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La. Teacher of the Year: An Open Letter to High School Seniors During Coronavirus Crisis

March 15, 2020

Chris Dier is Louisiana’s 2020 Teacher of the Year.  He teaches social studies in St. Bernard.

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Chris Dier

I have known Chris for most of his life. I remember celebrating his third birthday with his family (and have the Barney pics to prove it).

Chris knows what it is like to have his senior year of high school wrecked by a major crisis– Hurricane Katrina.

As a result of the social distancing required for America to combat the impact of the coronavirus, governors and other officials are canceling school, and the Class of 2020 across the nation is grieving the profound loss of their senior year.

I know your grief is real, and I am so sorry for your loss.

I want to comfort and encourage you, and for that reason, I asked Chris if he would write an open letter to America’s high school seniors. He enthusiastically and graciously accepted.

Below is his response, for you, Class of 2020.

Dear High School Senior,

On Friday afternoon a few seniors came into my classroom after the last bell rang. They were concerned about prom and their senior trip. It broke my teacher heart to listen. As you’re reading this, you most likely have similar concerns.

This is supposed to be your year. The year for your senior prom, sporting events, cheer competitions, senior trips, clubs, and the rest of what senior year has to offer. You were supposed to be the captain of that team, the officer of that club, or that student who wanted to be with their friends one last year before venturing into the unknown. This was THE year that your entire schooling was building up to. But it was robbed from you because of this global pandemic.

Let’s be abundantly clear – you were robbed, and it’s unfair. If you’re upset, then you should embrace those feelings. Commiserate with one another. Some folks will downplay the situation because they won’t know what it feels like to have their senior year stripped at the last moment.

I, for one, will not downplay it as it happened to me. Hurricane Katrina devastated my community when I was a high school senior. I remember leaving my school on a Friday afternoon with my buddies only to never return to that school. I was supposed to be the captain of my soccer team, go to prom with my longtime crush, and finish the year with my lifelong friends. But it was all canceled. Instead, I stayed in a shelter and finished my high school in a different state. It was tough, and I had to find solace in places I never envisioned. It was hard, but we made it through. And I’m reliving that pain as I think of your disruption to your senior year.

Most do not need to experience Katrina to know that this is tough on you. Those of us who work in schools do so because we care above all else. That caring does not stop once you leave those school walls. In situations like these, we worry more about you. There is a lot of uncertainty, but rest assured, districts across the nation are working in creative ways, from potentially abbreviated school years to organizing social events when this subsides, to make this situation the best they possibly can for you. Some educators are working endlessly to transfer to virtual learning and accompany those without the internet. Administrators are working to get those meals together for those who need them. We are all in crisis mode but know that we are all doing everything we can to help during this tumultuous time. You are not forgotten. We are thinking about you. We are here for you. We care.

There’s nothing I, or anyone, can say to make up for that time you are losing in what is supposed to be one of the best years of your life.

But I can offer some encouragement. Right now, you have the power to make the most out of this unfortunate situation. If a decade of teaching has taught me anything, it’s that people your age are resilient and innovative.

Your generation can navigate multiple worlds and bounce between physical and digital spaces with ease. You are part of the most racially and ethnically diverse generation, and you embrace those differences in ways adults seem to struggle. You courageously put yourselves out there for the world to see and criticize. You push boundaries and challenge norms. You find ingenious ways to compensate for any gaps you may have accrued without the help of educators, whether it’s through Khan Academy or a sibling. It’s a small wonder why “post-Millennials are on track to become the most well-educated generation yet.”

I can also offer some advice. Help one another and your family. They need you. Do your grandparents or your eldery neighbors need groceries? Offer support. Some teachers may even need your help as many try to transition to online learning. We need you. Utilize your tech savvy ways to bring yourselves closer together. Practice “social distancing,” or physical distancing, but stay as social as ever. FaceTime. Text. Tweet. Snapchat. Make Tik Tok videos (I don’t know if that’s still a thing so don’t laugh if I’m already out of date). Use these platforms to connect and uplift.

Binge Netflix and Disney+. Make memes. Exercise. Read books – maybe even those boring ones your English teachers were stoked for you to read. Or just read manga. Read something! Reach out to those friends you know don’t have internet access. Call and check up on ‘em. Listen to podcasts. Make a podcast. Start a hobby. Journal for posterity. You’re living through history. Your bold reaction to this is going to make history.

