Note: This is Mr. Weber's first address to the students of Pope John Paul II Catholic High School, on the occasion of their first day of school.
Welcome back to all of you who were students here last year, and once again, welcome to our many new students. I trust the upperclassmen will make our many new students feel welcome and I see that our senior class has taken some initiative to give a special welcome to our freshmen already.
For those of you who don’t remember who I am or who never met me, I am Mr. Weber, the new headmaster of JPII. My family and I come here from Montgomery, Al, where I was a former teacher, principal and president of Montgomery Catholic Preparatory for 23 years. I am excited to be here.
Since I had nothing to do with the school until now, I can tell people very honestly what I think of it without sounding too self-serving. I mean this seriously when I say you are blessed to be part of an outstanding school. I’ve been in education all my adult life and can say with some authority that this school ranks as one of the best schools in the southeast and among the best Catholic schools in the country. I hope, in as much as familiarity does at times breed contempt, that in your more honest moments, when you’re not feeling stressed, that you appreciate what a great school this is.
The facilities are excellent—this is a beautiful campus. The teachers here are at the very top of their profession—they’re well educated, they’re committed to their subject areas, but most of all they’re committed to you and helping you do well. The administration—Mrs. Phillips, Coach Rollins, Mr. Weaver, Mrs. Brown and Mr. McClaren—is second to none.
Coaches often say that their teams are only as good as their athletes—and stealing that line--a school is only as good as its students. I’ve had the chance to meet many of you already. I’ve seen your test scores. I received your AP test results this summer, which were incredible. I’ve read about the state hockey and bowling championships last year, read about all the other teams and your successes and struggles, I’ve listened to the CD of last year’s Spring Choral concert, and I look forward to attending MANY games, concerts and performances this year. The truth of the matter is this: This school is excellent because you are excellent. On the whole, you work hard, you practice hard, you play hard, and it all shows in your many achievements.
I challenge you to continue in this pursuit of excellence.
I’d like to point you to a quote from the person for whom this school is named, Pope John Paul II, as we begin this new school year.
"Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."
If you remember when you were a child and swimming in the pool, your parents always told you that you had to stay in the shallow end. The “deep end” was the forbidden zone, the part of the pool that was over your head. The shallow end was the “safe” side.
I think what John Paul II is telling us in this quote—telling you as you begin this year—is don’t play it safe. Take some risks. Join clubs and teams that you’ve not joined before, shoot for the better grade in your classes, deepen your relationship with God, make new friends, push yourself out of your comfort zone—move out to the deep end.
When my youngest son Daniel was 6, he was invited to his first pool party. It was during the winter, but it was an indoor pool, and he was so excited he pestered his mother each day for a week if it were the day of the party. Finally, the day came, and I told my wife I’d drop him off at the party on my way to a formal banquet—suit and tie. When Daniel arrived at the party, he quickly took off his shirt, shoes and coat and jumped for joy into the deep end of the pool…the only problem was, he didn’t know how to swim and he started to drown. The life guard was on the shallow end with the little kids, far away, so alarmed, I jumped in, suit, tie and all and pulled him to the edge.
Though I don’t recommend drowning yourself, I do think as we get older, one of the things that happens to us is we become overly cautious, not risking anything.
There are really two ways of going through life—jumping in and learning how to swim, or playing it safe at the shallow end, watching the others swim. It’s easier on the shallow end…you can make fun of the people who bust it off the diving board or look goofy learning to swim-- just like it’s easier to sit in the bleachers and be critical of athletes on the field, who compete on behalf of their school, even if that means they sometimes lose. As you begin this school year, don’t be one of those people playing it safe on the shallow end or in the bleachers—JUMP INTO the deep, GET IN the game.
This quote from John Paul also harkens back to the biblical story of the apostles who had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. You remember the story….as they were coming back, frustrated and tired, Jesus appears on the shore and tells them to head back out to the deep and throw their nets to the other side of the boat. “We’ve been fishing all night” they grumble back at him. “We’ve didn’t catch anything”. “Just head back out and throw your nets to the other side of the boat”, Jesus tells them. (I am translating loosely). I wish I were in the boat listening to the apostles’ sarcastic muttering as they turned their boat around and headed back to the deep—“Oh YEAH, the other side…that’ll do the trick…if only we had put an X on the lake where we last threw down our nets, then we could throw our nets to the other side and catch something. Why didn’t we think of that? ”. But despite their skepticism, they grudgingly did what Jesus said…they trusted him. And when they let down their nets, they caught more fish than they could handle, and brought a boat load back to the shore.
The Lord promises us if we are willing to trust him, if we are willing to risk moving to the deep end and to throwing down our nets—if we get involved, join clubs, try out for teams, become more committed to God, work on making new friends—if we shun mediocrity and not play it safe—he will bless us.
So as we begin this school year, my challenge to you is to jump into the deep end!
May all of you have an incredible year and may God bless each of you.