I am Grateful for…

This morning, the entire school community—students, teachers and staff—gathered in the Auditorium for Morning Ex. The theme was the same it always is on the day before we break for the Thanksgiving Holiday—representatives from all divisions share a story of what they are grateful for.

Following are the remarks I shared.

Tom Flemma at the 3rd Grade Native American fest.

Tom Flemma at the 3rd Grade Native American feast.

When we arrived at our new home in the middle of June, tired and cranky after a long drive from Connecticut, we found a lovely welcome basket that the North Shore community had left for our family. Along with some yummy baked goods and gifts for each of us, there was a framed print with a dry-erase marker attached. The print simply said, “I am grateful for” and then there was a long blank line after it. The purpose was to use the marker to write on the glass and answer the question.

As people dropped by to welcome us, in a disaster-of-a-house stacked with boxes and scattered with bubble wrap, I grabbed the frame and marker, and quickly scribbled the first thing that came to my mind so we would have one actual piece of decoration amongst the mess. I was grateful for—“new adventures.”

When I stop to reflect now about the things I am grateful for—five months later and days before Thanksgiving—I have a much longer and more specific list of things I am grateful for, but I keep coming back to that hurried answer from mid-June.

Everything about our lives here is new and new can be an adventure in itself. I think we all need a little adventure in our lives. But adventure doesn’t have to be a trip to a faraway location or some sort of extreme activity, just simply the opportunity to take a risk and to grow from it. Believe it or not, Winnetka is an adventure if you move here from rural Connecticut!

One of the things I am most grateful for this year is the fact that my family and I have the same opportunity that North Shore offers all of you: to try something new, to face a fear, to be vulnerable in an environment that is safe and supportive. Taking up a new sport or a new instrument—those can be risks. Participating in performing arts, as our students are all asked to do, can be a risk—certainly an adventure! Sometimes just reaching out to someone you don’t know very well can seem risky.

One of the things we hear again and again from our alumni is how thankful they are that North Shore pushed them to try new things and stretched them beyond their comfort zones. There is a reason behind this—we aren’t simply trying to make you uncomfortable. We work hard not just to make you try new things, but to create an atmosphere around you that is warm and supportive, that makes it okay to risk and to fall short. All of this is because we want you to get used to taking risks—appropriate risks, of course—so they realize it is worth it. If we can normalize taking a risk in situations where the stakes aren’t terribly high, it will help prepare you to strive for more when you are adults: to reach out to someone you don’t know, take a class at college you wouldn’t normally choose or start a small business.

I am grateful that my kids and my wife and I have all had the opportunity to grow by moving to Winnetka and joining the North Shore community. It hasn’t always been easy, but let’s be honest, the good things never are.

By the way, the answer that I wrote on that glass frame only lasted a few weeks. I came home one day in August and someone had erased the answer and written that they were grateful for “new friends.” I couldn’t agree more, but that’s a story for another time.

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving.


North Shore Country Day School is a private, college-prep school for high school, middle school and elementary school students in Winnetka, IL, a suburb of Chicago.

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