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Commencement Remarks, Class of 2019

Remarks delivered by Mr. Keavy at the school’s ninth Commencement Exercises, 6-4-19.

To the graduates, my hope for you is that, through your formation here and as you move forward, you will see more and more of what’s really going on.

It is said that God comes to us disguised as our lives. For you these past four years, God came to you disguised as your school. He has been with you in your teachers, coaches, friends, and classmates. Especially vividly He has been with you through your friends and classmates. Teaching you to love, to forgive, to will the good for others.

It is easy to view other people as bit players in our own hero’s story. To view them only for how they affect us. We are the stars and they are the supporting cast. Harder to see other people for who they are in their own lives, dreams, and pursuits. Harder still to see them as God does, to see God through them. But God comes to us disguised as our lives and the people in it. As you grow in wisdom and experience, you will more and more see God’s loving care in and through the people in your life.

An example is in order.

Alexa and Dan Paige are the final two of four Paiges that have gone through JPII since 2009. They are siblings, though not biologically so, as Dan was adopted from Korea at a young age and Alexa was adopted from China at age 12. To their classmates and teachers, in many ways, they are quite different. Dan more “snips and snails and puppy dog tails” to Alexa’s “sugar and spice and everything nice.” If one is “helping” Mr. Ernie after the school and the other volunteering in Campus Ministry, well, might not be hard to guess who.

But God comes to us disguised as our lives and the people in it.

Alexa is pure-hearted, caring, and one who makes everyone around her a better person. Last year in Ecuador, we were concerned that Alexa’s appearance — due to her medical condition of albinism and nystagmus — would draw reactions from those unfamiliar and become uncomfortable for her. Instead, while visiting a neighbor, Yvonne in her tin-roofed, cane home, Yvonne turned to Alexa and said, “You are beautiful, inside and out.” True words. Yvonne nailed it. Alexa makes everyone around her a better person. Dan is an honest, principled young man — and a man of his word. Dan demands and gives honesty and respect. Many of the guys know how much Dan wanted to play football, and it is easy to imagine Dan delivering punishment on the field. But his parents wouldn’t permit it, and out of love, loyalty, and obedience to them, he honored their wishes and instead ran cross country. Didn’t complain. He’s honest, principled, worthy of respect.

Can you see God revealing himself in and through Dan and Alexa’s presence in your lives? I can. And not just them, of course. When we stop seeing other people as part of our story, and start seeing their own story, and even better, God’s divine authorship, friends and classmate like Dan, Alexa, and each and every one of you — reveal God and his plan.

Next year, you will face many new people and circumstances and the temptation will be  — out of nervousness, uncertainty or anxiety — to see as allies or obstacles in you establishing yourself. But remember what you have learned and accomplished as a class — remember that God come to you disguised as your life, look for him in others, and as you have here though people like Alexa and Dan, you will find him — through them.

For the first time, every senior here tonight was born in this millennium. You know only routine availability of the Internet and Internet-connected devices. 9/11 was the tone-setter for your sense of America and its place in the world. For you, it wasn’t or shouldn’t have been a big deal to elect the first African-American president.  You live in your world more than we — your teachers, coaches, parents, me — do. Of course. We cannot and have not prepared you specifically for the vast plurality of views, perspectives, attitudes, ideologies, dispositions, and movements that you will encounter. We have not anticipated nor could accurately predict the changes that are to come or the realities that you will experience. What we have done  — to the best of our ability — is prepare you in a different way — through conservation. We have conserved and shared with you the vast tradition of Catholic thought, literature, and human understanding, that gives you solid knowledge and true appreciation of human achievement and human nature. Here, you have read The Divine Comedy, sung Palestrina, watched Bishop Barron, and met Imaculee Ilibagiza. Use your JPII education as grounding for the many and varied ideas, people, and experiences you will encounter. The tools and truths of your JPII education will help you understand, analyze, and judge the many new ideas, opinions, and experiences that the plurality of our culture will show you. It will be tempting to discard this foundation and perhaps such wandering may even be necessary as you make it your own. I ask you to trust, believe and know that the learning that has been conserved and shared with you is of value — even ultimate value. My bet is you’ll find, like this 50-year-old guy has, that the old days aren’t so old and the new stuff isn’t so new. Truth endures.

A favorite memory of mine is the Holy Father’s Address to Congress in 2015. It was September of your freshman year; We watched together as a school, in this auditorium. Despite his heavily accented English that was tough to understand at times, when the Holy Father concluded with the words “God Bless America” we all applauded just like the members of Congress did.

In this historic address, Pope Francis expressed his desire to dialogue with “all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations.” You are these young people. You have great and noble aspirations. Even if you can’t articulate them, they are in you. Even if you can’t find them, they are in you. In this address, Pope Francis encouraged all people to follow the example of four great Americans, saying, “A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, and when it bears the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”

Of you, the 69 members of the Class of 2019, some may be attracted to the fight for liberty’s preservation, as President Lincoln was, or equal protection under the law, as was Dr. King. Some of you may work for the poor and underserved, as Dorothy Day did, still others of you desire truth in solitude as Thomas Merton did. Pursue your great and noble aspirations. You have them. Make your life about big things. I want you to find and fulfill your great and noble aspirations in the next stage of your lives.

In conclusion, at moments like this, we learn something about time. High school seems tedious, never-ending, like 2:51 will never come. Then it’s over, and we are saying goodbye is a very real way. And you can’t believe how fast it went by. In philosophy class we read from St. Augustine that “time is a distension of the soul” which is why high school can take so long yet feel over so fast.  Weird, huh? So learn to snatch the eternal from the desperately fleeting, what Tennessee Williams calls the great magic trick of human existence. God comes to us disguised as our lives — and the mundane, regular moments that reveal him.

So it is time to say goodbye. Graduates and families, let me close by sharing how much I appreciate your contributions and how special you are to our school and me personally. On behalf of your teachers and our staff, know that we have grown close, we know you, love you, and will forever be united with you. Godspeed and God bless the students and families of the Class of 2019. Thank you.

 

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