Dougherty Valley High School, San Ramon, CA – November 30, 2017

by George J Elbaum

Dougherty Valley High School (DVHS) was established in 2007, which explains its very apropos slogan “The Tradition Starts Now!”  In these 9 years its enrollment has grown rapidly from 570 students to approximately 3200 now.  Despite this rapid growth, it scored the highest Academic Performance Index in the San Ramon school district and the 27th highest in California, and was awarded a gold medal and ranked in the top 500 schools in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report – an impressive growth in both enrollment and ratings.

Today was the 3rd time I’ve spoken at DVHS to a class of 11th and 12th graders in the elective course Facing History: Holocaust and Human Behavior, and once again I was very impressed with the enthusiasm and knowledge of the students and their teacher, Dana Pattison.  As before, the students were very well prepared and thoughtful, and this time during the Q&A I was even asked several very meaningful and personal questions that have never been asked in my 150+ talks in the last 7 years.  I very much welcome it when it happens, as it makes me think deeply about the issue being asked.  In fact, after the Q&A I was moved to tell the students that they are lucky to have Dana Pattison for their teacher.  It was a very gratifying experience for me, arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves.

Letters from students

A week after visiting DVHS I received a large envelope with 25 festive Thank You notes from the students.  As has become our habit by now, after dinner my wife Mimi read each one aloud as I listened and absorbed it mentally and emotionally. We were touched by the students’ sensitivity, insight and heartfelt honesty, and we felt very gratified by the thoughtful responses and the empathy with which they related to my story.  There were many statements in the notes that resonated with us, and these are excerpted below.

  • I went home after your visit and told my mom, sisters, and friends about your incredible story, and it really moved us all to tears.
  • I know it takes a large amount of courage within you to open up about the loss and tragedies you have gone through, but I also admire your amazing positive and uplifting spirit and character.
  • You have been through events that are unimaginable for me and others, yet you still spread love and positivity.
  • You told my class a very powerful quote which will stick with me for the rest of my life: “be for things rather than against them.” I hope to follow that saying and be more like you by having hope, faith, and courage, not only in myself but also in others.
  • I really liked what you said about being for things rather than being against a cause, especially in the current social & political environment. I was inspired by what you said and how you have spent time touching students about compassion and trying to overcome ignorance.  Everything you have spoken about is very important for young generations to hear.
  • You showed me how despite your harsh past your mindset is key to success. No matter luck or fate, you are still alive today to send this message to everyone that meets you in hope of a better future.
  • You said that a large reason why you survived was because of luck, but I think that a large part of it was because you were resilient & didn’t let the bad situations conquer you.
  • Thank you for providing inspiration and hope with your beautiful story.
  • Your story was very powerful, and I aspire to be a better and more understanding person everyday.
  • In the future, I will make a conscious effort to be as accepting as I can. It is important to stand up for others.
  • What struck with me the most out of all you said was the power of choices. How we as children have and are constantly making choices, and it is up to us whether we make the right ones.  It really made me think about the choices I’ve made and whether I could have made different ones.  It definitely made me think about my own life.
  • I went home and told my whole family about everything you told us. It gave me a different perspective on what it means to be alive, and on the choices we make.
  • I appreciated all the honesty and vulnerability you brought to our class, because you didn’t have to.
  • As corny as it may sound, you have completely changed my view on the world. It is people like you who show me that there are good people in the world.
  • When hearing you constantly say “it was luck” I disagreed in my head. Luck is finding $5 on the ground.  You are truly blessed.  I’m not sure of your religious affiliation, but in my eyes you are blessed.  You have some kick ass guardian angels up in heaven.
  • Thank you for being so strong.
  • Although it may conjure up disturbing feelings of trauma and unpleasantness, you still talked about these as your moral obligation to do so.
  • As a young man, it opened up my obligation and responsibility to prevent history from repeating again through my actions and intentions.  The seeds of hope have been sown, and thank you for that.

About gelbaum

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