I recently had the opportunity”to go shopping with my wife and some friends. We were in Saugatuck, Mich., for a long weekend, and since it was raining, we were limited in the number of activities from which we had to choose. So, our wives suggested we head to Holland to shop, knowing that their husbands would be able to find a place to grab a cold drink and watch college football when they got tired of shopping. That is what I call a win-win.

Now shopping has never been one of my favorite activities, but the store we started in did have some very interesting wall hangings and signs, with some pretty funny sayings on them. One particular statement caught my eye, not because it was funny, but because it was very profound.

It was a quote from John Lennon that read: “When I was five years old my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down, ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

After reading this quote, I began to think about the students in our school district. I wondered how many times we have asked our kids what they wanted to be when they grow up and waited to hear about their career path of choice. I then thought about what kind of response a student would have received from an adult if they answered the question the way John Lennon did. I know the conversations I had with my own kids when they were younger were all about future careers, not about being happy. Maybe it’s time we start asking our students different questions about their future.

Last May, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of WDHS seniors on their first day out of high school. The graduates were asked to come back to Peosta Elementary for breakfast and to visit the elementary school they had attended years ago. As I addressed this group of about 20 recent graduates from our district I decided to ask them who they wanted to be when they grew up. Although I didn’t ask them to share their responses, I am sure that many of them would have mentioned a parent or close family member, but I bet several of them would have also listed someone who works in our school system. Who you want to be when you grow up is a much more thought-provoking question. It digs into what you value and what characteristics you want to emulate in your own life. The answers might involve a future career, but they will also include attributes that might have nothing to do with a career choice.

Each day, we are presented with opportunities to help the students of our district learn and grow into who they want to be. By working to create a positive culture in our schools we provide our students with an environment that will teach them how to be resilient and persevere even when things get tough. The work we are doing, as well as the people who are doing it, are what make this such an amazing place to live and work. I feel very fortunate to be a part of the communities we call the Western Dubuque School District.