Six words of gratitude: A new MD initiative

Clementine Bondor and Lucas Glickman

This month, students in the Middle Division (MD) described, in only six words, that for which they were grateful. Head of the Middle Division Javaid Khan, who organized the project, was inspired by a similar initiative by the New York Times Learning Network. The exercise aimed to “share the joys and gratitude that managed to poke through a year dominated by suffering,” according to the author of the original article in the Times, Larry Smith. “I’ve found that some of the most memorable six-word stories arise in the extremes — during our toughest and most joyous moments,” Smith wrote.

“I read it and thought, ‘Oh, we’re doing that,’” Khan wrote. In times of intermittent quarantines, masks, closures, and cancellations, gratitude can have a hugely positive impact, Khan wrote. “It is extremely important for our own mental health that we not spend overwhelming amounts of time with unhappy thoughts.”

Khan posed the prompt in an email on the evening of Sunday, January 3, and, as of Thursday morning, the email had garnered 47 responses. Both students and faculty added anonymous posts to a community Padlet board, Khan wrote. The posts included a wide range of reasons for gratitude: friends, family, pets, food, games, and extra free time. “When prompted, people can easily identify the things — little and not so little — that they are thankful for,” Khan wrote. “Thinking about who and what we are grateful for in our lives can change the way we navigate unpredictable times.” 

“Six words may not seem like a lot at first glance, but it gives a chance to give very pointed statements to the essence of what matters to you,” Middle Division English teacher Kathy George said. The initiative gave a sense of where the community is and how students and faculty may be able to support and respond to what other people present, she said. 

Many expressed gratitude for the people with whom they had spent more time in recent months: “Fuzzy felines to watch Netflix with.” “Family, Friends, Teachers, Doctors, Activists, Maintenance.” Nikki Pande (8) said her six words were “diving for the volleyball with friends.”  

Similarly, students said they were grateful for entertainment during quarantine; other submissions included “Playing games online with school friends,” and “Losing Uno. Places Draw 2 Perfectly. Redemption.” Submissions of self-reflection were also on the list, such as “The strength you find in yourself,” “Getting to try my hardest again,” and “The love that’s shown to me.”

“[The initiative] was an experience for people to express more serious thoughts, more playful thoughts so it was a wide-open space,” George said. 

“Practicing the act of gratitude in any number of words, spoken or written, privately or in public, is a meaningful mindfulness practice that everyone benefits from,” Seminar on Identity Coordinator Louise Parms wrote. 

Before the “Giving Thanks in Six Words” initiative, Josh Borut (8) had never sat down to consider what he was grateful for, he said. “The initiative benefits the community as a whole,” Borut said.

However, this is not the only project in the MD putting an emphasis on students’ wellbeing, Khan wrote. As a follow-up to a division-wide assembly held in partnership with the JCK Foundation — a group dedicated to emphasizing the importance of mental health awareness and support amongst youth — advisories in every grade discussed stressors in their lives and potential strategies to combat those stressors, Khan wrote. 

 Additionally, for the final assembly of 2020, some attendees dressed up in festive attire, and others chose unique Zoom backgrounds and filters. A group of judges identified and congratulated the “most festive” community members, Khan wrote. During the assembly, students also played a game called “Guess Who?” where they used a polling feature to identify faculty baby pictures. 

“Despite the distance that is between us, we shouldn’t let it grow,” Borut said. “You should always text your friends, contact them, and see if there are online activities that you can do as keeping up your well being is the most important thing during these hard times.”

The six-word gratitude initiative helped students realize that even the simple things cannot be taken for granted, Pande said. Furthermore, though conversations about mental health can be uncomfortable, they are necessary to have. If students are struggling, it is good to know that others understand. Guidance counselors and Upper Division mentors are people with whom students can connect, she said.