Given to the FHS Class of 2019

Every other summer, my family vacations on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.  On the island is an ancient redwood forest called Cathedral Grove. For those not familiar with these giant trees, I want to quickly share some facts.

*Redwoods ONLY grow along the Pacific coast.

*Redwoods first appeared on the Earth shortly after dinosaurs, before flowers and spiders- almost 240 million years ago.

*The oldest living redwood is AT LEAST 2200 years old.

*Along the west coast, you can find redwoods taller than 300 feet with some more than 360 feet. This is nearly 100 feet taller than the tallest pine tree.

*The redwood tree pushes its roots out 50 feet and intertwines with other redwoods to withstand the wind and floods.

*While the roots cover a large area, they only reach down 6-12 feet deep.

*These giants of the forest thrive in a healthy environment, and with bark a foot thick in some places- are resilient to pests of all sorts.

As you enter Cathedral Grove, there is a yellow gold sign with black print. It informs visitors,

“Cathedral Grove is an old forest. These large trees will continue to live for many years, but root and stem diseases will cause some trees and branches to die. They will fall without warning. Please be alert at all times. Leave the park on windy days.”

Winding along the paths, giant trees tower above us, the air is musty, and the path is spongy. Sunlight peaks through small cracks in the canvas high above. The forest floor is scattered with the remains of fallen trees. Some of the fallen are young. Some are older. ALL of the fallen have been overcome by something greater than their own strength at the time they fell. They lie scattered across the forest floor amongst the ferns, wild flowers, moss, and saplings.

Our favorite spot in the forest is near the root system of one of these fallen giants. It is nearly 15 feet in diameter. As you walk around the root of the massive tree and around to the trunk, there is an astonishing transformation taking place. Out of the fallen tree, GROWTH.  Saplings, ferns, moss, and flowers spring up through the rust brown bark of the tree. Just as this fallen tree brings new growth from a fall, we can too.

I have known most of you since the 9th grade when I was a new teacher at Falcon High School. Over the years as NHS advisor, I have seen many of you grow up. Take a look around- many of you have been together for years- some since Kindergarten. You have become family, and when one of you struggles, it has a ripple effect. I’ve seen this over the last four years. I want you to take a moment and think about the challenges your class has experienced. Think first of your own personal challenges. Now, think of the challenges faced by your friends. Lastly, think of the challenges you have seen as a class. Now, take a moment to think of ways you supported each other through these challenges. When I think of the class of 2019, GROWTH is what I see.

As I reflect on my life, I can honestly say that I have been uprooted more times than I can count. At times, my roots were strong -pushed 50 feet out, and 12 feet deep. They were intertwined with the support of my family and friends- just as your roots are intertwined with those closest to you. Some of those people are sitting right next to you today.  However, life like nature, has a way of changing course.

Each time I grew after a life challenge. My roots grew stronger than the last. Eventually, it took stronger winds and floods to knock me down. I began to realize the strength I had inside of me could withstand even the strongest winds and challenges. This was until last March, last March when my daughter Ashley tragically died.

This strong tree with the deep root system fell again, and it fell hard. You see- my root system was intertwined with my daughter Ashley’s, my daughter Emma’s, and my husband’s. When Ashley’s system died, ours died with it.

I don’t tell you this for pity or to make you feel sorry for me. I tell you this because my family is like that giant fallen redwood with the new growth of moss, ferns, and redwood saplings. You see, something miraculous happened after my sweet Ashley died. The root system changed. It expanded and grew. It now weaves in and out with new root systems.

I started to realize that the lessons I learned from all of those smaller challenges worked together to help me GROW out of this major one. You see- each time we experience a challenge, we take with us a lesson. These are 6 of the most important lessons I have learned in my short 43 years of living-

Lesson 1. You choose.

Don’t ever underestimate the power of your thoughts. It is easy to be happy when things are going your way. But, what if I told you that you can be happy even when they are not going your way? It is all in the way we CHOOSE to respond to a situation. I am not saying that there won’t be times you are angry, stressed, sad, anxious, or overwhelmed. What I am saying is that when something bad happens, ALL of the good does not simply disappear. They are still there. You just have to shift focus.

