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Sharon F. Cramer: It’s never too late to say thank you

As another academic year comes to a close, many people anchor their futures by looking backward. Taking pride in their own accomplishments, they also mentally give credit to others, those people who helped them evolve.

The powerful bonds between teacher and student, principal and teacher, mentor and mentee, are akin to musical celebrations: music arouses intellectual appreciation, but moves us by stirring our feelings.

Thinking back on interactions with a mentor or teacher includes memories of when the person pushed us to be better and rejoiced with us. A piece of music is not one single note endlessly repeated: memories of work with a mentor offer many vivid reflections. Instead of privately summoning up powerful memories, why not share them?

Several organizations to which I belong gave members opportunities to honor a mentor. I looked back over the decades to two mentors whose valuable guidance remained vivid: they envisioned more for (and of) me than I ever could have imagined on my own. Their confidence inspired me. I wrote to them, to let them know how much their encouragement had influenced me – and I was surprised at how touched each was by my outreach. Saying thank you is never “too late.”

Gratitude is at the core of being nurtured by a mentor. Instead of being a burden, or the source of guilt, any expression of gratitude touches both the giver and receiver; it can be likened to the reverberations created by plucking a stringed instrument. There are two completely separate outcomes: the finger feels the string respond, the instrument gives forth sound. Both mentor and mentee are touched in ways that defy categorization.

At the simplest level, gratitude is an expression of thanks. “Thank you” need not be elaborate to be meaningful. When my father was closing his upholstery business in 2005, after 57 years, he sent me a box containing every written expression of thanks he had ever received. I took his package, and made sure the notes never disappeared. Many are captured at

He kept everything – invoices with just a few scribbled words, returned with the check, as well as elaborate explanations of how the writer appreciated his perfect upholstery or the extra effort my father expended. The notes told stories about him, as well as about his customers’ lives. The oldest, from the earliest years of his business, showed the remains of tape; he had posted the note, savored the thanks. Reading, I learned much about him.

Recently, I was on the other side of such sharing. A condolence letter I sent was meaningful to the daughter who received it: “You helped me to see the effect my mother’s work had on others.”

Ripples of gratitude can extend even further. At Nardin Academy’s graduation ceremony, the outgoing president helped the graduates and their families to better understand gratitude. Marsha Joy Sullivan shared her deepest appreciation for all that her years of service at Nardin had meant to her. She helped her audience members to see clear connections between her gratitude for their involvement with her, and the generosity she experienced toward them.

Barriers – be they time, reluctance or uncertainty – can be surmounted when gratitude morphs into generosity.