Two Letters That All Students Should Receive This Summer

 

It’s back-to-school time in many parts of the U.S. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing, or re-publishing, much of my back-to-school content to help you start the new school year right. Today, I feature two “Dear Student” letters that I wish all students, of all ages, everywhere would receive from their teachers. The letters were written by Arin Kress, a self-described “5th grade teacher in Ohio who is constantly learning.” Arin is on Twitter @KressClass and her blog is Hate Chalk.

The first letter encourages students to think about what their genius is. The second tells students they matter, and encourages them to let others know they matter as well. They are succinctly written and full of hope and encouragement – shouldn’t every student start the school year this way?

Assistant Principal Christie Collins and the staff at Euclid Elementary School in Illinois produced this video of them reading similar letters and shared it with students and their families over the summer.

Click here for my resources on how to make mattering THE agenda.

*****

Dear 5th graders,

Hi! My name is Arin Kress and I will be your math and science teacher this year. We haven’t met yet, but every day this summer I’ve thought about you.

I know that sounds odd – but please keep reading. I haven’t thought about you individually, because I don’t know who you are yet, but I’ve thought about you collectively. I’ve thought about the amazing group of 5th graders that will cross the threshold of my classroom in just a few weeks.

  • I’ve thought about challenging you.
  • I’ve thought about embracing your differences.
  • I’ve thought about your strengths.
  • I’ve thought about your weaknesses.

And I have a secret that I can’t keep in for another few weeks.

You

Are

All

Geniuses.

Shhh! Don’t tell anyone, but really you are. I know deep within you, your inner genius is ready to come out! I’ve worked with geniuses for seven years now, and let me tell you something – it’s amazing.  And this year won’t be different.

So, before you walk through my door on the first day of school, think about YOUR genius. What are you an expert at? What do you enjoy? What can I learn from YOU?  How are YOU going to change the world? I can’t wait to share my genius with you and for you to share your genius with all the other geniuses in the room: your classmates!

Ms. Kress

*****

Dear 5th graders,

Today I learned what it means to matter. I know it sounds silly, but it’s a powerful message.  Two simple words – You Matter.

So many times we go about our daily lives and no one stops to thank us. No one seems to care if we go the extra mile. It’s odd really that we would find it odd for someone to tell us that we matter – because it’s such a simple thing to do.

So, I’m doing it right now – I want you to know that you matter to me before I even know your name. YOU are why I became a teacher. YOU will make a difference in my life. I hope to learn as much from YOU as you do from ME!

I want you to understand this:  YOU MATTER to your family, YOU MATTER to your friends, YOU MATTER to so many people – You already matter to ME! Stop right now and think about who matters to YOU. (Most likely you matter to them too!)

So here’s your first assignment. Tell as many people in your life that THEY matter to YOU and, of course, tell them why. (Don’t just run up to strangers yelling, “You matter!” You might get a lot of confused looks!) Please take this seriously. It may be just one of the most important assignments you complete all year.

I hope you are enjoying your summer, because the ride you’re about to embark on will be full of ups and downs and winding curves. One thing you will learn about me is that I hate roller coasters – but I can’t wait for the ride to begin that we will experience together!

I look forward to telling you in person how much you MATTER to me. I hope to see you at Open House on August 19th!

Ms. Kress

P.S. If you have a mobile device (phone, tablet, etc.), bring it to Open House! We have some fun, interactive activities planned!

Resources for Mattering IS the Agenda

My most often-requested keynote is "Mattering IS the Agenda."

You can't #Choose2Matter only for a day, or a month and expect it to change lives and your school or company culture. Mattering must be THE agenda - each and every day. Below you will find the resources that will help you make it so!

Presentation

My standard presentation on “Mattering IS the Agenda.

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It can be completed by an educator in about 8 hours and comes with a classroom implementation guide and student materials. It will transform learning, lives and the culture of your school, for good. 

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Writing that is Worthy of the World

 

 

A crucial aspect of the lesson was assuring the students that even adults often don’t consider their writing worthy of the world. The day before I visited @5BFish, I was speaking to Jimmy Casas, the renowned Principal of Bettendorf High School who just published his first book. Jimmy talked to me about the creative process and how you feel, even when the book is in your hand and rave reviews are pouring in, that maybe it’s not good enough to share. As soon as he told me this, I knew I had to invite him to participate in the lesson via phone, and he did so, brilliantly.

