Realizing gratitude

| Alyssa Bormes | January 21, 2016 | 0 Comments


High school teachers everywhere know what it is like to have students in class who are only there because it is a requirement. This is why a required speech class can really be an adventure. Public speaking is terrifying! In my experience, there is usually one student who is excited to take the class — and he or she shows up every five or six years.

I assign the last speech of the semester on gratitude; it has the most wonderful surprises. Let me tell you about two students.

Being a teenager can certainly have its share of suffering. One student spoke of his time in junior high. No one spoke to him or sat by him. His efforts to make friends went unnoticed. After two years, he was invited to a class party. He found it more uncomfortable than ever, as it seemed they were intent on embarrassing him. He spoke about these two years as the time he was nonexistent.

My note taking stopped. He held my heart. To be nonexistent for two years, it is such a weight. Think of how many people feel nonexistent. This is the spot where many youth shut down, except that Ryan didn’t. On his first day of high school, he went to the table with the kid sitting alone; they became great friends. These two became friends with two others; with friendship, a new existence began. His friends were in the audience for his speech; he gave thanks for their friendship and for existing.

It was interesting that quite a few students hadn’t really thought about gratitude before this assignment. Having to speak about it became a realization that they may be taking some things for granted, like their parents, siblings and education. But there was something else unexpected.

I had assigned the speech a few weeks before it was due. One student said that she was pondering the assignment, and having to figure out some reason why she was grateful. There was a G.K. Chesterton quote painted on her bedroom wall. To this point, she had been able to look past it. But there it was, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”

At this point, Katy had a few really difficult things in her life; she had been bullied throughout junior high, and suffered the death of her 6-year-old cousin. Preparing for the gratitude speech made her realize she was grateful for life. She cried her first tears for her cousin’s lost life. She understood that she had a decision to make — she would no longer see life as boring, but as an adventure. She said, “I learned to live two weeks ago!”

There is no doubt that a required speech class makes most students shudder, but now and again, it is the conduit of everything coming together. The results are breathtaking, and for this teacher, it is a great joy, a mercy to witness and quite an adventure.

Bormes, a member of Holy Family in St. Louis Park, is the author of the book “The Catechism of Hockey.”

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Category: Everyday Mercies