Josh Wandell offers words of wisdom to his former students on the eve of their high school graduation

John Thompson • May 9, 2019 at 9:34 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Graduation is a time to look toward the future, but for many Elizabethton High School seniors, Thursday afternoon was also a chance to look back to how far they have come.

One of the newer traditions at the school is a senior tea that the system’s three elementary schools provide for the seniors who went through East Side, West Side and Harold McCormick.

The time was especially poignant at East Side because the graduates who attended East Side were there when Josh Wandell was the principal. He was an extremely popular principal but was forced to retire a few years after these students left East Side. Wandell suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He has fought a very public fight with the disease and Thursday was just another example.

Although Wandell earned his doctorate of education before he became ill, he told the seniors on Thursday that he was not that smart and could not give them any words of wisdom for their continuing collegiate and post-graduate endeavors. What he did offer them was his perspective from his experiences with health and illness. 

He told them not to settle for “good enough.” Speaking through a voice machine similar to the one Stephen Hawking used, Wandell told his former students not to settle for anything less than their bests. He gave them suggestions on how to improve, by seeking the advice of professors and others in a position to know their strengths and weaknesses. 

Even though he urged his former students to work hard to do their best, he also urged them not to be self-centered. He urged them to “devote yourself to your community.” 

The students remember Wandell as a strong and loving principal who had been a collegiate athlete. They sat in quiet contemplation as they listened to their former principal’s thoughts.

The tea was also a time for fond memories as they talked about the humorous things that happened during their days at East Side. Several of their teachers joined them in remembering the unforgettable moments. 

The tea ended with the current elementary students turning out to give high-fives to the soon-to-be-graduates.