The one word that Jimmy brought up that resonated with the students more than any other? Vulnerable. When you write, you put yourself out there for others to criticize. But yet we can’t ever let this stop us from putting ourselves out there – but we can let this make us work even harder to ensure our writing is WOW.

One student who completely understood the lesson that I and Jimmy imparted was Walter. Rather than go on and explain further, I will just share this image of a poem that Walter created in the days following my visit, and his written explanation of how determined he is to write works that are WOW.

The Sandbox Manifesto

 

I happily and honestly proclaim that everything I have learned about social media, I learned from children. Children have no ulterior motives; they play authentically and transparently. In doing so, they place profound lessons in front of us.

How do I know this? From the many times I was privileged to visit with children in their most sacred of habitats: the sandbox. It was there I recognized the sandbox as one of the most fitting analogies for the web and the world we find ourselves a part of now.

As a teacher, I’ve seen extraordinary things happen in the sandbox. From friendships being formed to brilliant dreams explored, the sandbox was the place where we created, shared ideas, and learned to love, trust, and depend on one another.

Somewhere between grade school and grad school, we moved away from the sandbox, forgetting the lessons that serve us best.

As past “Sandboxers,” we knew the value of play and the value of the people we had the opportunity to play with. We understood the sandbox was more than just fun and games; it was a privilege, as it was the space that brought extraordinary individuals in our lives together.

We learned that everybody had a lot more fun when you played fair.

Like the sandbox of our childhood, the web provides us with endless opportunities. It is a space where imagination, ingenuity, innovation, connection and discovery collide, and play is the exultation of the possible.

We are entering the most marvelous of ages; an age where influence, power and success will no longer be determined by how hard we work, but rather how well we play together in this space. Our play here has rules, and often the rules mock all ideology and seriousness of work outside the sandbox.

The Sandbox Manifesto is both a declaration and an invitation to keep the experience of the sandbox alive and to recognize and honor the wisdom we acquired through our experiences on the inside.

As you read these ten tenets, think about these simple truths of leading and influencing others, managing failure, strategic thinking, and resolving conflicts and apply them to the global sandbox we now live and play in.

What can we uncover, re-discover and create to make the time we have with one another the best possible experience for everyone involved?

Even more importantly, what must we do to ensure that what we create and share has the possibility and potential to make our lives and the world a better place?

Play isn’t something we do as a part of our life — it is life.

Think of how much you discovered about yourself on the playground, how many friends you made, how sad you were when play was time was over.

The Sandbox is a place where anything can happen.

The Sandbox Manifesto

1. Sharing is Caring.

Those who share more, care more, and give with their full heart, find success.

2. Messy is Good.

Befriend it. Embrace the opportunity to get dirty, to lose yourself. There is freedom and beauty in messiness.

3. Imagination is your greatest asset.

Dream big and dream bold. Anything is possible, but you have to be brave enough to believe this is true.

4. Sand is for filling buckets.

It is not for throwing. Throwing sand not only hurts people, it also wastes your playtime.

5. Hugs help and smile always matter.

Never underestimate the power of these simple acts of human kindness. They define you. Love is the killer app.

6.Take it to the community.

Even when having fun, one must prepare for problems to arise. When they do, turn to your community. There will always be someone in your midst that will help you through it, see it in a new way, and find a way to make it work.

7. The community means both friends and strangers.

Strangers are friends you haven’t yet had enough time to play with. Remember what Aristotle said: one hour of play tells you more about an individual than many hours of intellectual conversation. Find a stranger, play with him or her, and see a new friend emerge.

8. You have one job — be remarkable.

Nothing less. Do what you love, do it well, do it in the way no one else can or has the courage to do. You are your own genius, and the world needs your contribution. The future belongs to the awesome.

9. You are the master of the fate and the captain of your soul.

Whether you’re new or a seasoned professional, the chance of success is equal. Your habits and character matter, and the only limitations are the ones you set for yourself. To win, you need only defeat your doubt.

10. Play is the work.

If we honor the tools and the rules, and most importantly, honor one another, there is nothing we can’t accomplish.

I invite and challenge you to play on purpose.