Lastly, I can offer some support. You may not know me, but I feel your pain; it stings. We as educators mourn with you. Again, you are not forgotten. We see your hard work. We value your unique perspectives. We hear your audacious voices. We cherish all of it, and we will continue to do so even from afar.

I am sad for you; truly, I am. I feel deeply for you; truly, I do. It makes my heart hurt as I write. But if there is any group that can plow through this in creative ways, it is your group. There is no pandemic strong enough to silence you or dent the passion of your generation. Keep your head up and keep fighting. Our country needs you because you provide hope for our future. This year may not be what you envisioned, but I’m eager to see what you do with it.

After all, it is still very much your year.

Stay healthy,

Chris Dier, a high school teacher

Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisdier

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_______________________________________________________________

My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

108 Comments
  1. Nikki permalink

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! My son is struggling “silently” as a lot of young probably are!

    • Sheila D LaFontaine permalink

      Thank you!! I cried reading this. My daughter a Senior at Bay High in Bay St. Louis, Ms. She is very resilient, however she has become a hermit. Doesnt really come out her room much. I check on her and go in and talk, she is ok just a little sad. She got to turn in her art work for an upcoming contest for school I was happy to see that! These kids may have been robbed of their final education days and this they will always remember but we the parents will make a graduation, last class call etc, etc when the time is right. Thank you for your encouraging words!

  2. Shawnee M Oberholtzer permalink

    Thank you. I know my kid is sad about not being able to play her school softball and her friends that are Seniors are hurt..

  3. Lori permalink

    Thank you for a perspective that is very important right now. My son is a senior and all of the feelings you cited are very true and real. It hurts us as parents too but to your point, it’s what we all do with this situation that will make a difference. Many thanks!!!

  4. Lauren Edmonds permalink

    This makes me so sad. I’m glad that you did this just for us Seniors. I’m very upset with not having school and all of our teachers at Hannan Jr./Sr. High School is trying to remind us of everything that you just said in this article. I will not lie. I was crying my eyes our reading this. I love it. It’s the truth. We shouldn’t just lay around doing nothing but working on trying to make the world a better place while we are out of school. I will remember my Senior year as “The time my eyes opened to the world and showed me reality to help our Family, Friends, the Elderly, and/or ANYONE in need of help.” That’s what I will remember from MY Senior Year. What will you remember yours for?

  5. Yvonne permalink

    So many high schoolers worked so hard, way too hard. They were under SO MUCH pressure to perform in sports, academically, social /
    community services, that depression and suicide has become pandemic among teens. I welcome this early graduation so that they can enjoy life and teen years before their next chapter of their lives. Have fun seniors! You deserve it!!

  6. Bailey permalink

    As a senior in high school in Florida, I appreciate your words more than ever. Maybe it’s because you know what it’s like, but thank you for the encouragement. This truly inspired me to change my attitude toward this situation!

  7. Pam Jones permalink

    Thank you thank you thank you. I have a grandson that’s a senior this year and my heart aches for him. He is an outstanding scholar and athlete and this was his year just like you said in your letter. Right now in Iowa as in the rest of the nation things are uncertain as to the last two months of school but like you also said they will get through it. I just wanted to thank you again through tears that reading what you wrote really made me feel better and I am going to forward it to my grandson. Pam Jones Red Oak Iowa

  8. Abby permalink

    I am an educator in a very poor area and all I want my students to know is I CARE and I’m non stop thinking about every single student in my classroom. And I’m hoping this is not the end to my year because I still have so much more to offer and I still have so encouragement to give.

  9. Wanda Sims permalink

    Thank you for the encouragement to high school seniors. I felt it was good info for college seniors also. In some ways I feel they are more devastated as they are being pushed early into a world that is scarey for them.

  10. G. Tate permalink

    Wonderful, encouraging words!!! I too went through a messed up senior year due to things that were beyond our control.,,,, it worked out because we worked to make it work. So hang in, keep in touch online and don’t give up…..it will be something you all will relive and talk about at every future reunion you go to and I promise your reunions will be the best because you went through this!!!❤️🎈

  11. Lana M Stewart permalink

    I applaud you as my daughter is having a hard time processing all of this. These words of inspiration are uplifting.

  12. Lukester permalink

    As a senior in high school myself, this hits hard for me. i just cant believe this is happening but i will always be there for my friends and teachers. Thank you so much for this.

  13. Thank you for sharing your experience and your words of encouragement. My granddaughter I hurt for her. Your words will inspire so many reading this and I commend you for that. I will continue to pray that this will be over soon.

