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How does one discuss an emotion of the heart to a large group of middle school students? How about to more than 475 students gathered for an all-school assembly about compassion? This was our challenge a few weeks back at Lincoln Middle School, with the School of the Arts II and Coulee Montessori Charter Schools in attendance.

It was only because of the generosity of the La Crosse Public Education Foundation, which awarded the grant funding to our student council for this assembly, that we were able to shed some new light on the meaning of compassion. As our grant request was titled, we were able to provide a stage for “Living compassion; real-life stories of human kindness.”

Compassion is much more than simply giving things, such as food, money or clothing, to individuals in need. While these examples of charity are clearly acts of compassion, not all compassion involves charity. Compassion can be nothing more than a kind word, a helping hand, a thoughtful gesture, standing up for someone who is a victim of others. Compassion can be offered without qualifications — from young to old, from poor to wealthy. Compassion is truly an equal opportunity emotion.

Many times, profound compassion may come out of an intentional mindset — to grow an awareness of others; to really listen to what they are saying and to be sensitive to the messages that others may be sending when we are communicating face-to-face. To listen more and to speak less, moving the focus off of us and on to those around us.

One goal of our assembly was to underscore the message that there is always someone who is worse off. We recalled the well-known quotation, “I used to cry because I had no shoes, until I saw a man who had no feet.” That we are mindful of others in our school setting — with a focus on those who are isolated, sitting alone, or who are clearly weighed down by sadness.

We sought to help our students understand that real influence is not solely contained in athletic prowess or strong academic performance. It was noted that “people really don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The power of compassion, when fully realized, is more profound and redemptive than any other human interaction.

To underscore the message, we were honored to host two speakers from the region to share their stories of compassion and forgiveness. Devyn Prelipp told the audience how she lost her mother through an act of domestic violence. A nurse by profession, her mother was kind and compassionate to others, modeling that behavior to her young daughter. Devyn shared that she has been able to help others in a multitude of ways, as her mother always did during her life.

Tim Vernier spent time in federal prison because of activities in his professional life. He described his experiences during incarceration and afterward, with poignant moments of compassion that he has received, and has extended to others, during the entire ordeal and in the years since.

As music is often a conduit to one’s heart, we hosted musicians John Smith and Dan Sebranek to share a few songs from their warm repertoire that speak to the human condition, offering hope, kindness, inspiration and love.

True compassion may be something that is easy to define but more challenging to understand in daily situations — particularly for many in middle school. Our society seems to be moving with haste in a direction where crudeness is replacing kindness, where selfishness is more prevalent than sharing.

Numerous students did respond to the call — through compassionate words and deeds — in the days that followed. Some were those who, in their young lives, have been forced to travel the road of trauma and dysfunction. They could better understand the grueling impact of the personal experiences shared by our guest speakers more than most students.

Perhaps our efforts were like a drop in the ocean. Nevertheless, it was imperative and essential to host this assembly. Life is too short to not be kind and compassionate to others. In a similar way, life is too long to not engage in the same.

We are deeply appreciative to the La Crosse Public Education Foundation for their support and generosity in providing the funding for this project. To learn more about this amazing organization, or to consider a donation, please visit:

True compassion may be something that is easy to define but more challenging to understand in daily situations — particularly for many in middle school.

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Rick Blasing is a school counselor in the School District of La Crosse.


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