Consider each of these tenets.

Live the manifesto as these kids in the sandbox do.

Play is the work. We work better, we play stronger, and we dream bigger when we know we this.

The success of our students, communities, and organizations is waiting at the edge of the sandbox.

Are You Carrying Rocks in Your Backpack?

I once stumbled across this Tweet from Matthew Goff. It read:

“Rocks in our backpack lesson the invisible weight we carry when we forget we matter. #FoxHollowFlyers

This was a vivid visual reminder of what we do to ourselves when we don’t believe that we are enough. We often see a quote attributed to Carol Gordan: "If someone talked to you the way you talk to yourself, you would have kicked them out of your life long ago."

So I invited Matthew, a sixth grade teacher at Fox Hollow Elementary School in Lehi, UT to submit the below lesson plan, which teaches us to kick out of our life the person inside us who talks to us that way.

*****

“I’m stupid.” “I’m fat.” “I’m ugly.” “I’m not worth it.” “I don’t matter.” “I am not good enough.” “I can’t.”

Each of these self-insults is written on rocks all around my classroom. Why would we focus on these negative things? Because we don’t know how to get rid of them if we don’t address them, and we can’t address them if we don’t even acknowledge that they are there.

Everyone in the world, says John Bytheway, is wearing an invisible backpack. You don’t see it on some people, but you surely can on others. You’ll be able to tell because they’re hunched a bit, they’re not smiling, and their eyes are troubled. These people have rocks in their backpacks weighing them down.

Words matter. Words carry weight. That iswhy its so important to monitor what we say to ourselves.

  • When we wake up in the morning and we look in the mirror and tell ourselves that we shouldn’t have even bothered getting up, we put a rock in our backpack.
  • When our siblings push us out of the way and say were idiots and always in the way, they’re handing us a rock. If we believe them, were taking that rock and putting it in our backpack.
  • When we get to school and see someone who is super kind to everyone and we think we can never be that friendly, were putting a rock in our backpack.
  • When we struggle with a math concept and say we are not good at math, there’s another rock.
  • If someone says they don’t want us to join them, that were not cool enough, and we believe them, we put another figurative rock into our invisible backpack.

My students wrote some of those things on rocks they brought to class.It had to be something they’ve said to themselves or to another person, or something they’ve heard someone else say to them or to another.

I then challenged some to take their rocks with them to recess. They came back and each said they didn’t like carrying their rocks.

  • “It was annoying.”
  • “I couldn’t play with my friends.”
  • “I tried to not think about it, but it was always there.”
  • “My favorite: My rock feels heavier now that the words are on them.”

This turned into an amazing conversation around Mr. Browne’s famous precept from the book, Wonder: When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind. We underestimate the need to choose to be kind when we are talking to or thinking about ourselves. If we are unkind, we run a dangerous risk of putting lots of rocks in our backpacks.

Their next assignment was to put their rock on their desk and ignore it. They couldn’t do it! Just like in life, when we’re entertaining those thoughts, it is supremely difficult to ignore them.

After a few days of discussing theses thoughts, we look at how to get rid of them. There are two main ways I teach: first, the mirror test (inspired by “I love you rice vs. I hate you rice”) and second, help others get rid of their rocks.

We have been doing the mirror test for a while, which is to look directly in the mirror and say:

__Name__, I love you (3x),

__Name__, three different compliments or positive affirmations (You matter, you are enough, youre a great friend, etc.)

__Name__, I like you (3x).

Do this when you wake up and when you go to bed and you start your day off right and end it right. If they don’t do it at home, I have an Angela-Maiers-inspired You Matter mirror in my classroom (I catch students doing the mirror test all the time).

The other way is to help others get rid of their rocks. Because we know what it looks like and feels like to have rocks in our own packs, were more aware of others who have burdens. We see more that people are in need, and we help them. A lot of class time is devoted to helping others.

Some students always state that having a rock or two is no big deal, they can carry it around and it doesn’t bother them. Thats when I pull out my actual backpack and ask the loudest and most confident to put it on. I ask them how it feels, if they could walk around all day with it on. It’s no big deal. I then proceed to grab some rocks from around the room, saying what’s on them and then placing them in the backpack. After a little while, the student starts complaining how heavy it is. I get to some of the bigger rocks and you visibly see the struggle of the student. He’s sweating with exertion after just a couple minutes. The strong kids all want to try it on to see if they can do it. I want the class to see the physically strongest kids struggling under the weight of these rocks, because even the emotionally strongest kids would struggle if they’re telling themselves these toxic things.