    • Denise permalink

      Beautiful perspectuve, thanks for sharing. I’m sure you have made a difference in many lives of 2020 graduates. We will all benefit in some way from living in this time so keep your memories fresh.

  14. S. Hill permalink

    Thanks, a Parent of a 2020 Graduate.

  15. Andres permalink

    Wow I didn’t think there would have been a adult who came to the same experience as us students of 2020. And to understand the struggle and stress is kinda of a relief now but it still doesn’t change the fact of how things are now and we’re we as students stand in our year.

    • Crystal permalink

      There are lots of us, as I pointed out in my comment, who have experienced disruptions like this. It doesn’t even have to be a natural disaster to be entirely out of your control. I am not sure which is worse – having a natural disaster so your entire school doesn’t get to celebrate such activities or knowing you are the only one who isn’t going because your parent got stationed elsewhere and you have to pack up and leave again mid-school year after you have made plans. Take it as a life lesson that sometimes you plan things to work out a certain way and sometimes they don’t. You kind of get a head start on that lesson and it works out best if you can just learn to roll with it, even when it sucks because feeling sad about it doesn’t change your circumstances. Sorry this happened to you and I am sorry that it sucks. You can always think of it as a sacrifice you are making to save someone’s life. In a way, you are someone’s hero because there might be one less person in need of a ventilator that is not available if this virus comes before the medical profession gets a chance to ramp up and get more equipment.

      I am old enough to remember the cold war and my dad being stationed in West Germany (back when it was a different country from East Germany). My elementary school was constantly getting bomb threats (at least weekly) and at the time, the teachers were great and they tried their best to make sure nobody was scared when we had to walk two blocks away and get into the basement in another building as an “in case.” Fortunately, it seems they were just threats, as far as I know, but it was something I definitely remember, even decades later. I also remember having a conversation with my mom about it and how she explained why it was so important for us to be there and sometimes important things, like sacrificing for your country, aren’t always fun, and maybe they are a little bit scary, but they are sometimes necessary. You may someday look back later on this part of your life and feel similarly, as these are the times when you are able to learn a lot about yourself and what you are capable of handling. It makes you a stronger person to go through such tribulations. We need more strong people in our current society. Try to keep hope and thank you for helping people who are older and who have higher risk conditions. We do appreciate your sacrifice for ourselves and our loved ones.

  16. Toni L Wright permalink

    thank you so much, I have a senior that is so emotional right now and no matter what we would say it was always “but”, this really helped her, hearing encouragement from someone who has been there.

  17. Lauri permalink

    Thank you! I will share with my son. He needs to hear this. I needed to hear this.

  18. Lisa Fales permalink

    Thank you for sharing this uplifting letter! My only daughter is a graduating HS senior and I cried when things got bad a couple of days ago. She is a Suma Cum Laude student, and Dance major at a performing arts school in San Antonio, Texas. She has been dancing since she was not even 3! He passion of dance shows on stage and her final dance production will probably be canceled. She has worked with choreographers all over the country and is hurt by this. Her one and only prom will probably get canceled too. I pray she gets to walk the stage. This is a moment in life we have to see! If not, mom will get creative and do something for those kids that have worked so hard for, for 12 years! It can’t end like this! However, she told my husband and I, “It’s ok, I’m ready for this next chapter. I’m sad, but fine. I’ve been done with high school for a while now.” You’re right! She is stronger than I thought! I’m proud of the young woman she has become and am trying to see all the good in this new tumultuous world! Thank you again for the letter! I’ve shared it on my FB page and so have others. You’re awesome! God Bless,

    • Ellen permalink

      Tell your fine daughter there are many people who though we have never seen her are so proud to know our country is made of fine young ladies like her. Tell her to dance 💃 like every day our smiles depend on it ☺️ / Ellen from GA.

  19. bonne permalink

    teacher here too / PRe k but still they are missing LOTS! Please keep praying & yes these Seniors are being robbed but health is lst.

    why cant I share this?

  20. Susan permalink

    Thank you for the validation of their feelings.

  21. Bob Aikey permalink

    Looking back on itfrom a grandfather’s perspective , I learned this : I remember very little about my graduation day as I moved on to a summer job and then college. I barely remember who I took to the prom because we moved on new things. What I do remember are my friends , my good experiences, and having fun. As trite as it sounds now , this too shall pass away. Life will get better!
    Gpa

  22. Robin permalink

    And not ONE word about putting your faith in the Lord and letting Him show you the best way to get through this, and He is that “way”! I will still be praying that that’s the obvious lesson that everyone gets out of this tragedy, and everyone will start putting Jesus Christ back in the schools, government and their lives, and let Him be the rock we build our lives and country on!!

