I have a friend whose superpower is teaching, and it’s been fun to spend time in her classroom over the last couple of years. With all there is to teach, standards to meet, and testing to prepare for, she and another 5th grade teacher make it a point each week to also teach their kids some pretty important life skills.
They call it Community Building, and each Friday afternoon finds them doing things like writing letters to Honor Flight Veterans, stuffing backpacks for kids in foster care, packing goody bags and thank you letters for first responders, and filling their hallways and stairwells with quotes of kindness. I love it!
We’ve collaborated often on service projects, so I didn’t think much of it when I got a text from her recently, asking if I wanted to help with a Veterans Day project. She knew I’d say yes, which I did. She also knew I wouldn’t ask questions first, which I didn’t.
Bad move on my part!
Little did I know, my ‘yes’ was to accompany her and speak at a Veterans Day assembly at a local high school. And by local, I mean 1,807 students.
High school students.
Maybe it’s because I’m 5’1” or maybe it’s because I’m kind of a softie or maybe it’s because high school was not a super fun time in my life, or maybe it’s because I hit a deer on the way home from my only high school subbing experience, or maybe it’s just because 1,807 students. But whatever it was, I was definitely looking for ways to renege on my quickly said yes.
But in spite of my best efforts to get out of it, yesterday morning found us at the high school …and today finds me very thankful we were there. (But please don’t tell her that! I plan to milk a few more yummy coffees or something out of her before letting her off the hook for her oh so deliberately vague text request!)
But in light of the hope-filled high that 1,807 students brought yesterday, and with Veterans Day tomorrow, I thought I’d share my talk with you here:
And here’s the thing. As nervous as I was, while I was waiting my turn to speak, looking out at a sea of faces stacked north to south and east to west, I suddenly experienced a crazy peace. Because all I had to do was start, and a few minutes later, one way or another, I would finish. And maybe they’d chuckle here and there, or maybe they’d just roll their eyes and wait me out. But maybe, just maybe, they’d get enough out of it to remember to say thank you to a Veteran on Sunday, or at least remember on Monday why they get a day off from school.
So I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer, and just stepped up and started. And probably all of those things happened and more, but as I finished speaking, what I saw and experienced most was simply this:
Because those students came down from the bleachers, students from ALL walks of life, living out their uniqueness in their style of clothes and hair and speech, and with unapologetic tears in their eyes, they hugged us. They thanked us. They shared their own experiences and asked to hear more of ours.
Rather than file out and fill the hallways, they hugged our hearts and filled them with the promise of youth. They said they care about who and what this Sunday celebrates. Their actions said we heard. We’re thankful. We’re so sorry. We may not fully understand, but we care, and we know service matters.
And I can’t tell you how much that experience yesterday restored my faith and blanketed a new layer of hope on what feels like such a wave of indifference in our nation.
Because what we saw and experienced was empathy and outward focus in those we most often see turned in and tuned out. But these kids… they’re listening. And though their creative individualism will serve them well, their parents, teachers, peers and mentors are growing them into community-minded people, just like my teacher friends are doing each and every Friday with their 5th grade students. These kids will wear their own colors, sing their own songs, and find their own brave. And some of them will remember how and why and who makes that possible.
And it gives me such hope.