Why would we ever want to put all this weight on our shoulders?

Nobody ever wants to, but we do anyway, all the time. Its quite the epidemic amongst school-age children. We try to imagine life with a heavy backpack school life, home life, friend life, etc., and it isn’t pretty.

Their writing assignment is to imagine A Day with No Rocks. Once they’ve completed this, we go out to the playground during 1–4th grade recess times, and test our skills finding those kids who need a smile, a friendly face, a high-five, someone telling them it’ll be okay, someone to play with them, etc. We journal about this and discuss it afterwards.

The culminating activity is to, as a class, take another persons rock from their desk and heave it over one of the fences at our school, so we never see it again. Its a powerful way to get rid of our rocks. And the best thing is, once we know that words matter and we matter, we start treating ourselves and each other a bit better after all this, and it makes these kids better people.

You Matter Manifesto

The YOU MATTER Manifesto is a call to action. It challenges you to acknowledge and use the gifts that you have been blessed with. Mattering is a process, not an event. It’s a new way of life. Knowing that we matter is essential to our existence.

As you read this Manifesto, acknowledge your significance and that….

1. You are Enough!

Do you know what it takes to make a difference in this world? You don’t have to be rich or famous. No special knowledge or skills are needed. Whether you are young or old or in-between, you matter.

2. You Have Influence

To acknowledge that you can change the world is overwhelming. Yet all of us have the ability to begin changing the world by contributing our genius to solve the world’s problems.

3. You Are a Genius.

Author Seth Godin defines genius as the act of solving a problem in a way no one has solved it before. You don’t have to win a Nobel Prize or earn a Master’s degree to be a genius. You just have to use your insight and initiative to find original solutions that matter.

4. You Have a Contribution to Make.

“We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love” – Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Your mere presence can bring a smile to someone’s face. Your poetry can lift someone out of a slump. Your passion can lead you to create something magnificent. The size of the contribution is not what matters most. What counts is how much of your heart you put into it.

5. You Have a Gift to Give, That Others Need

“Happiness never decreases by being shared.” – Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)

Happiness and love are the two greatest gifts you can give to the world.

Too often, we indulge our own gratifications and forget there are people in this world that we can make feel loved, or appreciated, or even noticed. These are gifts anyone can give.

READ: People Know They Matter When…

6. You Are the Change.

It is in the small encounters with others that we recognize that we matter, that our presence is important. A shared smile, an unexpected kindness, leaving each encounter with something positive.

It is in these small moments we find opportunity to make the choice to matter. In doing so, we make the world a better place.

7. Your Actions Define Your Impact.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before beginning to improve the world.”- Anne Frank

Action is the world’s greatest currency. There is no better day than today to start to make a difference to the world. You don’t need to wait till you have the time; you don’t have to wait till you make more money; you don’t have to wait one second to let someone know they matter.

Start with these two words, and you will know how much that little effort counts today.

8. You Matter!

To matter means to be of consequence or importance to others.

It means you are significant, relevant, worthy of note and of crucial value. The world may not always affirm this, and may not adequately communicate the importance of your presence in their lives.

But that doesn’t mean that what you do and who you are doesn’t have a profound impact on the world. It does. The world would be a very different place – a lesser place – without you.

Let’s make our time together matter! This is only the beginning!

******

Read about SMART Tech's commitment to sharing this Manifesto.

Ready to bring You Matter to your school? Take our Choose2Matter online course.

It will change how you view your students, and yourself, and what you can accomplish.

12 Things Kids Want from Their Teachers

Click here for my resources on how to make mattering THE agenda in your classroom, school, district or organization. It will change the culture, for good.

As adults, each of us has a chance to make a positive and impactful difference in a child’s life.

But in order to do this, we must carefully consider this question:

What matters most to our children?

For 20 years I have been posing this question to my students. At the beginning of every school year, I would ask my students to give me advice on how to be their best teacher. I asked them to think about the times they felt most successful and to consider what the adults in their lives did to make this success possible.