  23. Thank you, from a grandmother that cried reading this as I think of my precious granddaughter who worked so hard, finished mid term, going on to law school to help abused children, but very much is devastated by the turn of events of missing the very last of all the years put into getting where she is. The last prom, the last years walking the halls she has loved as a second home, missing time with friends and teachers she will rarely see, missing that long sought for walk to receive the award commerating her hard steadfast work. I does break my heart for her and all the seniors that have hung in and stayed the course . May God guide them and may something be done special after this is over for them . Thank you for your letter sir … it was wonderful . Susan Baldis . Illinois

  24. Susan Fisher -Boonsboro, Maryland permalink

    I can see why you were chosen as Teacher of the Year! What awesome, powerful words to not just high school seniors but all students. Thanks from the bottom of my heart for these inspirational words.

    Susan Fisher
    Boonsboro, Maryland

  25. Michelle Jett permalink

    I am a mother to a freshman and senior. This message is valuable and reflects how my senior feels during these unchartered times. First, COVID precautions were to give students a long weekend, the next day it was extended to 3 weeks. The same day her senior trip and vocal performance at Disneyland were canceled. Hours later her vocal competition in Monterey canceled. The next day her production with musical theater canceled (they were 1 week from opening night and spent months preparing). And now (only day 3 of COVID school closure) with a message from our governor, she might not return to campus. The dance showcase and vocal concert – poof! She looked forward to prom the way a 4-year-old looks forward to a major holiday. She and her amazing group of friends had planned their night for months. Her friends are her world and social media has allowed them to connect for hours during these long days. Facetime has allowed her to navigate each blow with her friends who are going through exactly what she is going through. As her parent, my heart is broken for what she has given up. This doesn’t mean that I think her prom is more important than the health of our nation. My daughter has grandparents (all of them) and we want nothing more than to keep them healthy. It means to keep others healthy her senior year filled with huge milestones were taken from her and it hurts.

  26. Ally permalink

    Thank you so much for this. As a senior I really needed to read it. I need to quit feeling sorry for myself and still try to make it a memorable time. We will get through it!

  27. Crystal permalink

    You don’t have to have experienced a disaster to know what it feels like to have something like this happen. Many military brats have experienced similar things as well, and it has happened to them multiple times in their educational careers. Sometimes it is a good thing as it builds character and makes you a stronger person. You don’t have to feel like a victim because you are disappointed. I will even go so far as to say that most people don’t get to experience their ideal senior year even under normal circumstances. Just try to keep it in perspective. While it feels horrific now (and you have my sympathy for that) and it feels like a big deal, it is only high school. You will look back later in life and be proud of yourself for enduring this and you can count it as an accomplishment rather than a burden. I know it doesn’t feel that way now, but you aren’t alone in missing out on things from high school. Try to stay positive and good luck on whatever you choose next.

  28. Vadakkemelathil Thomas Thomas permalink

    I have gone through the letter of Chris and appreciate in word and spirit the most precious and thoughtful advice given to the Seniors. It is most inspiring and motivating to those seniors who were longing for their turn and so do for the parents , Grand parents like us who were dreaming to witness this transition of our beloved through this lifetime event which comes only once in the lifetime of Senior.
    Dear Chris , I am glad that you have through the beautiful narrative letter prepared the young and promising Seniors to be more ingenious and innovative during this moment of challenge thrown world wide.
    Please do accept my appreciation of your concern and sincere efforts to ensure that the all Seniors are energised and stay enthusiastic to face the world despite endemic or pandemic as the case may be.
    Wish you all the best in all future endeavours

  29. Emily permalink

    Thank you. This is what I needed to hear. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and support all of us seniors through a tough time.

  30. Noddia Suddreth permalink

    Chris,

    This is the most heartfelt, empathetic communication to our youth that I have read in a long time. I feel your pain from years prior and I definitely sympathize with the 2020 Senior class.

    I am trying really hard to make sure my child gets through this difficult time. This helps me to do that a little better.

    I just want to say thank you for the compassion and commitment to our students!

