change you wish to see in the world. Gandhi was right — when you see a problem, you may come up with a great solution to it, but it is the work that you do to fix it that solves the problem. Choose to do the work to make things better.

5. 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. You may see someone being lazy or not caring while you work really hard — choose to do the work anyway. Because when you are doing the work to help yourself, to help others, to take pride in a job done well, you are choosing to show that you are a high quality person that people can depend on to do things right. That has enormous value.

6. Do your very best in everything that you do. Take pride in your work and in working hard at it. Do everything you can at 110% — go the extra mile and put in the extra effort each and every time, no matter how small the task. Very few people ever live their lives this way. They muddle through, cut corners and only do things halfway. If you strive to always do your best, it will put you way ahead. It will also give you a sense of pride in accomplishment.

7. Be true to who you are at your core. Be proud of who you are, but also maintain some humility. No one is better than you. But you are no better than anyone else, either. Be gracious and humble, and treat everyone like your equal, because that is the right thing to do. That Tim McGraw song about staying humble and kind gets it absolutely right.

8. You never fail until you stop trying. There will be hurdles in front of you your whole life — this virus is a big one. Most of life is picking yourself up when you stumble or fall, and finding a way to keep moving forward. Sometimes it will be in a different direction than you think, but always keep moving forward, keep working and trying, and you will find a way to make any situation — even a bad one — into a success.  I believe in you.  Believe in yourself.

9. Above all, be a Golden Rule person: do unto others at all times. If you wouldn’t want someone to say it to you, then don’t say it. If you wouldn’t want someone to treat you that way, then don’t do it. Do for others as you would wish someone would do for you. It’s a very simple thing, but it has a profoundly good impact on the world around you, on your family, your friends, and your soul. Doing good makes the world a better place, so choose to follow the Golden Rule.  Always.

Some of you are leaving NDHS for college or other schooling or for a trade apprenticeship, some are headed out to work after you read this letter, and some aren’t quite sure what you’ll be doing but you are working on it. I am very proud of each and every one of you — you are awesome kids with great hearts who are about to go out into the world and do fantastic things. 

I can’t wait to see what you do with your gifts and talents going forward.  It is going to be amazing! 

Good luck in everything you do. Know that you have family and friends — always — back at Notre Dame High School, and that we are all cheering you on as you move forward. Wishing you many blessings, and as much laughter and joy as you can hold, and sending love and prayers your way today and in all the days that follow.  I love you guys like you are all my own kids, and I always will.  Keep reading and keep reading history!

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