I know a high school graduate who got cut from the baseball team twice—despite practicing inordinately hard for a whole year, giving up his part-time job to run and throw on a daily basis. This graduate also, during his high school years, got dumped by his first girlfriend, got D’s in classes, flunked an occasional test, got in trouble with his parents for not working hard, was not allowed to get his driver’s license because his grades were bad and he had at least a couple of teachers that he thought were incompetent—maybe they were.
So, I imagine that you think you would not have to ask this student what his high school and high school years were like. Well, I am glad you asked me anyway. Because even though all that first part is true about my own experiences, so is this—I got to play on a terrific soccer team, I met friends who I still have, I had many teachers that I admired and one or two whose influence on me I still feel. I also was witness to people with a work ethic I admired extravagantly, a school whose mission was inclusive and generous, and a way of living—not a lifestyle—that I could admire and emulate, however imperfectly.
A lifestyle reflects your choice in clothes, car, hair, entertainment options, and the like. A way of life reflects you core principles—your commitment to you family and friends. Your awareness of those less fortunate and your willingness to side with them. Your pride in being a person of your word in a world that thinks little of breaking contracts. I hope that at DeMatha your have learned the value of a way of life and not a lifestyle.
My particular thanks to the parents and all those who have made your education possible. They have invested in you and your future in ways that show the profound depth of their love for you. When you love someone you are concerned about their long-term well-being, not necessarily their immediate desires. This is why parents have their children inoculated against diseases. Even though the shot hurts momentarily, the long term effects can be life-saving. It is distinctly human to plan for the future; we make pulleys and promises based on our knowledge and belief in cause and effect. Your parents have sacrificed to try to give you an opportunity that will last you the rest of your life. Education is forever, an inoculation against ignorance, bigotry, small-mindedness and short-sightedness; and a religious education is forever and beyond—that’s real concern about someone’s long term well-being. You can never pay your parents back—except by doing for your own children and the children of others what has been done for you.
As you tell the story of your high school career you can focus on whatever parts of it you want to and you can make that experience whatever you want. I encourage you to make it one that reflects the best in you, one that shows you not as a victim of circumstances to whom things happened but as an agent of your own education, as the author of your own life. It’s not that I don’t remember the bad grades or getting cut or any of the other things. But I remember my responsibility and the love of my parents who sacrificed for and invested in me.
To the class of 2014: I will always be grateful for the part you have played in helping form me and in helping form DeMatha. I will be so proud to call you fellow alums this Friday.