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Claire Hoffman '18 on Thanksgiving

November 21, 2017

During assembly on Tuesday, November 21, Claire Hoffman '18 made the annual Thanksgiving address. Historically, Burroughs invited an outside speaker, but more than a decade ago, the school decided to look within the community for a more intimate message. Now, every year the senior class selects a classmate ~ the only criteria: "Who would you like to hear from?" The Class of 2018 chose Claire, whose complete remarks follow:

Good morning, Mr. Abbott, faculty and staff, guests, John Burroughs students, and the class of 2018.

I am very nervous. I’ve been very nervous for about as long as I’ve been aware that I was chosen to be the Thanksgiving speaker this year. Upon hearing the news, my excitement and appreciation for receiving this honor were quickly overshadowed by a frantic, worried, and, overall, just distraught emotional state. It’s funny because I’ve not been able to walk before. And despite being able to survive paralysis, I genuinely believed that it would be this seven-minute speech that I deliver once in my life that would end up being my undoing. So, it’s safe to say that I completely lost perspective. Which as it turns out, is something that I have a tendency of doing.

As many of you know, I spent some time in the hospital a few years ago. It was during this time that really I honed my aforementioned habit. I lost perspective on things, especially when it came to the topic of today’s speech: gratitude. When I entered the hospital, I had lost all function in my body from the waist down. I stayed in the hospital for the next four months and committed myself to a pretty grueling recovery. This was a very unhappy time in my life, and it was one where I often succumbed to my fear and my devastation and forgot about all of the things for which I still had to be thankful. I chose to ignore the support that I was receiving from everyone in my life, from this community, and even from some people that I had never met. Instead, I focused my energy on all of the things that I hated.

And one thing that I thoroughly hated, was a particular occupational therapy student. She was irritating, and frustrating, and somebody that I could absolutely not stand telling me what to do. But she was also always around, and I couldn’t escape her because she was shadowing my occupational therapist, so we were forced to spend a lot of time together. I spent about 100 percent of the time with her thinking that she was actually detrimental to my health rather than beneficial. Our interaction soon became a situation that clearly neither one of us wanted to be a part of, and it all came to a head on her very last day at the hospital. I don’t remember what we were talking about or what prompted her to say what she said, I just remember that she turned to me and very emphatically avowed, “You are such a brat.” I was completely taken aback. I couldn’t believe that she would say something like that to me. In my mind, I was just this poor, innocent disabled girl who didn’t have to live up to her actions. I could do what I wanted because my life was so hard. I soon became aware, though, that she was totally right about me. I had been acting like a brat, and it took this woman, who I had spent weeks detesting and feeling superior to, calling me out for my behavior for me to accept that I was acting like a brat. It was a difficult realization for me. Amidst my anger at the situation, at the world, at the Make a Wish Foundation for not granting me a wish and therefore sabotaging my dream of marrying Harry Styles. Amidst all of this anger, I had clearly lost perspective. I lost sight of values that are really important to me. My compassion, kindness, and gratitude had all been forgotten.

So, why am I telling you this story? Well, aside from the fact that I genuinely just love talking about myself, there’s actually a point that I’m trying to make. Before I started writing this speech, and I was still in that very panicky, I-have-literally-nothing-to-say state-of-mind, Ms. Yetter gave me some exceedingly helpful advice. She told me to consider what I thought would be good for this audience to hear. I did think about it, and what I came up with was this whole notion of perspective and how easy it is to lose it. Whether you’re a senior, and every mention of the common app makes you want to drop out of school—just a little bit more—or you’re new to Burroughs this year and the stress is really starting to kick in, or you’re patiently awaiting the impending feeling of doom that often accompanies holiday-induced family gatherings, times like these make losing perspective a really easy thing for any of us to do. But as I’ve learned, it’s when you’re going through a hard time in life, maybe even the hardest time of your life, that it becomes imperative to stay thankful and to remain cognizant of all that’s good.

I know that maintaining perspective is a lot easier said than done. I know that it’s really difficult to take a step back and realize both that you have a lot to be grateful for and that the things you’re fretting about may not actually be that significant. Before I had to learn to walk again, I had really never been through anything. My perspective didn’t stretch beyond my 15 years of mundane suburban living. So things like late homework assignments and facing ten-point quizzes really did feel like the end of the world to me. Going to a school like ours, where we operate in an intense and often competitive atmosphere, I think getting stuck in our own heads becomes the most natural and easiest thing to do. We get stressed out and suddenly gratitude and compassion aren’t our top priorities. I’m not trying to say that I went through this inspirational, life-altering journey and now I understand everything, because I certainly do not understand everything. I still freak out about issues that don’t matter; I still over-analyze situations; I still cause myself a lot of unnecessary anxiety. But now, once I have that initial freak out, it’s easier for me to a take a step back and consider that, maybe, that one line in my resume isn’t actually going to determine whether or not I get into college; maybe, I shouldn’t spend so much time thinking about all of the trivial matters that makes me unhappy; maybe, I should instead focus on all in my life that is going well.

So this year, Thanksgiving is serving as a reminder to me to put things in perspective, and I hope that it does for you, too. I hope that after all of the stuffing is demolished, and you’ve plopped yourself down on the couch to nurse that second trimester food baby, you take a moment, unfettered from all of your stressors, and contemplate all that you still have to be grateful for. Thank you all so much for listening, and happy Thanksgiving.

Following a stand ovation by the entire assembly, Claire was rushed by friends!