No one could have imagined the end of the 2019-20 school year and how it would affect our students, especially our seniors.

I know every school district has had significant challenges and opportunities. We certainly are living by this Milton Berle quote: "If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." With so many doors closed to us right now, we have been trying to build doors everywhere.

I want to take this moment to tell you about how career-technical education in general and Tolles Career & Technical Center specifically go about building doors for students every day.

We are very proud of the class of 2020. We honor students' work and their flexibility during this time.

Please read this letter from a parent of a Tolles graduating senior:

Dear Tolles Leadership!

This year, we did not get a chance to have ceremonies, dinners and celebrations, but most importantly, (we had no) opportunity to express our gratitude to the teachers who have dedicated their time and their effort to our kids throughout the school year. Especially the graduating class.

My daughter is graduating this year from a high school that is supported by Tolles, as well as the Tolles culinary program. It is a bittersweet experience with so many unprecedented events happening in our world.

Four years ago, when my daughter entered ninth grade, she started to struggle at school, and one of her teachers recommended Tolles as an alternative academic solution. At this time, she also enjoyed cooking, so she became excited about the opportunity with Tolles and joining (the) culinary program under chef Gregg Needles.

At Tolles, her academic teachers were very patient, flexible and understanding, finding personal approaches to teaching that would work for her. She continued to work hard, but now she was seeing positive results and started to say things like, "Mom, I can do math now," "Mom, I am actually good at math," "Mom, guess what we are doing in English." She was very excited about her classes (which is unusual for a teenager!). She also started to improve her grades and believe in her own abilities. Some of the teachers she spoke highly of are Mr. McGhee (English), Mrs. Canterbury (English), Mr. Haskell (math) (and) Mrs. Klosterman (math). I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for all they have done for my daughter over the past year! What you do matters so much to the kids and their parents!

The one person who played the biggest role in her "transformation" from a shy, awkward teenager with low self-esteem to a strong, accomplished and successful young woman is chef Gregg Needles! Her favorite time was spent in her culinary lab with chef Needles, chef Nick and her classmates. In his class, (Needles) created a safe and supported environment; he made kids feel comfortable to talk to him (in) a place where kids wanted to show up, but he also fostered an environment of teamwork, discipline, accountability (and) flexibility, allowing for growth through individual and group activities in the lab. Chef Needles had the perfect balance of work and play, where kids felt safe yet were growing as individuals and professionals. Most importantly, chef Needles became a mentor and the biggest supporter of the kids. It didn't matter who you were or where you came from. He shares genuine interest to understand the kids, what they want to do, and (he) invested significant time to help them achieve their goals and potential. During the times where there is tremendous pressure for teens to find their path in life and who they are, he created a space for kids to grow without being judged.

As a parent, I could not be more grateful to someone for taking a personal interest in not only giving my daughter great culinary skills but giving her the biggest gift of all -- belief in yourself! Knowing you are worth it and you can do anything you put your heart and mind toward is an incredible gift.

Each day, we try to create this story for all of the students who walk through our doors. Our mission is to create an experience that goes beyond our students,' families' and partners' expectations, with marketable skills and positive relationships to ensure all Tolles students are prepared for their successful futures. We aspire to live this out every day, and for this student, it sounds like we did.

My heart goes out to all moms and dads of seniors right now and all students in the class of 2020.

And to the graduating class of 2020, remember, it is not the cards you are dealt in life that matter the most. It is how well you play them.

Emmy Beeson is superintendent of Tolles Career & Technical Center, which includes students from the Dublin and Hilliard school districts. Contact her at