In a study commissioned by Mattress Firm- yep Mattress Firm, they found that millennials spent nearly 20% of their day worrying or stressing over a variety of issues- money, work, health, relationships, sleep. This is nearly 63 days out of the year worrying. What if we took that time, and chose to be productive? What if we chose action over inaction?

Each morning and night I write a list of 5 things for which I am grateful. During the exercise, I do not allow myself to think of the craziness called MY LIFE. Some days I find myself writing the same things over and over. This is okay.

Now each of you-think of one thing you are stressed or worried about right now- in this moment.  Now STOP. Think of three things that you are grateful for in your life. If you get stressed today, go back to those things.

Lesson 2. It is as important to celebrate the small victories as you would large ones.

Some days it may mean that you got up in time for your 2nd hour AP Government class. Some days it may mean that you passed a very difficult exam, or played flawlessly in a concert. It is okay to pat yourself on the back for small victories- especially when everything around you seems to be going wrong.

After my daughter died, I remembered something my mom told me when I was having a “moment” in high school. She told me to do just one thing a day that would make me feel better- her suggestion was to dress up and put on make-up, even if I was not going anywhere. Find your “thing”. Do it every day, and celebrate that you did it.

Lesson 3. Smile- even if you don’t want to.

If you are not good at smiling, practice each day in the mirror for five minutes. It is funny how so many of you take selfies all day long, but will not smile at REAL people. Try it. You may see that you like it:) I know I love when others smile at me.

Lesson 4. Seek and Act.

Look for opportunities to serve others. One of my favorite quotes is by a woman named Marjorie Hinckley. “There is no small act of kindness.”

When you are kind to others, something changes in you. You stop focusing on what you don’t have, and start focusing on what you do have to offer others. Our world needs this more than ever. Instead of me, me, me- we need to think in terms of us.

Last Valentines’ Day at Falcon High School, NHS and another organization called ESCAPe held an event called “Petal it Forward”. Students from the two groups, wrote out affirmations, and attached them to hundreds of roses. The groups sought out students who could benefit from receiving a flower. We had a list of some names from the counselors, but the rest were identified by the students themselves. A parent of two sisters who received flowers messaged me later during the day and said, “Tell your students THANK YOU! BOTH of my girls received a flower and came home from school so excited.” These were two girls who are very shy and typically blend into the crowd. The kindness shown made their day.

I have seen this time and time again- students in the class of 2019 putting others before yourselves. I have no doubt that you will continue to make a difference in the lives of others as you start your next chapter.

Lesson 5. Reach out.

Life is going to come at you fast over the next few months. Sometimes life will become seemingly too much to bear. Stress and anxiety will be a constant. Reach out. With so many ways to communicate today, there is no reason not to. We are not meant to be alone in this life. Find your support and keep them close.

I want you to look around the room. Make eye contact with someone you can go to for ANYTHING. Make a commitment to reach out to each other when life gets crazy.

Lesson 6. Share your story because YOU MATTER.

Each of you is valuable and has lived a unique existence. Not one of you shares the same exact experiences and relationships. As you go out into the world after high school, this will become even more evident.

A famous cellist, Pablo Casals wrote the following poem that I hung in each of my daughters’ rooms when they were first born.

Each second we live is a new
and unique moment of the
universe, a moment that will
never be again . . . And what
do we teach our children?  We
teach them that two and two
make four, and that Paris is
the capital of France.

When will we also teach
them what they are?

We should say to each of them:
Do you know what you are?  You
are a marvel.  You are unique.  In
all the years that have passed,
there has never been another
child like you.  Your legs,
your arms, your clever fingers,
the way you move.

You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo,
a Beethoven.  You have the
capacity for anything.
Yes, you are a marvel. 

You are shaped by YOUR story. By sharing your story, you will see a world of support open up to you as you navigate this next step in your lives. Find a group who builds you. Find people who are interested in YOU. YOU MATTER.

I often think of Cathedral Grove, and the changes taking place over the time we are absent. Trees have fallen. Saplings have sprouted. New roots are formed. GROWTH is constant. Just as yours is. Each one of you will face challenges. How you GROW out of them will determine the person you become. And THAT person, is the one we are all excited to send into the world from Falcon High School.