A Letter To My Students

Dear students,

First off, I’m proud of you.

High school is hard. It’s hard to watch your friends change, to adjust to the shifting schedules and expectations, to complete all the homework while still finding time for those other activities that bring you life and joy. It’s hard to simultaneously feel the struggles of the moment and to believe in a better future — a future that becomes just a bit more tangible with every lesson you learn, every book you read, every assignment you complete.

Despite these challenges, you’ve managed to make it to the end of this school year, and that’s an accomplishment. High school is hard, and that’s true whether you’re a freshmen, a senior, or anyone in between. But this year? Well, it was even tougher than usual.

Nine months ago, you transitioned from distance learning to a school year filled with question marks. Even so, you refused to let that stop you. You made friends with people whose smiles you’d never seen, met teachers whose hands you never shook, and learned in rooms that smelled like hand sanitizer. You dealt with a riot and #deviouslicks, with outdoor rallies and rescheduled dances, with fire alarms and tardy sweeps, with people who ignored the dangers of COVID altogether and with others who were nearly paralyzed by their fear of disease.

Yet you persisted. You pushed through. And now, you’ve reached the end of this incredibly unique school year. I’m proud of you, and I hope you are proud of yourself. Even if you barely eked out a passing grade, please know that you deserve all the high-fives and hugs and applause.

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

Here it is.

Life will still be hard after high school. It will even be hard after COVID. Life might perhaps have seasons that are easier than this one, but life will never be easy. 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, until COVID has been eradicated. Don’t even wait until tomorrow.

Stop waiting, and, instead, 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.

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 keep you from becoming the person you were meant to be. Your dreams, your passions, your talents — they are too important to postpone.

I see you. (Yes, even those of you still wearing your masks.) I might not be able to see your smile, but I see what’s far more important. I see your strength and your determination and your brilliance and your kindness and your talent. I see you learning to be brave, to share your story, to speak out about what matters to you. I see what you’re capable of, what’s within your grasp if only you are brave enough to reach out and take it.

But I see something else too: something darker, something deeper. I’ve seen it reflected in your eyes, and I bet you have seen it reflected in the eyes of others. I’m talking about the world’s pain. The large, suffocating hurt that comes from living in a society filled with fractures and flaws. A pain that is unavoidable and everywhere. A pain that can come in a variety of forms: a car crash, a diagnosis, a bullet, a goodbye.

The world is hurting, and that hurt has touched too many of us throughout this year. You are wounded, but that is not all you are. You are healing, you are resilient, and you are brave. And that’s exactly why the world needs you. Even in your relative youth, even in your own times of struggle, even in this moment of global anxiety, this world needs you. It needs beacons of hope and kindness, now perhaps more than ever before.

Be that light in the darkness. Your candle may flicker, but it is still lit. Use it, not just to give light, but to light those candles around you who have already been snuffed out.

Find someone who is feeling weak and give them your strength. Find someone who is feeling down and give them your encouragement. Find someone who is feeling confused and give them your vision. Find someone who is feeling despair and give them your confidence. Find someone who is feeling 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 — just know that, in those moments, 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.

Come by Room 220 if you ever need a reminder.

Thanks for making this year worthwhile,


PS Did you enjoy The Hunger Games? Katniss’ story continues in Catching Fire. It’d make the perfect summer read if you want to find out what happens next.



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

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James Tilton

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