Monday, March 30, 2009

School pride

This is Mr. Weber's address to the JPII student body on March 30, 2009.

It would be interesting to do a study to find out which student at JPII has the most detentions over the course of his career here. I haven’t checked that statistic—are there any guesses?

Without a doubt in my old school, his name was Chris. Chris got in trouble literally the first hour of his freshman year. We had a welcome back assembly, and while I was talking, there was some knucklehead in the back of the cafeteria talking to whom-ever would listen. That was Chris, and I sent him straight to the office. Over the course of that year, Chris must have accumulated 30 or so detentions. For the first fifteen or so times, he would try to explain that the teacher was picking on him, but each time he blamed his teacher, I’d add 15 minutes onto his time for not taking ownership like a man. By midway through his freshman year, he began to simply walk into the office and announce “Hi, I was sent out of class for talking” without offering any lame excuse beyond that. Chris had good parents who always made sure he was there for Saturday school. The truth was, during his freshman year, Chris was more immature than he was a bad kid. He simply couldn’t sit still, and he couldn’t keep quiet.

When he became a sophomore and then later a junior, he lost some of that innocence. He became sneakier and hardened a bit. For the first time, he missed Saturday school and I had to suspend him from school for a few days—something he’d have never done in his freshman year. The number of detentions declined some, but when I confronted him in the office, he was more argumentative and more apathetic. At one point he told me he didn’t care about the school, didn’t care about his teachers, his grades, his friends. He just wanted out.

At the end of a rather checkered junior year, Chris skipped school. It was the last straw. “Chris, for almost three years now, you have been a constant discipline problem”, I said. “Teachers here obviously care for you, but you spurn them, and complain instead about how terrible the school is. You’re ungrateful, self-centered and immature. I’m going to give you your wish. I am asking your parents to withdraw you at the end of the junior year. You can go somewhere else and graduate. We’re done”.

He looked at me strangely. “But…” he began. “Chris, I’ve had it. Get out.”

He left my office, but came back the next day. “Mr. Weber, can we talk?” “Talk?” I said. “I’ve talked to you for three years, and you’ve never listened. We’re done talking, please leave. “ His parents called me later that day. “We’ll do anything,” they said. “I know you will,” I said. “You already have. It’s not about you. It isn’t about the school. It’s about Chris. If he wants to talk, I might be ready to listen in June.”

May passed. The first day of summer vacation, Chris called my secretary and asked to meet with me to talk. I told my secretary to tell him to call me back in two weeks and then we might talk… maybe. Two weeks went by and Chris called back. “OK”, I said. “But you’re going to do all the talking. I don’t intend to say anything. “

When I met with Chris, just he and I in the office in mid-June, he did all the talking. “I’m sorry”, he said, “You’re right—I’ve been kind of a jerk. I guess I took this place for granted all the way up until you said I was gone. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I’m proud of being a student here. Please don’t make me leave. “

“Just words, “ I said, as unfeelingly as I could. “I know”, he said. “I want to prove this place matters to me. If you let me, I’ll work all summer long for the school to pay off the debt I owe. My parents and I talked—they said, if you let me, this can be my job for the summer. Please, Mr. Weber.” I was impressed by Chris’ offer, but non-committal. “We’ll give it a try”, I said. “But no promises.”

Chris worked all summer. He painted classrooms. He scraped gum from under cafeteria tables. He weeded flower gardens. He scrubbed rugs with stains in them. He helped us move tables, boxes and books. He worked harder and did more than my custodian that summer—all with the right attitude.

At the end of the summer, still without having made a commitment to Chris, I called him into the office and said, “Chris, welcome back. I hope you have a great senior year.”

I won’t say Chris had a perfect senior year. He still had a hard time staying quiet and sitting still. But he had the right attitude. One of the proudest moments of my life as a principal was some time in November of that year, when I saw Chris, who didn’t know anyone was watching, picking up litter on the way out to his car. He wasn’t performing to impress. Somewhere along the way, Chris had become grateful. He cared about his school—so proud he wanted it to look nice.

I tell you the story about Chris to challenge you. To what extent are YOU proud of JPII? Yes, it’s a good school. Yes, it will help you when you apply to other schools in your senior year. But if that’s all there is, then JPII is merely a means to an end, a useful tool to get something you want.

Do you really appreciate your teachers? Do you realize they’ve given up more lucrative careers so that they can help you become better students and better people? Have you said thank you to them lately? Do you care what others think about us? When visitors come to the school, do they see trash laying around because you don’t care enough to walk over to the trashcan? Would you ever pick up trash when others weren’t looking, like Chris did, simply because you were proud of the place? Have you ever recruited for this school in your youth groups, in your neighborhoods, on city or club athletic teams? Have you nvited a friend to shadow with you for a day?

In six weeks, the seniors will be graduating from JPII, thus becoming alumni, and JPII their “alma mater”. “Alma mater” in Latin means "nurturing mother". The image of a high school as a “mother” suggests it is a place where you grow up, are taught discipline, are challenged to put aside childish ways to become young men and young women.

I hope you will treat JPII as you would your mother, profoundly grateful for all that she has done for you, proud of your classmates and teachers, proud enough to take ownership of the little things, proud to be a Knight.

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