Author’s Note: This article was originally published in the June 13 issue of the Ephrata Review.
By Rosalba Ugliuzza
While members of Ephrata High School’s Class of 2012 embark on their first steps into the future, alumni from the Class of 2002 travel back in time with surprise letters from their past.
In keeping up with his 14-year tradition, psychology teacher Allen Harding has recently mailed out batches of letters that his former students had written to themselves in his defunct Social Issues class 10 years ago.
The letters are meant to be a goal-setting activity to encourage students to think outside the box and write about their future.
“I give them some topics like relationships, jobs, are they married, are they going to have children, things with their parents and other friends,” Harding said. “It’s trying to make students think what could happen to them in 10 years or what would (they) want to have happen.”
After the students write their letters, they seal and address the envelopes. Harding marks down the date to be mailed and keeps the sealed envelopes in a filing cabinet. When the 10th year rolls around, those letters get sent out.
While some alumni receive their letter via mail or from their parents, Harding said he does get envelopes back from the post office when an alumnus or family member doesn’t live at that particular address anymore.
“I’ve had decent success in getting these letters out. There are some that I hold on to. I’m not going to get rid of them,” he said.
Unfortunately, Harding has had to mail some letters out early to those who have died.
“I don’t like doing that. I try to make my students promise that they’ll still be around in 10 years,” he said.
Harding doesn’t seem to recall how the idea came to fruition, but he does remember the first time he assigned the activity and one former student’s response.
“I remember because of a guy named Brett Martin. Before he sealed his letter, he put a dollar bill in (the envelope),” he said. “I said, ‘Brett, what are you doing?’ He said, ‘Mr. Harding, in 10 years, I might need this dollar.’ I think I still have his letter, but I haven’t found Brett yet.”
Harding said some of his former students have gone overboard with the letters like writing “Mom and Dad: Not For Your Eyes” on the envelope.
The topic of the letters has extended to the social media platform as some alums, like 2001 graduate Amanda Wade Cieri, have queried on Facebook.
“I asked my friends on my status if they got their letters. Oddly enough, the letter came about two or three weeks after I made the remark on Facebook,” said Cieri. “I realize that I still talk the way I wrote. I also found my old school ID and a quarter from Maryland. I thought the quarter would have been lost.”
While some may have initially forgotten about doing this activity, others were surprised by what they wrote.
Class of 2002 president Carrie Rupp said her gut reaction upon receiving the letter was to laugh and shake her head at her 18-year-old self.
“When you’re 18, and a senior in high school, you think are so mature, so invincible, and that you know everything,” she said. “It was funny to read some of the things and the people I wrote about that at the time, seemed like such a priority, but today are a non-factor in my life.”
Rupp said she’s “blessed” for accomplishing most of the things she wrote in her letter and also for the things she didn’t add like receiving her master’s degree.
“I’m surprised that in my letter I put such an emphasis on being married and having a family within the 10-year window,” she said. “In reality, furthering my education and focusing on my career has been more of a priority than what my 18-year-old self imagined.”
Like Cieri, 2002 alumni like Tina Wargo Deitrich and Andrea Mull Reynolds had family on their horizon. An elementary school instructor, Deitrich, of Lancaster, said she had hoped she would find a good man who owned a farm.
“I have the guy but no farm,” she said. “We have two children and a dog.”
Cieri had mentioned having children in her letter, but she and her husband got the next best thing: two Jack Russell Terriers named Murphy and Molly.
Reynolds, who lives in Landisville with her husband John, another Class of 2002 alumnus, and their daughter, Alyssa, said the letter could be considered as a “this is your life” moment.
“It was fun to look back and see how much I have grown as an adult,” she said. “It gave me a chance to reflect back at who I was and who I thought I wanted to be.”
Harding has received mostly positive feedbacks from parents, students, and EHS Principal Joane Eby. He’ll even run into his former students expressing their desire to receive their letters in the mail.
He has run into a few alums who have wanted to change what they’ve written in their letter before reaching the 10-year mark.
“Two years after this couple graduated, they split up. Both of them cornered me and wanted to change their letter,” Harding said. “They did get back together, and they’re now married and have two daughters. So it’s kind of humorous that they wanted to change things.”
Seniors in Harding’s psychology class got serious when it came time to write their letters this year. Though it’s only a semester class, the news spreads quickly in the hallway on what to expect.
“First semester people get the letter, and they pass the word on to the second semester people,” Harding said. “They want to know what it is, and they look forward to it.”
Harding said he looks forward to when his daughter gets her letter nine years from now.
With the constant advancement of technology, Deitrich said having students reflect their life’s goals and aspiration in writing is important.
“I would say keep having them put pen to paper and handwrite their letters, even though we tend to email and text primarily now,” she said.
An educator of Ephrata High School for 18 years, Harding said he has no plans of discontinuing his favorite activity.
“I’m going to continue to do it until I’m told not to,” he said.
If any alum has not received his or her letter from Harding, email him at email@example.com.