Peru, Nebraska– On Wednesday, January 23, Aaron Thomas visited the Peru State College campus as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series. His presentation, “The Sacred Acre: The Ed Thomas Story,” explored how his family overcame the tragic death of his father.
Thomas grew up in Parkersburg, Iowa, before attending Drake University on a basketball scholarship. He now works in Parkersburg as the high school principal and head basketball coach, and he lives with his wife and three children.
Thomas shared his father’s story with Peru State students. Ed Thomas, Aaron Thomas’ father, was a well-known high school football coach. He spent 37 years as the head football coach for Parkersburg high school. Throughout his career, Ed Thomas sent four of his football players to the NFL. In 2005, Ed Thomas won the NFL High School Coach of the Year.
On June 24, 2009, Ed Thomas was shot and killed by one of his former football players, who suffered from mental illness. Aaron Thomas had three important messages to pass on that he learned from his father’s legacy and his death.
First, Thomas advised students with a quote from his father: “Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you choose to respond to it.” Thomas said that people have to take what happens to them and react to it in a way that is admirable and compassionate.
As an example of his point, Thomas spoke about the EF-5 tornado that his Parkersburg, Iowa on May 25, 2008. Eight people died, and a third of the town’s residents lost their homes. Ed Thomas was able to bring the town together and react to a tragedy in a positive manner. He encouraged his community to keep moving forward, and they started their clean up with the high school and its football stadium.
After Ed’s death, the Thomas family chose to not react negatively toward the Becker family, whose son murdered Ed. The Thomas family chose to have compassion for the Beckers, and during a press conference on the day of the murder, Thomas told the reporters to pray for the Becker family as well as the Thomas family because they were both dealing with their own tragedies.
Thomas’ second piece of advice for Peru State students was to remember that somebody out in the world always has it worse than you, so stop complaining. He encouraged students in the audience to be thankful for the lives that they have.
Lastly, Thomas told students that the greatest gift from God in life is the power to choose. He explained that everyone chooses their attitude, how they spend their time and resources, and their relationships. Every morning, when people wake up, the first thing they choose is their attitude. Thomas shared that when a person chooses to have a positive attitude, they make a much greater impact on themselves and those around them.
Thomas explained the importance of choosing how someone spends their time and resources. People should spend their time and resources on what they truly care about. As an active coach, principal, and speaker, Thomas explained that he must allocate his time efficiently between his work and family to prove that he truly cares for them.
With our choices in relationships, Thomas added that people should always thank those who have made an impact in their lives. At the end of his talk, Thomas played a clip of his father speaking to a locker room full of players. Ed spoke about his admiration for a former teacher, someone who he never took the time to fully thank before the teacher passed away. Thomas said that people will feel valued when we take time to appreciate them and their impact on our lives. He admired his dad for always voicing appreciation for students and fellow community members, making people feel appreciated and welcome.
Peru State established the Distinguished Speaker Series in fall 2010 as part of its commitment to student engagement and success. The intent of the Series is to bring diverse, nationally and internationally recognized speakers to southeast Nebraska to enrich the educational experience of students while also providing the surrounding communities with opportunities to engage in interesting and relevant topics.
Speakers are encouraged to connect with the community in a variety of ways during their visits through classroom discussions, guest lectures, meet-and-greet receptions and a keynote address.
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Ash Peiman contributed to this release.