Monday, November 27, 2017

Audacity, Generosity, Grace

Note: These are my remarks on behalf of our Annual Fund at the Fairhope Yacht Club,  October, 2017.

Good evening. I am grateful to all of you for your presence tonight.   Thank you to Jenny Kopf and Trin Ollinger for organizing the evening, to the Crookers for volunteering to be chairs of our Annual Fund this year, and to all of you, for attending.

I want to share with you a “before” and “after” memory—one from my first day as principal at St. Michael, about two years and four months ago,  and the other, from this morning.  

On my first day of employment, with the school to open in 13 months, I took out a piece of paper, put it on the blank desk before me, and stared at it for a while. What will be the defining traits for the school? We’d only be able to start the school once, and how we presented ourselves to others would have lasting ramifications.  I wrote down a few words, didn’t like them, crumpled up the paper, and started over. I wasted a lot of paper that morning. 

“Audacity,” I finally wrote. That stuck. 

From the beginning, I’ve wanted St. Michael to be audacious, to be bold in its goals—in what it expects of its teachers and students, in what it asks of its parents, and in what it believes is possible for itself.  I didn’t want us to be “conservative” or “safe,” following the template of what others had done, but to work with our community to build something truly new and uniquely “ours.”  I wanted an optimism and hope for excellence to pervade everything, borne out of our belief in the transforming power of God’s grace, active in our daily life together.  

So I remember a conversation early on with Gwen Byrd, discussing with her the need to hire the first teachers at salaries a bit beyond diocesan averages—crucial, I believed, if we were going to attract a first tier faculty to start the school. We were blessed with 225 applicants for 12 positions in that first year, and were able to really find some excellent teachers. I remember discussing the 8 period schedule, the key to a “renaissance” emphasis, giving kids the opportunity to take music, the arts, athletic P.E., foreign languages and honors classes, without having to choose one over the other.  A little later that first prep year, I met with the incoming sophomores about the “House” system, and asked them if they preferred it or a more “traditional” form of student government. Jacob Domning, summing up the sentiment of his classmates, said “We’re not sure we understand it— it’s a little weird, a little different, but we like it for that reason.” I loved that reasoning—it captured the “vibe” of what I hoped we could create at St. Michael. Let's be a little different! 

My second memory was from this morning, in this, our second year.  It was the beginning of our weekly school Mass, and I was a few moments late in arriving, walking in as the opening song was in mid-verse. The cafeteria was brimming full of students—it’s pretty clear that we’ll need to have Mass in the gym next year due to the school’s explosive growth.  The music was led by our band program, many of whom had never played an instrument before last year. The singing was led by a 5 girls who call themselves “Sixth period harmony,” and together, with our band, they sounded really good. There was a great spirit in the room—the students were even singing—well, many of them. 

My eyes swelled up some, thinking about my first day, that piece of paper, and now looking out across the roomful of students. The audacious vision of the school, once only an idea, is coming to fruition before our eyes! God has clearly blessed us. 

But we’re still building! For us to continue to think boldly about our future, to continue to dream big, we need to continue to rely on your generosity to us. Tuition alone doesn’t cover our costs, and in these early years particularly, it’s not even close. 

Most of you know of the “80-20” rule in fund-raising. It has proven true across capital campaigns, annual funds, regardless of charity. It says simply that “80% of your fund-raising must come from the top 20% of your donor base to be successful.” 

So I have good news and bad news! YOU are the 20%! Our annual fund goal this year is $200,000, which means we hope to raise almost 160,000 from our families with the greatest capacity to give. So with the audaciousness that marked our beginning, I am asking you to be very generous to us this year. Establishing  a consistent a culture of philanthropy will determine if we can continue the trajectory we’ve begun.  

Thanks for all you’ve done. Please continue to be a partner with us in this magnificent and exciting mission, and please continue to pray for God's grace to lead us. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Already and the Not Yet

This was my assembly address to students at St. Michael on Monday, October 30, 2o17

Can you feel it? Can you sense it? Can you see it all around you? 

Last week, I was at four student events that caused me to step back and take a big picture view:

The first was Monday night, with our football team defeating Chickasaw 21-14, evening our record to 3-3. To appreciate that accomplishment, you need to remember that football teams start 33 positions every game—11 on offense, 11 on defense and a minimum of 11 on special teams. As a result, it takes  longer to build a football program than the other sports, but Coach Phelps, the assistant coaches and our players have made amazing strides in 16 months. Congratulations, fellas! 

The second was our regular Wednesday mass. I was on a long phone call, so I walked down to the cafeteria midway through the opening song. I heard five girls harmonizing, which sounded beautiful as the sound made its way down the hallways. They call themselves “Sixth Period Harmony.” Even better, I heard the rest of the student body singing with them. Monsignor Martin was our celebrant, and it was a fantastic Mass. 

On Friday we had our pep rally to finish out the fall season and introduce the basketball teams. The students were in great spirits and the gym was loud! Walking back to my office afterwards, a new teacher told me “There’s great student spirit here.” Yes, there is. 

And on Saturday morning, I watched our first ever Robotics team compete in the Mitchell Center at the University of South Alabama in front of thousands of spectators. Our team did exceptionally well, reaching the semi-finals as one of the top 8 teams from among 33, and won awards for the best "rookie" team, the best software design, and best simulation (see pic above).  They did magnificently, and will likely do even better next year, now that they better understand how the competition works. Bravo to Mr. Hall, Mr. Bliss and our students! 

Can you feel it? Can you sense it? Can you see it all around you? St. Michael is becoming powerful!  You are beginning to make your mark in the classroom, on the playing field, at academic competitions, in our community of faith here. Your light is beginning to shine, and it’s awesome to witness.

I came across this fantastic quote that encapsulates our school’s dream for you: 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.' We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”  

( Our Deepest Fear, by Marianne Williamson, from  A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles )

What happens when a lighted match is placed next to an unlighted match? The unlighted match catches fire. When we strive for excellence,  when we aim to be our best, we ignite the best in others. That’s what I see happening at St. Michael. Shine so others may shine around you! It’s going to be fun to watch what the future holds! 

I am proud of you. Go Cardinals!