Commencement Remarks 2018

I would like to share a few thoughts that I expressed to the members of the senior class at Commencement Exercises on June 3, 2018.

Members of the Class of 2018:

Words matter. What we say, write, email, text, IM, tweet – it all has an impact. In Pope Francis’ message for World Communications Day 2018, he said:

“Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion. . . Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.

Where there is shouting, let us practice listening.

Where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony.

Where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity.

Where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity.

Where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety.

Where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions.

Where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust.

Where there is hostility, let us bring respect.

Where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.”

Our country and our world seems so divided at times over a variety of issues, and it is only through empathetic communication that we can help reconcile and resolve our differences.

What a wonderful day to be graduating, because in the Catholic Church, we celebrate today the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ!

St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians (12:12-13): “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

Jesus is the “new covenant“, replacing the covenants of the Old Testament between God and the Israelites, which were often broken by the Israelites, and had to be renewed again and again. The covenant of the New Testament is one of love; it is forever renewed through God’s mercy; and it is for everyone. It was created by Jesus who gave his very life as a sacrifice for us all.

You may never feel as connected to one another and to a community of students, teachers and parents as you do right now, graduates of the Class of 2018, so recall these feelings of friendship, love, and common experience as you move into new communities and new relationships.

The vision of one person, Norbert of Xanten, nearly 900 years ago, shared his gifts of preaching and reconciling, and today his communities are still making an impact on people all over the world, including here, at Archmere.

Two teachers, who have been here each for 30 years, certainly have emulated Norbert’s spirit, and now they are retiring. I would like to recognize and ask you to join me in thanking Mr. William Mulhearn and Mrs. Rosalba Bellen.

And so, my prayer for you as leave Archmere is to use your talents to speak well, to build community, to repair relationships, to make good and lasting “covenants,” to recognize that, in the end, we are all one body – connected. Expand your “nets of friendship,” and perhaps the love and empathy you share will exponentially spread to others, and, day by day, change our world for the better.

 

It Is The Journey That Matters, In The End…

At this time of year, I often attend other commencement exercises and end-of-year programs, in which the speakers offer some inspiring words, talk about an institution’s mission and values, explain how they have been personally affected by the educational experience, or describe a vision for the world that addresses some issues or challenges we face as a global society. I find myself listening to find the common denominator in all of these speeches, and, for me, a succinct summary that most, if not all of us, could use the reminder that was written by don Miguel Ruiz in his book: Los Cuatro Acuerdos – The Four Agreements. The book is based on ancient Toltec wisdom. I read it many years ago, but I still refer to the four agreements now and again to remind myself how I can better interact with others, and thereby become a better person each day. They are:

  1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.
  1. Don’t Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
  1. Don’t Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
  1. Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret. (from http://www.toltecspirit.com)

In the last days of the Easter Season, we heard Jesus in the Gospel of Saint John each day talking about the transition of leaving this world to be with his Father in heaven. Though Jesus physically would no longer be among us, He says, “. . . I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, so we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one . . . I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” (John 17: 20-26)

So, as we mark the end of educational journeys for our graduates and say, “good-bye,” they “commence” a new journey. While there are tears of sadness and feelings of anxiety when we are separated from the familiar and from people we have come to know and appreciate, as some of our seniors have expressed to me in recent days, we know that the love that we share remains. And, if we honor ourselves by continuing to live by an ethical code, we will be drawn together always – united, one.

Congratulations and Godspeed to the Class of 2018!

Endings

Unknown“And they lived happily ever after . . .” That is often the last line of fairy tales and feel good stories that are “only in the movies”. The last week of May leading into the first week of June was a time of goodbyes and endings. Archmere’s Baccalaureate Mass and Commencement Exercises for the Class of 2015 took place on May 30 and 31. In the midst of those special events, I learned of the death of Beau Biden ’87 on Saturday evening after coming home from the reception for students and parents attending the Baccalaureate Mass. The untimely death of someone so talented and caring, of a young man who stood on the Archmere stage 28 years ago, receiving his diploma and launching a successful career in public service after undergraduate and graduate studies, is so very difficult to understand. Just one week after holding a joyful reception for our graduates in the Patio, we held a reception after Beau’s Funeral Mass to acknowledge our feelings of sadness and loss, and to celebrate his life.

