by Mr. Louie Centanni, Nativity’s Dean of Students
On May 30th, Dr. Edith Eva Eger—clinical psychologist and Holocaust survivor—shared her story with the Nativity Prep Academy community. Students and teachers who gathered expecting to hear living history were treated not only to heart-wrenching tales of her tragedies and triumphs during World War II, but also to inspirational advice about the benefits of an optimistic and grateful attitude in life.
As a 16-year-old girl, Dr. Eger was taken to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, where she was immediately—and permanently—separated from her parents. She spoke passionately about those she lost, but urged students to focus “not on what you have lost, but on what you still have.” She told of the importance of working together with her sister and other camp prisoners during that tragic time in order to survive. She conveyed the challenges she faced during her time as a prisoner, bringing tears to the eyes of students and staff alike.
Dr. Eger—or “Grandma,” as she asked to be called—centered her discussion on the merits of turning “hatred to pretty,” changing “I can’t” to “I can,” and “loving your neighbor as much as yourself.” She discussed the value of prayer and emphasized that, in the face of challenges, nobody can murder one’s spirit.
However, her inimitable spirit and refreshing humor tempered the talk. At one point, the former gymnast showed students she could still “do the high leg kick,” bringing the large group of students to laughter. She urged Juan Garcia (6th grade) to punch her, displaying the valuable lesson that humans can either fight back or step back.
“If I step back, the person who throws the punch falls. Not me,” she said.
In the end, she encouraged students to give 100% in the classroom and to visualize the success that they will one day have. She advised listeners to never ask, “Why me?” but instead to ask, “What now?” And perhaps most importantly, she advocated forgiveness over revenge.
“God brought me here to talk to you—as a mother of three, a grandmother of five, and a great-grandmother of three,” she said. “How’s that for revenge?”
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