Pridesource Today
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Pridesource Today

Words For My Students During Our Time Apart

First off, I’m proud of you.

High school is hard. It’s hard to watch your friends change, to adjust to the changes in schedule and expectation, to complete all the homework while still finding time for those other activities that bring you life and joy.

And as we’ve seen over the last few weeks, it’s even harder to balance uncertainty over a global pandemic with the need to focus on comparatively small tasks, like classwork and changing your baby brother’s diaper. It’s hard to keep things in perspective, to simultaneously feel the pain of this moment and to believe in a better future — a future that becomes just a bit more tangible with every lesson your learn, every book you read, every assignment you complete.

Despite these difficulties, you’ve managed to make it this far. And that makes you a survivor. Whether you’ve made it to the final quarter of your senior year or are just making it through today, you deserve all the high-fives and hugs and applause.

But you also deserve something else. You deserve the truth.

Here it is.

Even when this pandemic finally ends, life will still be hard. This is a universal truth, no matter who your parents are, what color your skin is, or how much money you have. The truth is that there will be moments of struggle whether you are a high school student or a college student, a boy or girl, gay or straight, rich or poor, an adult or a child.

I don’t say this to discourage you. I say it because I don’t want you to wait until life is easy before you work on making life meaningful.

Don’t wait until you turn eighteen, until you have a college degree, until you’re married. Don’t even wait until this lock-down is over. There will always be a reason to wait.

Stop waiting, and let’s take another step toward becoming the person you want to be.

Do the things that make you happy. Do the things that bring a smile to the faces of the people you care about. Do the things that make the world a little better, a little kinder, a little more magical. Do the things that prepare you for the future you’ve imagined. Do them now — even in the middle of a pandemic, even from the confines of your own home.

Your dreams, your passions, your talents — they are too important to postpone. Even now, while the whole world seems to be holding its breath, you deserve a chance to become your best and brightest self. That’s why your teachers and I are doing what we can to continue this school year, to provide you with the opportunities that you deserve — even from your bedroom.

I won’t be able to see you in person for the rest of the school year, but I’ve already seen enough to know what you’re capable of. I’ve seen you research global injustice, share your writing with strangers, bare your soul through poetry. I’ve seen you grow in a hundred different ways. I’ve seen your strength and your determination and your brilliance and your kindness and your talent.

I’ve also seen the world’s pain. I suspect that you’ve seen it too. So I hope you aren’t surprised when I say that the world needs you. Even in your relative youth, even in your own times of struggle, event in this moment of global uncertainty and anxiety, you have so much to give.

Your candle may flicker, but it is still lit. Use it to light others.

Find someone online who is weak and give them your strength. Find someone who is discouraged and give them your encouragement. Find someone who is confused and give them your wisdom. Find someone who is despairing and give them your confidence. Find someone who is hopeless and give them your hope.

And in those situations where life is hard, when you are the one who feels weak or discouraged or confused or despairing or hopeless, when you lose your way and need reminded of how wonderful and smart you are — in those moments, shoot me a message. Visit me during my online office hours. Send me an email.

It will be my honor to remind you of how amazing you are, how lucky I am to have been your teacher, and how much you have to offer this world.

Don’t let the ugliness of this world cause you to forget its beauty. Don’t let the seemingly endless struggle of life cause you to forget that you are strong and capable and brave and smart. Don’t let anything, even a global pandemic, keep you from becoming the person you were meant to be.

Thank you for making this year such a wonderful one. Let’s finish strong together.



The student publication of Eastside High School in Lancaster, California.

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James Tilton

Author, teacher, and creator of PickMyYA. Lost a rap battle to Lin-Manuel Miranda once.