First Gratitude Assembly Brings Ellis Community Together to Appreciate People, Moments that Make an Impact

Just before winter break began, The Ellis School held its first Gratitude Assembly, an event that will likely be held annually as part of Ellis’ winter holiday celebrations. The event featured student representatives from each division who shared what they are grateful for, including what they love about Ellis. Division Heads and Head of School Macon Finley shared the same.
Ms. Finley noted that it’s hard to get the whole school community together in one room and that she was grateful for the ability to do so. Head of Upper School Amanda Finigan and Head of Middle School Jenn Moynihan both shared the importance of using this time of year to reflect on the small moments—those that fill us with gratitude for our relationships with others and those "moments of wonder” that help us pause and look at everyday things in a new way. Head of Lower School Jamie Schiff said she felt grateful for the welcome she received when she arrived at Ellis for the start of the school year, and she shared a quote from a Lower School student who told her, "Ellis is warm, Ellis is love, Ellis is just…just…just…full of children, teachers, and love!”

Students shared their appreciation for friends and teachers who help and support them, as well as for their families, their education, and as junior Evi Teter shared, “the fact I get to live in such a beautiful and complex world.”

Senior Katriel Camp shared a keynote-style speech, calling out lessons she has learned through her Jewish faith and encouraging her classmates to look at all they currently have in their lives for which they can be truly grateful. The full text of her speech is below:

"Good morning, everyone. My name is Katriel Camp and I am a senior. I would first like to thank Ms. Finigan and the Upper School faculty for giving me the opportunity to speak to you all this morning. I am so honored to have been selected for this occasion. 

When Ms. Finigan asked me to speak about gratitude today, the first thing that came to my mind was a piece of text from my Jewish tradition, from a section of the Talmud known as Pirkei Avot. This book is a compilation of ethics to help guide people towards humility, wisdom, and kindness. The passage reads: "Who is wise? One who learns from every other person… Who is mighty? One who subdues their anger…[and] Who is rich? One who is happy with what they have.” 

There are many lessons to be learned from this book. This last question in particular provides much to contemplate. It suggests that when you are happy with what you already have, you can feel like the richest person in the world. Those who are rich don’t need anything else. When you are happy with what you have, you feel like you lack nothing and you have everything you could possibly need. How amazing is that?

In Judaism, we call gratitude Hakarat HaTov, which literally means “finding the good.” If we focus on the things we have, even when other things are taken away from us, we have the ability to be happy. No matter how much we gain, there will always be things we don’t have. If we fixate only on what we lack, what we seek, or what others have that we want, we will always be endlessly dissatisfied. However, when we pay attention to the existing good in our lives, whatever it may be, we will find we have many things to be grateful for.
Researchers from the University of California, Davis and the University of Miami asked a group of study participants to write about different things that had happened to them that week for ten weeks in a 2002 research project. One third of the participants were asked to write about things that had irritated them. Another third of the participants were asked to write about anything that had affected them each week. And the last group was asked to write about things they were grateful for that week. By the end of the ten weeks, the group that focused on gratitude felt more optimistic and excited about their futures. And there are many similar studies with similar results. 

I implore you all to find the good in your life and discover the things for which you are truly grateful. You may be skeptical and think that feeling gratitude is difficult when much in life can be challenging. But there are many small things that bring us joy that we might not otherwise appreciate unless we think more deeply about what matters to us. Whether it be a friend sitting next to you right now, a family member you don’t get to see very often, or a warm mug of hot cocoa on a cold winter morning, there are many things in our life that bring us joy. And when we can be grateful for those things that we have, we can achieve even greater happiness.

I came to Ellis as a freshman in high school and there are many things that have led me to be speaking here today that I am grateful for. I am grateful for my teachers who have always pushed me to do my best. I am grateful for my classmates who challenge me in debates and offer alternative points of view to my own. I am grateful for my Ellis community that has inspired me and encouraged me to exceed even my own expectations. But I won’t dwell on everything that makes me grateful because then we would be here for hours. Rather, I want to share the joy of gratitude with all of you. 

To do this, I’d like to share a famous story, which may be urban legend, but illustrates the point. One evening in New York, Itzhak Perlman, the famous violinist, was supposed to give a concert. He was struck with polio as a child and had difficulty getting to his spot on the stage with his crutches and braces. The audience waited respectfully, and when he sat down, he signaled the conductor to begin so he could start his piece. After the first few measures, however, one of his violin strings broke. Since the piece had barely started, he could have requested a new string and started the piece over. But this is not what he did; rather, he paused, signaled the conductor to continue, and began to play again. With only three strings, he had to find innovative ways to play the notes, and when he couldn’t do that, he made up new music on the spot that flowed beautifully with the original piece. He played through the entire composition with talent and creativity until the end. When he finished, the audience erupted in applause—they knew they witnessed something extraordinary. 

When Perlman raised his hand for quiet, he reflected to the crowd: “Sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much beautiful music you can still make with what you have left.” Whether he was referring to the challenges of polio or his partially broken violin, it is clear that Perlman had an attitude of “finding the good.” With gratitude, he found the beauty in what he was given and created joy for so many people. Even though he was put in a difficult situation, he made what he could in the moment by finding his advantages in his situation. When we recognize the opportunities in our lives, as Perlman did, we can be grateful for all the amazing things our moments have to offer us.

Not only does feeling gratitude allow you to feel happier and fulfilled, but showing gratitude brings infinite joy to those around us. The holiday of Hanukkah starts this Sunday evening, and some of the most powerful symbols of this Jewish holiday are the candles that we light for eight days in our windows to spread light and joy to those around us. We use one candle as a helper candle to light the eight others. Like this helper candle, we all have the ability to brighten those around us with expressions of gratitude without diminishing our own light. 

Showing gratitude helps let the people around you know that they are valued and appreciated. There are so many people in our lives that deserve our thanks. Our teachers, advisors, friends, and family members go out of their way to help us succeed. Gratitude is not just an emotion that makes us happy when we recognize it in our surroundings, but it has so much power to make those around us feel that joy when we express it. Taking the time to show our gratitude for each other, for even the everyday courtesies and kindnesses, nourishes a collective spirit of appreciation.

Over the course of the next two weeks of vacation, we are able to slow down and enjoy happy moments of rest and rejuvenation. Perhaps we can seize this opportunity of downtime to embrace gratitude by noticing the things in our lives that bring us joy and express thanks to those around us. Maybe we will find that gratitude is just what we need to tread through the difficult times, and soar through the good ones. And perhaps we will learn that gratitude is the first step in achieving happiness, for us and everyone around us. Thank you, and have a wonderful winter break.”

- Katriel Camp, Class of 2023

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