The teachers, administrators and staff of USD 253 gathered for a Back to School Convocation and guest presentation Monday morning at Emporia High School.

Employees were encouraged to show up early for opportunities to win prizes, share breakfast provided in part by the Sweet Granada and Gravel City Roasters and even hear some live music.

“The Hopkins Foundation helped underwrite our speaker and cash prizes; we had the credit union here as usual handing out money; and the United Way was here to hand out books,” USD 253 Superintendent Kevin Case said. “The [National Education Association] was here and the county clerk was as well, registering people to vote for the upcoming bond election. We just had a lot of people step up and make this day a success, so I want to say ‘thank you’ to them.”

The atmosphere throughout the morning was one of encouragement, a theme which was perhaps best captured by guest speaker Dan Meers. Meers, the man behind the Kansas City Chiefs’ energetic wolf mascot, KC Wolf, for the last 29 NFL seasons, shared the story of an accident that changed his life and personal philosophy forever.

While training for a halftime show in Nov. 2013, Meers fell nearly 75 feet from a zipline above Arrowhead Stadium into the stands below. His impact was so great that it dislodged some of the stadium’s seats from their concrete bases.

“Not only had I broken seven ribs, I had also collapsed my left lung,” Meers said. “They discovered I had shattered my tailbone, I cracked my sacrum — that’s the bone that attaches to your tailbone — and I had a big gash on the back of my left leg that required stitches. I got several units of blood because I had lost a lot after I hit the seats. The worst injury doctors found was that I had broken my T-12 vertebrae in my back. The next day, I had surgery, and they gave me two titanium rods.”

During his lengthy hospital stay and the following rehabilitation process, Meers realized just how fortunate he was to be alive, let alone walk again. He began to see each day as a sort of coin which could be spent any way a person wished, but one that could only be spent once.

“I have a quote on my desk that I read every day first thing when I get into my office at Arrowhead,” Meers said. “It says, ‘This is the beginning of a brand new day. God has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it, or I can use it for good, but what I do on this day is important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes this day is going to be gone forever, leaving in its place something that I’ve traded for it. I want it to be gained and not lost, good and not evil, success and not failure in order that I shall not regret the price I paid for it.”

Meers challenged USD 253 employees to adopt the same mindset for every school day, emphasizing the importance of their words and actions on the young lives surrounding them. If there was one lesson he learned through his near-death experience, Meers said, it was that the worth of each personal relationship had much more value than a lifetime of paychecks or fancy purchases could ever convey.

“While I was laying in that hospital bed, not one time did — not once — did I think about how big my house was,” Meers said. “Not one time did I think about how nice my car was or if I had the latest smartphone or not or the latest, fashionable clothing.

“With your students this year, you don’t know what they’ve gone through at home when they come in those doors each morning. What you do know is that you get them for a certain amount of time each day. While you have them, love on those kids and let them know that they’re special. Make your relationships a priority.”

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