For many, the end of this summer will be remembered for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Though television viewership was down compared to the past, the games still created amazing storylines that will not soon be forgotten. Whereas the United States finished with the most medals followed by China and Japan, it is the personal stories that will be remembered most.
Decorated with medals
Gymnastics took center stage early in the games. Who can forget the unexpected turn of events when Simone Biles stepped back from several events due to mental health? Suni Lee, who made the most of her unexpected opportunity, captivated hearts not just because of her amazing performances but because of her story.
A child of Hmong refugee immigrants, Suni became the first Asian American to win the gold medal in the women’s individual all-around gymnastics final. She did so with the support of her family and friends, including her father, who is paralyzed from the waist down due to a fall in 2019.
US swimmers Caeleb Dressel and Katie Ledecky continued to demonstrate their dominance as did Allyson Felix, who became the most decorated female Olympian in track and field history. And watching Dutch runner Sifan Hassan overcome falling down on her final lap of the 1500-meter race to win her heat was truly inspirational.
Periodically throughout the Olympics, NBC Broadcaster Steve Kornackiwould update viewers by breaking down the medal counts election style. He was gregarious and quick witted, but ultimately, his percentages and predictions shared only one dimension of the Olympics. Yes, medals play a huge role, but it’s the personal stories we ultimately remember.
Impacted by stories
Of all the stories from the Tokyo games, it was a Toyota commercial that impacted me with the visual tale told. The commercial never showed a car. Rather, it highlighted the story of 12-year-old Jessica Long, who will be competing in the Paralympics for Team USA later this month.
Jessica is already a decorated Paralympian swimmer with 23 medals to her credit, including 13 gold. That fact alone is amazing. But the commercial spotlighted a different story. Through poignant images and minimal speaking, viewers learn the story of Jessica’s adoption from Siberia, the illness that caused her to lose her legs, and the love of Jessica’s adoptive family who chose to walk that difficult path with her. Toyota shared the story behind the medals.
As I consider Christian education and the promotion of our schools, it is very important to make the case with facts and figures that demonstrate the achievements of our schools. We should highlight measurables that families weigh as they consider schooling options for their children (e.g. number of students, average SAT, number of AP classes, dual enrollment options, college acceptances and matriculations, faculty with advance degrees). I believe that Christian schools are improving in this regard and making it easier for families to find this information on our websites. But are we missing a dimension that truly impacts families?
Sharing student stories
The question that arises after watching the Tokyo Olympics is, how often are we promoting the stories of our own students? We have incredible examples of students who have been impacted by our schools and by our faculty and staff. These stories are powerful and may encourage other families in a different way than just the facts and figures. What are the compelling stories of students that you share? How do you share them? Where are they highlighted? Are they easy for prospective families to find? How are you gathering these stories?
Schools have done a better job of highlighting the colleges that their students are being admitted to, but what do we share with prospective families about after our alumni are enrolled in higher education or graduated? How successful have our graduates been in completing their degrees? What are some of our recent graduates doing after completing their degrees? How can we build a network of our younger alumni willing to highlight their stories and the amazing things they are doing? Building this network will connect the alumni back to the school as well as provide testimonies of former students who have been impacted by the school and now are impacting the world.
Our schools are filled with amazing students with amazing stories. It is imperative to share these in a way that brings glory to the Lord and gives a glimpse into the incredible things that are taking place at each school. We can paint by number, but it is the images that remain in the minds of many. Just like the Olympics, let’s share the stories of our schools’ heroes, those who have demonstrated achievement and character. These stories can invite more families and students to join the team.