Photo courtesy of Deirdre Cassidy
Methow Valley Community School students with teacher Deirdre Cassidy, circa 2002.

By Ashley Lodato

Many of us received fun surprises over the holidays: coveted gifts, meaningful experiences, unexpected visits from friends and family. But a group of 20-somethings who attended the Methow Valley Community School (MVCS) as fourth- through sixth-graders in the early 2000s welcomed a different type of surprise, in the form of a letter in their mailboxes. These letters were both familiar and alien: familiar because they were written by the recipients; alien because the writing occurred roughly 15 years ago.

Backtracking a bit, here’s the story. When longtime Methow Valley resident Deirdre Cassidy was a teacher at the MVCS, she was teaching her fourth- through sixth-grade students how to write letters. And then she said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to write a letter to your 25-year-old self?”

Deirdre asked the students to write letters telling their 25-year-old selves what they — as 9- to 11-year-old selves — did and valued.

“Tell your 25-year-old self the things you think you might be interested in at that age. Tell yourself about your current favorite things to do, what you’re reading, what you like to eat,” she told them. “Write about your aspirations and goals, and about what you think you might be doing at 25.”

Deirdre collected the letters and squirrelled them away in a file cabinet in folders labeled with send dates. (To put that in perspective, can you put your hands on anything you stashed away 15 years ago?) Although her original intention was to mail a batch every year as groups of students turned 25, due to some casual record-keeping this year’s batch spanned a wider range of ages.

Still, the former students who received the letters last week are all in their early to mid-20s, now launched from the loving nest of the Methow Valley and making their way in the world as adults.

Deirdre was with Pam and Terry Hunt on Christmas, who were delighted to receive their son Galen’s letter in the mail. Because Galen is a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala and mail service is slow and sketchy, the Hunts read Galen’s letter aloud to him over the phone. The 10-year-old Galen apparently wanted to be a computer programmer (“which was news to us!” say the Hunts); 20-something Galen has spent the early years of his career in public service roles.

As for Deirdre’s experience with the letter-writing project, the process of getting the letters into the mail has been surprisingly rewarding. “The fun thing for me is that I’ve reconnected with all these young people,” says Deirdre. “If their parents have moved away, I’m having to figure out where the kids are now, and to do that I’ve reached out to others in their cohort. That has led me to getting reacquainted with so many of them.”

Deirdre notes that because the MVCS was so small and because she taught three grades, she really got to know her students. “It was a very special time in my life,” she says. “I got very close to my students.”

Deirdre adds, “I hope I can always keep in contact with them.” A sentiment, I suspect, that is echoed by her former students.

If you’re a recent high school graduate and MVCS alum wondering where your letter is, you have to wait another few years. Patience, young grasshopper.

PREVIOUSLY, IN WINTHROP

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