Photo Credit: Emily Wise (Used with permission)
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
Graduation is a time for dreaming, for dreaming big dreams. Only time will tell if they pan out but regardless the next four years will go a long way in determining whether those dreams dream will come to fruition. Graduates, you and I are looking at life from entirely different perspectives. You see, I graduated from high school in 1969, for those of you who can’t subtract that quickly, that’s fifty years ago. Any dreams that I have are about social security and completing the bucket list my wife and I are beginning to compile. For the most part I am looking back over a career that is in its final stages and at a life that I believe has been well-lived. It’s funny but when you get to be my age you stop judging success professionally but on a more personal level. I spend more time thinking about how good a husband, father, grandfather, and friend I have been, as opposed to the kind of school president I am.
You on the other hand are looking ahead. Your lives and your dreams are just beginning to play out. You have so much to look forward to. The future is squarely in your sights and it belongs to you. And I have no doubt it can be a bright future for each and every one of you. I believe this for several reasons. You have parents and families who support you. The fact that they provided you with an Academy education is testament to this but so is the fact they attended so many games, concerts, plays and other school activities. Their love and support for you know no bounds and you should make it a point to thank them. Don’t assume they know it. Tell them so.
I know your futures are bright because of the education you have received here at Academy. It’s an education that is more than just the 3 Rs, it’s more than learning to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators and good communicators. It’s an education in faith, molded by the charism and values of the Sisters of the Holy Names and carried out by a dedicated and talented group of teachers and administrators who not only want the best for you but who have shown you in so many ways that they love you. That is part of the reason I am so confident you will face the future with open arms.
The other is this. The seeds of leadership have been planted in each one of you. In some the seeds have already blossomed into the young leaders you have become. For others it will take a bit longer. There is no set timeline. Believe me, if someone suggested to me at my graduation that I would be where I am today as the president of the Academy, speaking in front of all these people, I’d have told them they were crazy. I just didn’t see anything like it in my future. But that’s the thing about the future, it’s unknowable. It really is what we make of it. It is sometimes said that people are born leaders and while that may be true. I believe leadership is a skill to be learned. You learn through education; by watching others and emulating their leadership style while trying your best to avoid the mistakes they make. Believe me no one in a leadership position can completely avoid making mistakes but you own them, learn from them and then move on.
One of the greatest obstacles anyone in leadership faces is how to effectively promote change. Whether it’s a club, a school, a business or even a country. The idea of change is fearful to so many people, it’s that is the greatest impediment to change and it can be debilitating. Helping others to overcome that fear is one of the most severe challenges any leader will face.
Recently, the Academy lost a good friend when Sister Pat Corbey a member of the Academy Board of Trustees, passed away. At 64 years old Sister Pat was one of the youngest Sisters of the Holy Names. She was born on Christmas Day 1954 and she passed away on Easter Sunday morning 2019. Talk about a blessed life. During her professional career she was a counselor who worked with adults, teenagers and children. She was a source of comfort, hope and compassion for all of them, and they as much as anyone were devastated by her passing. Fortunately for us she left behind some of her thoughts in her writing.
She wrote the following as she prepared to take her final vows in May 1990:
“The challenge for the future I present to myself and my Congregation, is that we consciously and systematically work to eliminate fear. It is fear I believe that keeps us from moving forward, from taking risks, from facing the complex ecclesial issues that limit our lives, and from living as visible lights of God’s presence in our world. This fear is located within us, and within our Church, culture and world. The fear I know in myself and in others prevents forgiveness, retains the barriers of class, and allows us to look away from the needs and changes that are necessary to live in fidelity to God. I hope that we can live unafraid, insecure and uncertain – except in the claim that God is in love with all of us.”
It sometimes feels as though our country is in the grip of fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the other and sometimes fear of one another. It will take real leadership to break this circle of fear. You graduates have been cultivated as the leaders of the future. I have no doubt you have the strength and character to overcome fear and replace it with kindness and compassion. You have such tremendous potential that you give me great hope for the future of our country and the world. The model of leadership that has been presented to you, more specifically planted in you, is the Gospel image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. That of servant leadership. True leadership is not preening. It doesn’t boast. It’s not petulant. It serves. We discover our greatness in service to others. In service to the idea that together we can be better, we can do better, we can make our world better.
“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”- Martin Luther King
A heart full of grace and a soul generated by love – what a beautiful image to leave you with. In closing let me offer this prayer for you:
May the Lord bless you and keep you
May His face always shine upon you
May He look upon you kindly
And grant you peace.