The classroom would become immediately silent as the students wrote intensely for longer than they had ever written before. Smiles would appear on their faces as they reflected on the happy experiences they were remembering. After reading their responses, I would add to my list all the ideas they mentioned.

Surprisingly, many of the responses were the same. Year after year, in every grade level, content area and classroom I was in, regardless of demographics or background, students were saying the same things and had the same message: It’s the small things you do that mean the most. That is what they remembered. That is what mattered.

Here is a list of the 12 Most Important things that came out of these amazing conversations:

1. Greet me each day

Wish me good morning, and send me off with a “see ya tomorrow.”

2. Smile

When you look at me, let me see happiness in your eyes.

3. Give me your attention

Sit and talk with me privately; even if only for a second.

4. Imagine with me

Help me dream of things I might be able to do; not just the things I need to do now.

5. Give me challenging content and assignments

Show me how to handle it. Teach me what to do.

6. Ask about me

Inquire about my weekend, the game I played, the places I go. It shows you care about my life.

7. Let me have time

Time to let things sink in. Time to think. Time to reflect, process, and play.

8. Demand of me

Hold me accountable to high standards. Don’t let me get away with less if you know I am capable of doing better.

9. Notice Me

Leave special messages in my desk or locker. Just a quick note that says you notice something right.

10. Let me ask the questions

Even if my questions are off topic, let me ask them. It will show that I am thinking about new perspectives, curious, and willing to learn more. Let me have the chance to show what I am wondering about, not just what I know.

11. Engage me

I came to you in love with learning. Keep me excited, keep me wanting more.

12. Trust me

Believe that I can do it. Allow me the chance. I promise to show you I can.

These words did not fall on deaf ears. I collected them, honored them, and then promised I would do everything within my power to be the teacher they wanted me to be.

What matters to the children in your life?

It’s worth a conversation, I promise!

12 Most Important Ways to Let People Know They Matter

Click here for my resources on how to make mattering THE agenda.

The measure of a life is not what that life accomplishes,

but rather the impact that life has on others.

- Jackie Robinson

When I think of people who made the biggest impact in my life, it was not their expertise or accomplishments that provided me with the direction, guidance and reassurance I needed to accomplish my goals. It was their sincere belief in me. They let me know through their words and actions that I mattered.

The people in your life want that same validation. In fact, every single person you will ever meet shares this common desire. They want to know they matter.

Mattering a universal human need. First, you need to fully accept that you matter, and then its incumbent on you to pass this message along. Would the people in your life can answer, “yes” to the following questions:

  • Do you see me?

  • Do you hear me?

  • Do you care about me?

  • Do I matter to you?

Here are The 12 Important things to do now to ensure a “yes” every time you encounter or interact with someone significant or yet-to-be significant in your life.

1.  See Them

In the movie “Avatar,” the Na’vi greeted one another with the phrase, “I see you.”

It means you have opened your mind and heart to them and are fully present. Though you may know them well, you're as interested as you were the first time you met them.

One way to let people know you see them is to begin or end sentences with the word “you.”

  • I hear you.
  • I notice the way you...
  • I understand you.
  • I appreciate you.
  • It was great to spend time with you
  • I couldn’t have done it without you
  • You made my day
  • You are a dear friend

Sure, you may say these already to your loved ones or good friends. But how often do you say them to people to whom you aren’t as close? Do you say these words to students at school, colleagues at work, a crossing guard, a receptionist or a stranger you pass on the street?

2.  Acknowledge Everyone

When you acknowledge someone, you recognize their value and importance. How about starting the day with a “Good Morning” email or Tweet? Or smiling at each and every co-workers as you pass by them by on way to the office? Or reaching out to a new acquaintance you see in a crowd or bump into in the Blogosphere?  Go out of your way to acknowledge people. Make an effort to “see them”.  Like the Na’vi in the movie Avatar, who greeted one another with the phrase “I see you” as a belief and acknowledgment there is something marvelous in everyone you meet.

3.  Listen With Interest

“More and more I’ve come to understand that listening is one of the most important things we can do for one another.... It can often be our greatest gift. Whether that person is speaking or playing or dancing, building or singing or painting, if we care, we can listen.”

- Fred Rogers, “The World According to Mr. Rogers.”

