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A Big Thank You

November 16, 2021

ADDO has the opportunity to work on many incredible initiatives -

but one of my favorites is our partnership with Chick-fil-A to create Chick-fil-A Leader Academy—a national high school leadership program that empowers and equips young people to make a difference in their local communities. Chick-fil-A Leader Academy is in more than 950 schools in 40+ states, and every year, we encourage all our students to participate in the “Big Thank You”.

Quick context: The “Big Thank You” is simple—first, we encourage students to find someone who has impacted their life. It may be a parent or a grandparent. It might be a teacher, or a pastor, or a coach. Then we ask students to thank that person, but to do it in a big way. What does big look like? Well, if you would normally text someone to thank them, call them instead. If you normally call them, write them a letter. If you would write them a letter, thank them in person. The point is to find a unique way to thank them and acknowledge their contribution to your life. We believe there is power in thanking the people that have helped you get where you are today.

I want to share a story with you about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and how his expression of gratitude changed his former teacher’s life. This excerpt comes from my book 8 Essential Exchanges: What You Have to Give Up to Go Up.

“A few years ago, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gave a compelling and unusual speech at a graduation. At most commencement ceremonies the speeches focus on the students’ achievements and their futures. But Justice Thomas did the reverse. He told the crowd to remember that the reason they had gotten to this point in their lives was only because others had sacrificed for them. Then he told a story about his eighth grade teacher. Years after he left the school, he returned to his hometown and went to her room to express his gratitude for her profound impact on his life. He said that since she had taught more than 40 years, he assumed he was among a long list of students who had come back to thank her. She told him, ‘No, you’re the first.’

When that teacher was 95 years old, Justice Thomas went to visit her at a retirement center in New Jersey. In her small room that day, she pointed out the things that were to be given away upon her passing: a rosary, a prayer book, and some other items. Then she pointed to a picture of her with Justice Thomas that sat on her nightstand. She picked it up, and holding it she said, ‘This goes in my coffin with me.’”

The initiative to simply thank an eighth grade teacher changed her perspective and, ultimately, her life. It confirmed her calling and reminded her of how important her life and work was to her students. In all of her 40 years of teaching, no other student had come back to thank her for her hard work and sacrifice as an educator.

How many of us have gratitude that we never express?

Here are two powerful quotes:

“Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” – G.B. Stern, Famous Twentieth-Century Author and Playwright

John F. Kennedy once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.”

It was great for Justice Thomas to share his thankfulness. Furthermore, his greatest form of gratitude to his eighth grade teacher was expressed in the way he chose to live his life.

Do you have unexpressed gratitude? Are you living a life that’s worthy of the investment other people have made in you?

Each of us can do the Big Thank You.

When you finish reading this blog, stop, find one person you need to thank, and do it.

It could be a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a pastor, a mentor, a boss, or a friend. Find one person and pick up the phone, pick up a pen and piece of paper, or plan a trip to thank this person for their impact on your life.

After you thank them, consider your own actions and strive to live in such a way that shows you are truly thankful.


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