Dear Kids,

This isn’t the back to school we thought we would have. I am sad but also strangely grateful. This “new normal” is giving you incredible opportunities like only challenging times can, and I know you will rise. This is what I hope you will remember this year:

You own your education. You can mindlessly “show up” and do the minimum to get by, or you can decide, right now, to be a learner. Taking ownership of your own success is a skill that can benefit you for a lifetime.

You control your time. Each minute is yours, and it’s up to you to make the most of it. You can waste thousands of hours on mind numbing nothing or you can become more of who you have always wanted to be with that freedom. It’s a dichotomy you will wrestle with for your entire life. Starting to figure it out now will be a game changer.

You can choose to connect. After so many months without the interaction that is crucial for real happiness, you now know why people are so important. Yes, it may be a little trickier to figure out, but any relationship that is worth it takes effort. Be willing to put in the work.

You can be flexible. The happiest people I know are the ones who can roll with the punches. Lately it seems like every week there is a new punch, but, good news, we are all still standing. Knowing that you can thrive when nothing goes as planned is a gift.

You can be resilient. Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and disappointment, and I have seen you do that more in the last 6 months than ever before. Rarely are life circumstances ideal, but being able to make the best of them and still forge ahead will guarantee you a fulfilled life.

You can find joy in small things. With all the big, over the top fluff gone, life has become significantly less flashy. This simplification allows you to be grateful for the small moments that bring happiness. Starting to see life as a string of tiny miracles will change you forever.

You can ask for help. This is an unprecedented time that comes with a heavy load of stress and uncertainty. You won’t be able to navigate it all on your own, so reach out, share your struggles, and let people in. The ability to be vulnerable and comfortable with your own shortcomings will afford you a much healthier life now and in the future.

You are creative. With many of the typical “go-tos” unavailable, you will be forced to think outside the box. Variety adds interest and excitement to life, so take this chance to try something new, use your imagination, or explore what was formerly unknown. Tap into that inner kid that used to create something out of nothing all the time.

You can discover what you truly love. With the roar of the crowd gone and the extra accolades silent, you will have the chance to discover what excites you on the inside. Take time to enjoy the process of uncovering what internally motivates you. It’s knowledge you will rely on again and again.

You can practice empathy. Difficult times often bring out inequalities, weakness, and loss. Instead of turning away or hardening against them, take a moment to comfort, help, and succor those in need. The ability to see a need and fill it willingly and with love is what our world needs more of.

You can make your words mean something. With decreased interaction, everything you say will make an impact. Make every exchange, online and in person, a time to build people and emphasize the good. You have seen, first hand, how a little hope and positivity can change the world. Decide now to be part of that.

You can add joy to your life daily. Once you discover the small things that make you happy, do more of them! We often keep ourselves down through bad habits and unconscious living. Choose to fill your life with the things that bring you joy.

You can engage with nature. Through all this, nature has never been off limits, and being outside can fill your soul. Take a few minutes, every day, to unplug and connect with the real world. Putting this into practice will invigorate you like nothing virtual ever will.

You smile with your eyes. While circumstances mandate that most of our face stays covered, our eyes are still on display. Show people you care by truly seeing them, not only for who they are now, but for who they can be. Giving people that attention and grace will not only change their lives, but change yours for the better.

No, this isn’t the ideal school year with parades and parties, but perhaps because of it you will have a jump start on discovering the ideal you, someone who is defined by more than an AP class, an Officer’s sweater, or a pair of pom poms. At the end of this, I think we will both see someone with a little more depth, a little more experience, a little more heart. Someone who is a little more YOU.

All my love, admiration and best wishes for an incredible school year in all the unexpected ways.

Here for you every step of the way.