I must have forgotten how much I dreaded impromptu writing assignments because this past month I asked sixth-graders in our district to do just that – write a Thanksgiving essay about what they’re thankful for.
Despite jam-packed schedules and “tons of homework,” more than 300 participated. I had the pleasure of meeting many of them at a recent recognition ceremony. While I realize the assignment wasn’t easy for them, it did make it abundantly clear that we can all be thankful that our young people offer us some real promise.
Despite their youth, our students show remarkable wisdom and empathy, not just for those struck by misfortune but for their families who navigate everyday challenges with love and sacrifice.
I am struck by their heightened awareness of issues that we would consider adult realities and by their uncanny ability to boil it down to what really matters. I couldn’t do it any better, so here are just a few observations from your local sixth graders on what we should be thankful for:
- All these brutal and seemingly never-ending wars and dreadful terrorist attacks make freedom seem like something that is valuable and rare, which makes my life in a free country something I am grateful for.
- I am thankful my parents have jobs. If they didn’t we wouldn’t have any food, water, clothes or even a home. If I didn’t have a home I wouldn’t have that much food either because I wouldn’t have a refrigerator to keep my food from going bad.
- I am also very thankful that I live in a country that is safe. In Egypt for example, some children are very scared because there is a rebellion right outside their homes and there is no one to protect them from the violence.
- The love and support of my family keep me whole. I could only wish other people are grateful for their families as well.
- If there is not a healthy family relationship then everything seems to fall apart like a puzzle that is missing some pieces.
- I never knew all that I could do even though I am in a wheelchair. I have learned to never say never. That’s what I’m thankful for.
- My brother will help me out whenever I need it… I wish I could be just like him and have that little charm he has on people.
- I mean, sure it would be fabulous for him to still be here, but it would be selfish. If he was in pain here, I would rather he be in no pain in a better place. I still love him. That’s what I’m thankful for.
- I feel so fortunate that our cousin was diagnosed early and was able to get an operation to stop the cancer from growing and getting worse. This coming Thanksgiving I will be thankful to our doctors, scientists and educators for saving so many lives… but I am most thankful for our ability to create life saving technology.
- After more chemotherapy, more radiation, more hospital stays, more surgeries, more transfusions, I finally got to go home. I remember, during the car ride home, my dad cranked up the song, ”Waiting” by Green Day. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment to come. I‘m destined for anything at all.”
Our children have an amazing capacity for understanding our world, often better than we give them credit for. As this small sampling of their essays demonstrates, they have an extraordinary ability for empathy and compassion beyond their years. We can be grateful that they willingly share it. We just need to recognize and value it ourselves.
To all of you who’ve made my first year as your Senator such a gratifying experience, I wish you a peaceful, healthy and Happy Thanksgiving.
is the representative of New York's Seventh Senatorial District. He was elected to the State Senate in 2010 as a Republican from Mineola.