This is the latest in a series of blogs by partners of the Fluency work.
By Zachary Shutler
This weekend I delivered a few words of inspiration to our class of 2020 during their graduation “ceremony.” As I stood on the stage staring out at an empty gymnasium (aside from the videography team), I reflected on the abrupt ending of their high school career. There would be no heartfelt goodbyes with their teachers and their classmates in the school halls, the dream of a successful spring athletic season with the friends that you grew up playing tee ball with vanished in an instant, that last slow dance at the prom with your high school sweetheart that you have dreamt about will remain just that, and the words that I am about to speak at this graduation ceremony will only be heard weeks later, in the absence of a crowded gym filled with the graduates surrounded by their friends and family.
The COVID-19 Pandemic drastically altered our world and shattered our naivety that pandemics are something that only happen in the movies or events that we read about in our history books. The world suffered a staggering loss of human life and nearly 40 million Americans had their careers upended due to the economic fallout. I want to keep that in context as I share the story of the Class of 2020. While what they lost needs to be placed in the proper perspective, for a seventeen or eighteen-year-old, it was still an emotional loss. If we are truly here to hear student voices, to be authentic in our practice, and to be compassionate during times of calm and chaos, this is a crucial moment to listen to our students and to understand the challenges that they have faced and will face as they enter into an uncertain political and economic time.
As we continue to mentor the students that are graduating and embarking on the next leg of their journey, we must also begin to focus on the students that will be returning to our care in the fall (in some capacity). We are well aware that there is a heaviness of uncertainty in the air and that uncertainty has the power to fuel anxiety and fear. I sense this when speaking to teachers, parents, and students. To be honest, fear of the unknown is an internal battle that I fight daily. But here are the facts, the future is always uncertain, even in the best of times. These are not unprecedented times in human history. While they might be unprecedented for us, our ancestors have faced greater uncertainty, horrific plagues, unspeakable treatment based on their race or their religion, and wars that literally spanned the globe. We have the opportunity to learn from their successes and their failures.
Focusing squarely on the role that we are entrusted with as educators, we have the opportunity to gain perspective from the past and innovate education while helping make the world a more equitable and accepting place. Think about being in a position where your daily actions have the opportunity to impact generations to come? I think it is an awesome responsibility and who better to lead this wave of innovation and change than educators!
In closing, I will share the advice that I recorded for the seniors during our virtual ceremony. I thought the best advice that I could give them is the same advice that I share with myself and my children on a daily basis. These are five basic principles that I have internalized during my 40 years of life that have allowed me to have the courage to face challenges and uncertainty.
I think that it is so important that we share our aspirations with others. I encourage every young person to take the time to write down your values. Your list of values will most certainly look different than mine, and that is great! We all have our own unique interests, skills, hopes and fears. The important thing is that you place them on paper and share them with people you love and care about. It allows our family, friends, and colleagues to hold us accountable in a productive way. If you share what you want to be about from a values perspective, you will find that people will lift you up when you inevitably fall short. That is what a great team, what a family does for each other. That is what I want for my children, for all children. This is the support that we all need right now.
Zachary Shutler earned his Master's Degree in Academic Administration from Franciscan University of Steubenville and began his career as an administrator at Triadelphia Middle School (Wheeling, WV) in 2007. He is a former district superintendent and currently serves as the principal at Union Local High School (Belmont County, Ohio) and as an adjunct professor at West Liberty University. He is currently working on his doctorate degree at the University of Findlay.