by George J Elbaum
Dougherty Valley High School was established in 2007, which explains their very apropos slogan “The Tradition Starts Now!” In these 7 years its enrollment has grown rapidly from 570 students to approximately 2700 now, and it attained a rank of #67 in California as ranked by U.S. News & World Report – truly an impressive rise in both respects. My talk was to the full-term elective course Facing History: Holocaust and Human Behavior, and just walking into the classroom (a few minutes late!) I was immediately struck by the evident enthusiasm of the students, mostly seniors, and the teacher, Dana Pattison. The classroom was decorated with student-made posters and drawings reflecting the course subject, and one student even wore a T-shirt emblazoned with “Dougherty Valley High School – Facing History and Ourselves” (see photo in 3rd row below). The students were very well prepared as became evident in the Q &A after my talk, and their questions (including a deep one I’ve not been asked before) continued even after the class ended. It was a very gratifying experience for me, arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves, who gave an excellent introduction.
A few weeks later we received a packet of letters from the students who attended my talk, many on beautifully hand-made cards. As has become our habit on receiving students’ letters after one of my talks, my wife Mimi and I read these together after our dinner, Mimi reading each letter aloud and me listening and absorbing its message, and then we selected those phrases that truly resonated with us to excerpt and add on my website post for the school. However, this is the first time that I received a pack of student letters where almost every one contained a phrase or sentence, and often several phrases, that moved us so much that I excerpted and added them all to my post for the Dougherty Valley High School. Since this was an elective, whole-term class in Facing History, the students were especially motivated and knowledgeable, and their understanding of and sensitivity to the Holocaust is shown in these letters, and it also reflects the quality of Dana Pattison’s teaching. I was deeply touched and gratified after we finished reading the letters and selecting the excerpts (listed below), and I knew why I keep doing these talks.
- You’re educating a new generation on a piece of our history, and that is one of the most honorable things you can do. You have left a profound mark on our class, myself and many others.
- Hearing you speak has left me with a lot to ponder about forgiveness and strength in my own life, and I thank you for that.
- I have always been one to fret about my future and dwell on my past, but I have come to realize that the only time I should be focusing on is today, and I am eternally grateful for that knowledge.
- I aspire to become a person who, like you, is not afraid to share who they are with others. Thank you for sharing a piece of yourself with us; it is something I will never forget.
- I believe we all came out from the class that day with a changed perspective and entirely new ideas….. You made our day!
- I can read about the hardships people had to face, like struggling to get enough food, but books won’t tell me about the more personal hardships like the family that had to strangle their dog to keep it from barking at nearby soldiers. That impacted me much more than any sort of statistic.
- A textbook can give you the facts, but these issues seem distant. Listening to someone recount the event and tell it as part of their story makes you realize that the facts are real events involving real people.
- You taught me to always move forward, even when things are bad, and not to forget who you are and what you’ve experienced, because all of those things can only make you a better person.
- You have inspired me to keep going on in life even when life greets me with great challenges…. Keep doing what you’re doing!!!
- As a class we have already learned a lot about the Holocaust, but I was never able to connect myself to the situation. After you spoke to us, I feel more connected and I am more able to put myself in the place of those in concentration camps as well as those in hiding.
- That is the most important lesson that I learned from you: to keep living no matter what.
- You have inspired me to dream big.
- Your story of survival and luck helped inspire me to act as an “upstander” during times of injustice and against hatred.
- Your amazing story has taught me that even in the midst of horror there was still hope. It showed me how the culmination of “upstanding” acts performed by different people can lead to something beautiful and precious – life.
- Your story has galvanized the “upstander” in all of us, to stand up against injustice whenever we are faced with it.
- I have learned about historical events through textbooks and articles. Hearing from an actual person who lived through an event transforms and enhances the learning experience in an incredible way.
- It was very meaningful to me because when learning about events that have transpired, I don’t think people truly understand until there is some kind of personal connection. I want to thank you for telling us your story to give us that personal connection.
- Hearing how you’ve chosen to lead your life has inspired me to use past hardships in my life as fuel for future avenues of good deeds.
- I will spread your story to others to remind them how valuable each person’s perspective is.
- Next time I see someone getting picked on for being different or lesser in someone else’s eyes I will stand up for what is right. I’ve always said this to people but never followed through in fear of what could happen. But why not risk it for the benefit of another?!
- I always knew that life was precious, but you gave me a million reasons why it is even more beautiful than I thought.
- I learned to not fear obstacles in life because with determination and a little luck, everything is possible.
- Every time you share your story you continue to inspire more and more people as you have inspired me!