Let us choose gratitude

During this last year, for so many families working hourly jobs, it was a simple equation: if mom doesn't go to work, mom doesn't get paid. This left students home alone to manage their schedules, internet and computer, with the older kids looking after the younger kids.

This is no way for a child to learn, nor is it a decision a parent should be forced to make -- keep food on the table and a roof over our heads or make sure my child receives the education they deserve. But this was the school year for many students and families across the Commonwealth. Everyone suffered this year, especially students. The effects of this pandemic have been uneven, with low-income and at-risk people and communities bearing the greatest impact.

The challenges for students this year go beyond the academic and extracurricular. A whole generation was locked away from their community and the social connections so vital to healthy growth and development. The lifting of restrictions is just the start of the healing process. These young people need a reset, as do the teachers and parents who struggled along with them. This year was not easy for anyone involved in education.

As the school year concludes in the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston, it is with a sense of relief, a bit of exhaustion, and a lot of gratitude. We are grateful for the generosity of teachers and administrators who put students first and made in-person learning a priority; grateful for parents who sacrificed to give students an opportunity to attend a Catholic school; and grateful for donors who provided over $1.5 million in additional emergency resources so families could stay in these schools during this tumultuous year.

The graduating class of 2021 will forever be known as the pandemic class -- a class whose visions of a senior year did not even remotely match the reality of the year. There were no fall football games nor any athletic events as they envisioned them. No chance to get one last shot at the State Tournament or perform the lead role in front of your family and friends. College visits were virtual, with many students choosing schools for the next four years whose campus they never visited. This was a rough year for sure.

This past year is the silent keynote address at every graduation, reminding the graduating class that you are not defined by what happens to you, but by how you respond. The challenge to this pandemic class and all of us: Do we respond with love and gratitude or with anger and bitterness? Do we take these moments of struggle as moments of grace and opportunities to see where God is calling us?

What happens to us is not always a choice; how we respond is always a choice.

We must choose not to let the heartache and loss of this past year be the definition of this year. Instead, we must challenge ourselves to move forward, inspired by the generosity of others and a commitment to continue being generous ourselves and with an appreciation of the ordinary. No longer can we take for granted the hug of a loved one, traveling or even physically going to school or work. Let's move forward with an appreciation of all that we have and gratitude to all of those who make that possible.

To the pandemic class and to all of us, let us always choose gratitude.

- Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.