    May God Bless you in abundance

  31. Benitta Evans permalink

    Thank you for writing this letter. It is very powerful and I have shared it with my Senior but gave me HOPE as a parent as well.

  32. Karie L. Keener permalink

    Thank you so much!!! Both my son and I are struggling… He is my first born and you dream about this since they are born….

  33. Kathi Sathre permalink

    Wish I could share this with my granddaughter, a senior in CA. She’s struggling as well to miss senior year end. Can you make it shareable?

    • Just copy the link and send. Also, you could share using social media by using buttons at the end of the post. You could also tell your granddaughter to google the term, “la teacher of the year open letter” to find it online.

  34. Lily Rutledge permalink

    My name is Lily Rutledge and I am a senior at an art school in Ohio. Your letter was sent to my senior class from our wonderful school counselor. Your words brought tears to my eyes. You’re right; none of this is fair. It’s especially difficult with an art school because virtual art classes don’t really work. The things that were cancelled for us were galleries, exhibits, musicals, and dance shows. It’s devastating. But somehow, hearing your supportive words, I’m not as sad as I was. I think I just needed a nudge in the right direction. Thank you for your kindness, the class of 2020 thanks you.

  35. Francheska Rivera permalink

    Thank you so much, your letter was very heartwarming. I was really sad when they cancelled concerts and competition trips. But after reading this, I feel more positive. We will get through this class of 2020, just stay healthy and positive!

  36. Cindy permalink

    Well done!

  37. Juan permalink

    Thank you for this, I was waiting all my school years just to graduate and this global thing happened. My sister got to Graduate and my mom was there but unfortunately my mom passed away and I always wanted her to see me graduate so graduation means a lot to me. Thank you for this letter, very much appreciate it.

  38. Margaret permalink

    I join you in feeling the pain and sadness these young adults find themselves facing. The once in a lifetime time events stolen from you bt this nasty virus is indeed not fair. We do not deminish the loss we applaud the way we see you handling the situation. We are proud of you all. ♥️👍

  39. Nawfa permalink

    Appreciate the positivity you have as many seniors are going through a lot right now. It’s nice hearing some positive reinforcement and ideas to help seniors cope through their losses

  40. Hannah Sweet permalink

    I’m not a senior myself, but I am a high school junior. This is still encouraging me, as my school’s junior prom (our only prom), is in jeopardy as well. I have a lot of friends that are seniors, and I think some of them are still in a state of shock that their senior year isn’t going as planned. Spring sports, tournaments, and any other senior events were largely thrown to the wind, so it really helps to say that we aren’t forgotten. Thank you, Chris!

  41. Laura E. permalink

    This made me a bit sad but thank you for your encouragement.
    Mother of a senior in CA.

  42. Thank you for this. My Son is a Senior at Newnan High School and I am sure they are Struggling with this rather quietly or openly speaking about it. Senior Class of 2020 will Shine and Yes it is still your year..#Cougar Strong

  43. Graduating Senior in New York permalink

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This sent shivers down my spine.

  44. Angie permalink

    I’m sad we may not walk across the stage

  45. Darylen Cote permalink

    So very poignant and practical!! Listen up, especially you TRIO Upward Bound and Educational Talent Search students/ seniors. We are hearing your disappointment and stand with you ready to help! Stay in touch with your friends and advisors! Thinking of you ———

  46. Omg you are amazing you nailed it I cried reading this a friend sent it to ne I have a son who is so bummed and this was an amazing post. So sorry for you as well what happened to you. God take the wheel is what as a single mother of an amazing #classof2020 breaks my heart! The school has been amazing with on line classes but as you know its not the same. Thank you for sharing your story.God Bless.

  47. Kim Toenjes permalink

    Hopefully it will just get postponed and they will get a prom, graduation, etc. eventually. I feel bad for these kids all over the nation. But, put it in perspective. People are dying, businesses are closing, people are losing their income & possibly homes, cars, etc. Please pray for the doctors, nurses & 1st responders that are putting their lives on the line daily trying to care for the sick without the equipment to do so. I’m thankful these kids are alive.

  48. Tere Rodriguez permalink

    Thank you for sharing your experience and the motivation. I’m a Senior right now and this is overwhelming, I can only hope for the best so I won’t have to miss the last activities of my high school experience.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Louisiana Teacher of the Year has a message for all high school seniors - New Orleans Business Journal
  2. Mercedes Schneider: A Letter from Louisiana’s Teacher of the Year to the Class of 2020 | Diane Ravitch's blog

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