April 10, 2020
Dear 2020 Seniors,
Who would have ever thought that the end of your senior year of high school would be defined by a global pandemic leading to social distancing, remote learning plans, and so many canceled activities? Although adversity is never in the plan, all of this leads me to write to you today as the father of two seniors and your superintendent. The whirlwind of the last month was mostly filled with the practical and the management of a school district during an unforeseen crisis. As plans have come to be in response to the pandemic, I have found myself more emotional, more introspective thinking about you and how we bring closure to your time in the Elkhorn Public Schools. I have found myself thinking like a father and hoping that we can celebrate in traditional ways but more so that we can find something good in all of this. Today, I write about how gratitude can help us through hard times.
We are all experiencing emotions during this crisis. For me, the emotions come and go at times catching me unexpectedly. For others, they may be experiencing loss of friends or relatives, loss of income, loss of jobs, loss of stability in shelter and food. For you, the reality of the loss of your senior year, the loss of school activities, and the sudden loss of routines and relationships could cause grief. You may have normal grieving emotions, even tears at times, but please know that professional counseling may be necessary if your grief becomes more serious. Resources are available on our webpage if needed.
Today, I ask that you think about gratitude. During this time of hardship, we have lots of time to reflect and think about the people that helped us through life and school. You should be proud of what has been achieved – in classrooms, playing surfaces, and stages. Be proud of your personal growth and development. These achievements were not due to complacency and status quo. The Elkhorn tradition is what it is because of our community partnership, aspiring men and women with a common goal – to do what is best for our students – and always looking for ways to achieve this end. The success of our schools are explained by the human spirit of many who possess a magical blend of belief in cause and dedication to a mission. You have worked so hard and come so far! The Elkhorn Class of 2020 has a bright future, and you should be optimistic about how far you can keep going. Hopefully, this optimism stimulates gratitude. I am proud to be a part of the long-standing tradition that has made Elkhorn one of the most respected school districts, and you should be too.
Researcher and author, Robert Emmons writes, “In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times.” No one feels grateful when they lose a loved one or lose a job or lose income or lose anything they care about. But you can be grateful even if you do not feel grateful. There is a growing body of research that uncovers that gratitude has the power to heal, energize, and transform lives. In short, people who reflect and reframe experiences through a perspective of gratitude experience more adaptability to adversity and have more positive emotions, greater happiness, less stress, and healthier relationships. Gratitude does not come naturally to everyone but seems to be a skill worth learning.
I ask you to reframe this time to look outward and reach out to so many that have encouraged you along the way such as your parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, mentors, or friends. The secretary that made you feel important. The person that believed in you at a time when you did not believe in yourself. Nobody gets anywhere without the help of others.
And so I introduce #EPS2020GRADitude. Yes, I know that graditude is spelled gratitude, but I think it will be acceptable during a global pandemic. Just maybe it would be beneficial to reframe this pandemic and all the chaos it has created with thankfulness.
If social media is not your style, go old school with a gratitude letter, a gratitude journal, or a gratitude conversation. Quite possibly, you can use this time to help others and yourself experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism. We simply need more of this in the world to combat divisiveness, polarization, resentment, etc. The Class of 2020 can rise up to help us all cope with loss, grief, and despair. Feel free to use #EPS2020GRAD for photos and well wishes, but we hope you use #EPS2020GRADitude for your reflections of gratitude.
In closing, we have a plan for a traditional graduation ceremony on June 14 or July 26. Additionally, please mark August 9 as another possibility for a traditional graduation ceremony. If it is not safe or legal to hold a traditional graduation, we will hold a remote ceremony using electronic means on this date. More details forthcoming if necessary. The main point is that our priority is to hold a traditional ceremony if at all possible.
Thank you for taking this in stride and providing hope for our future. We care about you! We believe in you! And we will get through this together! Adversity makes us stronger! Stay safe! Make good choices because I and so many others are optimistic about your futures and your ability to make a difference in our world! Thank you, Elkhorn Class of 2020, for being a bright light of hope!