Listening means more than quietly nodding your head while waiting your turn to speak again. It means opening your ears and heart and making the other person the sole focus of your attention.

Often, this is all someone needs from you.

4. Ask Mattering not Matter-of-Fact Questions

Question are a window into our minds and intentions. We show people how much they matter by the questions we ask. How important do these questions make you feel?

  • What rocked your world today?

  • Who’s world did YOU rock today?

  • How can I make your day?

  • What can I do to make it better?

5. Be Present

The ultimate present you can give another is your PRESENCE. How many times have you been in a conversation with someone, and you know their mind is in another place? How many times have you felt “un-noticed” when someone was looking right at you? You do not have to be available for everyone in every moment … but when you have someones time and attention; honor it with your presence. Really make that person the center of your attention and experience, even if only for a few minutes.

It does wonders in the mattering department!

6. Believe in Them

“All you really need is one person to show you the epiphany of your own power and you’re off. If you can hand people the key to their own power, the human spirit is so receptive...if you open doors for people at a crucial moment, you are educating them in the best sense. You are teaching them to open doors for themselves.”

- Aimee Mullins, “The Opportunity of Adversity,” TedMed 2009

When we believe in others and encourage them to believe in themselves, we hand them the key to their own power. We help them stretch their thinking, envision success, and open the door to their true potential.

Words are contagious. Hopeful words infect people with energy and enthusiasm. Cynical words unleash energy-sucking negativity, doubt and fear.

The words we speak to others may be the catalyst that sends someone into an emotional tailspin or the spark that spurs him to great achievements - by sparking the belief that he can.

7. Deliver Happiness (HT to Zappos)

Cynicism sucks. It sucks the life out of work, business, and people.

Life and work is hard enough and it is easy to get into situations that tear us down. People want and need to be inspired. When people are inspired, they are lifted above these kinds of circumstances and allowed to see the upside of what they can achieve or become. If you can be the one who inspires them, by encouragement or modeling, you’ve helped them and you matter!

8.  Talk About Others

No one likes the person in the family, at work, or at the party who only talks about themselves, their interests, their accomplishments and their importance, right?

You become far more interesting and important when you talk about the exciting things other people are doing, trying, creating, writing, and sharing. Doing so gives you the opportunity to make a lot of new friends and establish yourself as someone who is always learning and growing from others. Now, that’s an accomplishment worth talking about.

9.  Offer Hope

At every moment of the day, we are either making the world a better place or making it worse. Our thoughts spread out and become contagious, either positively infecting others or unleashing a plague of negativity, doubt and fear. We have the power to help lift someone up or to bring them down. How we interact with those we meet may be the catalyst that sets someone into an emotional tailspin or the spark that provides them with encouragement and HOPE for a better day… or maybe even a better life.

10.  Sweat the Small Stuff

Today I heard from a friend.  It was a simple text message asking how I was doing followed by a :-). It mattered.

It doesn’t take much to make someone’s day. It could be a smile, wink, or tweet.  It could be an email of praise or a pat on the back for encouragement. Or, a call to say, “hi – how ya doin’, you were on my mind. Almost always, it’s something small that makes a big difference. So, do sweat the small stuff.

11. Tell the people in your life how you feel about them

If it doesn’t come natural to you, all the more reason to do it more often. It will begin to feel natural soon. Of course, “You matter” is what everyone wants to hear, but other phrases work just as well:  “I’m happy to see you. You mean so much to me. You’re contribution to the team is immeasurable. I so appreciate you.” The language of mattering is universal; no translation necessary. Tell people and tell them often how much they matter!

12.  Choose2Matter

Mattering is a choice. Give yourself that option everyday. It doesn’t matter how you do it- it only matters that you do it. You can say it, write it, tweet it, or deliver the message in person. Make the choice everyday to tell, offer, thank, encourage, inspire, and let others know you notice and believe in them. It could be and often will be the most powerful thing you do all day. Is mattering on your TO DO list?

I’ll leave you with this final thought and challenge.

  • Can you imagine what kind of world we can create by each of us knowing we matter, believing in ourselves and supporting one another?

  • Can you imagine how actions you take today, could make a difference in some one’s life tomorrow? And that ripple would last for generations?

I can, and I know this simple, clear message of “YOU MATTER”  has the power to change lives and change the world.