I have been a teacher for 14 years and my students continue to amaze me. Now, amazement manifests itself in many different forms with young people…and not all are positive. However, I would like to take the opportunity to discuss this past school year and how amazed I was by the initiative, determination, creativity, and compassion of a particular group of students that formed the Young Democrats of West-Oak High School.
As teachers, we are charged with many challenging tasks. One such task is to influence students in a positive manner, while carefully managing not to bring our own religious or political beliefs into the classroom. So when I was approached by an ambitious group of high school seniors, curious about starting a branch of a Young Democrats group at our high school, I was cautious on the outside while thrilled on the inside. And because we, as teachers, are to keep our own thoughts, beliefs, and feelings to a minimum, I can attest to the fact that everything this group accomplished this year is a credit to their resourcefulness. It was my pleasure to watch them take an idea and work diligently to bring it to fruition. The club struggled at first, but that struggle led to a clear identity and a purpose and mission statement that has provided a strong foundation for the years to come. This club went from finding an identity to hosting an Equality Day and bake sale where all of the proceeds would go to the Trevor Project—a non-profit organization founded to help fight bullying and suicide among LGBTQ+ youth.
It takes great courage for anyone to take a stand for their beliefs when those beliefs are in contrast to the greater populace. Imagine the courage it takes for a teenager, who often just wants to fit in and avoid being singled out, to stand up for his or her beliefs. Now imagine (because I know you can) when we are talking about liberal political beliefs in an extremely conservative state and area. These students have had to have frank, often difficult, conversations with their peers, their parents, and their principals defending their convictions. I am amazed by their strength and fortitude and am grateful that they created a group where they can come together and realize that they are not alone in their beliefs. One of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, writes in Timequake, “Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.” These students realized they were not alone by coming together to form this group.
The Young Democrats of West-Oak High are all amazing, but I would like to especially address the seniors who developed this organization and who are graduating next week. Saying that I am proud of you does not begin to adequately convey how I feel. I have worked with you all for three years now, both as a teacher and a club advisor, and I am having a tough time imagining next year without you. While I know that you will all go on to do amazing things with your lives, I want you to know that you are always welcome at West-Oak and especially at a Young Democrats meeting. You started this—I expect you to continue to nurture it. No matter where you travel next year, you will still be young, you will still be a democrat, and you will always be a West-Oak Warrior.
It took all of you seniors to create this group, but I know we can agree that there would not be an organization if it were not for Jon Franklin. Jon, you are (to me, at least) what every teacher hopes for in a student. You have become smarter than I am, more compassionate than I am, and more willing to fight than I am. You are no longer my student—you are my friend and someone I admire. When some people speak of the “younger generation” in disparaging ways and wonder, with fear, how the next generation will tackle the challenges that are to come, I know that we’ll be alright with people like you taking the reins to lead us into tomorrow.
Thank you, Young Democrats of West-Oak High School, for teaching me more than I could have ever taught you.
Henry “Dee” Tindal
Proud advisor to the Young Democrats of West-Oak High School
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