“Their joy — that’s the gift to you.”

Published: December 19, 2023

By Jim Lichtman
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Sandra Day O’Connor being sworn in on Sept. 9, 1981. Justice O’Connor was the first female supreme court justice.

Watching the memorial service for Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the US Supreme Court, her son, delivering the eulogy, pointed to one of the former justice’s legacies. “Our purpose in life,” O’Connor reminded her children, “is to help others along the way.”

Last Sunday, CBS reporter Steve Hartman offered a story demonstrating the power of purpose.

Every Christmas, a wealthy, philanthropic businessman and Secret Santa distributes thousands of dollars in $100 bills to those in need. Motivated by the generous gesture, a group of Arizona students decided to follow his path. As part of Hartman’s weekly Kindness 101 project, he tells the story better than I do. (It’s more powerful to watch.)

“For students of Derek Brown, a Phoenix elementary teacher who uses ‘On the Road’ stories to teach kindness and character, watching Secret Santa do his thing made a huge impression on his students.

“‘I was, like, shocked because, well, who does that?’ student Nicholas Talamantes asked.

“‘I’ve never seen anyone, like, just give money away like that,’ student Carissa Cheong added.

“So, with guidance from Brown, the students this year started a Secret Santa club and began fundraising. They called friends, family and businesses, raising $8,000 without any help from their school or district, just so they could turn around and give it all away.

“They gave the money to people like Rosemarie Hernandez, who had been out of work for a week.

“‘It will give me a lot of relief, thank you…you guys,’ an emotional Hernandez told the students.

“They also gave money to Deidre Taylor, who had just been diagnosed with cancer and was down to her last $20.

“‘Thank you so very much, you guys are amazing,’ Taylor told them. ‘Oh my God.’

“The children spent the day changing dozens of lives. Along the way they noticed something remarkable: the more they gave, the more they got.

“‘I’m just so happy right now,’ student Andrea Ramirez said.

“‘Their joy — that’s the gift to you,’ student Evangeline D’Agostino said.

“That was exactly the realization Brown was hoping for.

“‘I want this memory to be so strong that it now drives them every day, in everything they do,’ Brown said.

“Cheong said the experience ‘definitely’ changed her.

“‘I never felt this way in my life,’ Cheong said. ‘So, this was really a life changer for me.’

“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness, obviously never gave it away.”

Take a close look at Justice O’Connor’s career; you will see how many she helped along the way.


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