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Faith and Values: This year, graduating seniors deserve even more praise

Tracy Simmons writes for the Faith and Values page of The Spokesman-Review. (Tracy Simmons)
Tracy Simmons writes for the Faith and Values page of The Spokesman-Review. (Tracy Simmons)

If I look at one more final exam I’m going to go cross-eyed. That’s how the final week of school always goes, but usually it ends with me getting to shake the hands of my seniors before they walk out the door.

I applaud as they walk across the stage and hope I’ve done my part in preparing them to be good citizens and professionals.

This year, though, my students were the teachers.

When news came that classes would shift to the web, their adaptability shined. They were disappointed at not being able to return to campus after spring break, but shifted their energy into adjusting to a new platform and got over the learning curve faster than I expected (well, most of them).

They eased my anxiety by showing me it was OK to figure out the new way of class together, that it didn’t need to be perfect. Together we learned how to communicate more effectively.

While trying to teach them, they ended up giving me the tools to be a better educator.

Though all my students taught me valuable lessons this semester, my seniors left the greatest impression.

They’ve been chattering about graduation for months. They’ve ordered their gowns, made arrangements for their families to travel and were eager to sit through a lengthy ceremony so they could walk across the stage, and now they don’t get to – at least not right away.

Of course they’re sad, but have chosen to celebrate their accomplishment in creative ways – taking cap and gown photo shoots in their hallways or backyards, having virtual parties or front porch celebrations.

This is an attitude we can all learn from. It’s easy to be upset right now. We’re grieving for the more than 300,000 people who have died globally from COVID-19, we’re worried about economic collapse, and tension is rising over what our country should do next. And, of course, our own daily lives are disrupted.

It certainly feels like we have no control, and that’s unnerving.

But having a positive attitude gives us power over circumstance. The Buddha taught that. The Bible also teaches it, saying to rejoice always, even when it seems impossible.

We already know all this, but sometimes witnessing resiliency is the reminder we need to reframe our outlook.

In 2010 I traveled to Haiti to cover the earthquake that killed 200,000 people. What I saw was sobering: crushed houses, mass graveyards, entire families living under tarps or partially destroyed buildings.

The survivors, though, left an even stronger impact on me. They would respond to aftershocks by gathering in the streets to sing; and even though they had lost their homes, they went to church on Sundays dressed in their finest clothes, clutching their Bibles and praising God.

They had no money or food, but offered me their leftovers each night.

Resiliency.

I left Haiti inspired to see the world in a different, brighter light. I was determined to use my attitude as an umbrella as protection from negativity.

And I did for a while, though somewhere over the years I forgot. Adversary and worry crept back in.

The pandemic amplified those feelings, until I saw my students’ fortitude. They were the reminder I needed to have the outlook I strived to have all those years ago.

So if I could end the semester by shaking their hands this year, it wouldn’t be to wish them luck on their journey. I know they’ll be OK. Instead it would be to thank them for guiding me back to positivity.

Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a University of Idaho lecturer and the editor of SpokaneFAVS, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the Spokane region.

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