Chris Gray, Ph.D. 

Founding President, Erie County Community College

For me, the practice of gratitude is profound and transformative. It goes beyond mere acknowledgment of gifts received, though; it involves recognizing the inherent value of people and experiences, fostering a positive perspective that can profoundly impact our mental and emotional well-being. This week, the United States is preparing to celebrate a national day of gratitude with the Thanksgiving holiday, and I think that it’s a good practice for each of us to take some time to pause and reflect. 

Back in 2012, Michelle Obama spoke about the importance of gratitude to human development during a speech at the Democratic National Convention. In the course of her talk, she said this about family lessons:  “We learned about gratitude and humility – that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean…and we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect.” We are all indebted to someone for our success, and – to paraphrase an old saying – no person is an island. There really is a village, to use the familiar metaphor. We each have a network of people supporting us, and family is just one example. It’s critical to acknowledge that support. 

At its core, gratitude is an acknowledgment of the good things in our life. It is the recognition that there are elements, both big and small, that contribute to our happiness. It also shifts our focus from what may be lacking to what is present, thereby fostering contentment and satisfaction with what we have. I try to highlight moments of gratitude regularly here in my blog, focusing on milestones and new programs, for instance. Today, however, I’d like to step back and take a wider view of EC3 as an institution and express my most sincere thanks and gratitude for what I see.  

Obviously, I want to thank our students first. I am so grateful to you for coming to us and trusting us to help transform your future. To our very first students, we were an unknown commodity; there was a LOT of uncertainty for those choosing to attend a brand new community college for the first time. And yet, they nevertheless trusted us to help them meet their educational goals.  Each semester, we’ve had more and more Erie County residents entrusting us with their time and with their dreams for the future. And every time I see more and more students joining our ranks, my heart just swells with gratitude.   

Second, only to our students, I’d next like to express my gratitude to our dedicated faculty and staff. Your tireless commitment to our students is what makes EC3 the growing and thriving institution we are today. Your passion for education and your unwavering support for our students are truly commendable. Your guidance goes far beyond the classroom, leaving a lasting impact on the many lives that you touch. In the face of challenges, you have demonstrated resilience and a profound belief in the potential of every student. Your devotion to fostering growth and creating a nurturing learning environment makes you the heart of our educational community.  

I’d also like to thank our community partners for their support and trust; thank you for choosing EC3 and letting us help support and create a skilled workforce for our county. The way in which area businesses have rallied around EC3 to help us create programs that will change our community forever is truly mind blowing.  We are full partners in this great and lasting endeavor, and I am so appreciative of our community’s continued commitment to our success.   

Finally, of course, I need to express my gratitude to our Board of Trustees for their leadership of this institution. Their unswerving support and guidance have been invaluable to me as EC3’s founding president. They steer this ship deliberately and carefully, and their dedication to our students is admirable. Today and always, thank you for your invaluable contributions to the success of our students and helping them to change their lives one class at a time. 

At the end of the day, expressing gratitude is a powerful tool for building and strengthening relationships. When we convey our appreciation to others, whether through words, gestures, or actions, it not only enhances their sense of worth but also deepens the connection between individuals. Gratitude creates a positive cycle that reproduces itself; we express thanks, and in so doing, we encourage positive behavior in others, thereby creating a reciprocal atmosphere of appreciation.  As we head off into the Thanksgiving holiday, I hope that you all know how very grateful I am for the wonder that is EC3.  We are building something great, and I’m thankful for each and every one of you and your contributions to our work.