As the school year ended, we also said, “Farewell,” to four faculty and staff members. Ms. Kat LoMonaco, history teacher, and Mr. Bill Gabriel, campus minister, are moving on to other places. Ms. LoMonaco is moving to California with her family, and Mr. Gabriel is joining the Augustinian Fathers in response to a vocational call that he told us began when he was in second grade. Both expressed to us how difficult it is to leave the Archmere community. Ms. Ally McCord and Mrs. Rebecca Baeurle also shared that sentiment. Ms. McCord is moving on to the next step in her career, and Mrs. Baeurle is taking more time with her family, while remaining connected to Archmere as an involved parent of a graduate and volunteer. In all of these transitions, Kat, Bill, Ally, and Becky have added so much to help shape the Archmere community, and a part of their work remains with us and has made our community better. As their energy leaves us, new energy supports our work from others who will be joining us in the new school year.

In thinking about this time of year and all of the events of the last two weeks – graduation, a funeral, staff departures – I thought about separation and how it is often times not easy to accept. “Separate” comes from the Latin “se” (apart) and “parare” (prepare). To separate is to “prepare apart” perhaps something that once was being “prepared” together. That would imply that the energy of individuals who come together to “prepare” a community, who work to foster common goals and ideals, moves on to other communities, places, and even planes of existence, should they separate from the community. So, if we can reframe these transitions, these separations become in time more bearable, particularly when we have to deal with the separation that comes with the death of someone we love. I don’t believe it makes the separation any easier or better, but eventually, after time has passed, with the support of community and family, our hope and our faith grows stronger. We intuitively know that the final separation that death seems to create is much more like the separations we have to experience along the journey of life. In each case, we are called by God, by our inner voice, by our authentic self, to move toward the next part of our lives. And we know there will always be a “next part,” as predictable as the seasons.

At home we have a potted jasmine plant. We have had the plant for almost three years now, and each fall we bring the plant in from the patio and put it in the sun room for the winter, where is stays green without flowers until about March. Around that time, all of the leaves droop and start to whither and drop. After the first year, I thought it had died, but my wife cleaned away all of the wilted growth and put it back on the patio. By May, the plant had grown new leaves and buds. The same thing has happened each year since. Right now, the jasmine blossoms are plentiful and fragrant. As I was sitting next to the plant on the patio one evening after work, the fragrance of the blossoms made me think of how we have to cherish every moment, taking the time to notice even the smallest, but wonderful detail.

The cover of the June 1 Time magazine issue carries the heading, “Who Killed Summer Vacation?” with a photo of an empty beach. The article, written by Jack Dickey, reports that “American vacation time [is] rarer and more easily interrupted.” Some statistics reported include that 61% of vacationers plan to work during their time off, emailing, accessing work documents, texting, calling, and fielding work requests. In 1980, employed adults in the U.S. used an average of 21 paid vacation days compared to 16 days in 2014. Reasons given for taking less vacation include: having a heavier workload upon returning to work, no one else can do the work, can’t afford to take it, want to show dedication, and don’t want to be seen as replaceable. Whatever the reason, working people in general are feeling that they have more demands and responsibilities placed on them, and perhaps, in the process, the important details of life go unnoticed.

As we have come to an end of another school year and the beginning of another summer, I hope that all of us can adjust our routines to take some time to appreciate the fragrance of jasmine blossoms, spend time with people we love and appreciate, use some of those paid vacation days, and confirm our perspective on life – focusing on the people important to us and letting go of the worries and disappointments for a while. Perhaps refreshed and renewed in spirit, we will view the world a little differently, and even realize that it is possible to “live happily ever after.”