Friday, July 31, 2009

On Your Marks, Get Set...

This is Mr. Weber's opening day address to students at Pope John Paul II High School.

Welcome back and to our many new students—185 of you-welcome to your first day of school at JPII!

I have two simple questions for you as we begin the year: The first is: What kind of person you do you want to be?

There are many people in our world today who are cowards. A coward, in my mind, is a person who refuses to stand for something or become involved in things that matter. Metaphorically, they are people who refuse to get into the “game” and instead “sit in the bleachers”, ridiculing those courageous enough to play, cluck-clucking about how dumb someone else is, or how foolish or how naïve. Cowardice often takes the form of pseudo-intellectualism that mocks anyone who is passionate, or committed or excited about something. C.S. Lewis calls these people “Men without Chests” because they have no spirit, no passion, no strength of conviction, and says though they purport to be intellectuals, their heads are no bigger than anyone else’s, they just seem that way in proportion to their atrophying chests.

What kind of person do you want to be? Don’t be a coward! Join a club that sponsors a cause you believe in. Try out for a team, even if there’s a possibility of being cut. Throw yourself into your studies, even if at times you can’t make the grade you’d like. Become passionate about something. We have an amazing array of clubs, academic teams, athletic teams, and service organizations in this school. We'll be having an activities fair on Friday, during which all of these clubs will explain what they do, and seek new memberships. Join something. Don’t be one of those students who races out the door at 3:10, gets in the car and disappears until 7:50 the next day. Frankly, high school isn’t much fun that way. Stretch yourself, try new things, forgive someone you haven’t forgiven and forge new friendships.

The worst thing you can do? Settle. Settle for the status quo. Play it safe. Sit in the bleachers without ever entering the game. It doesn’t matter where you've been or what you did in the past. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been an 8 to 3’er each day in the past. There’s a new sunrise this year. New school years are a chance to stretch, to do something brand new, to grow and to reach. What kind of person do you want to be?

My second question is this: What kind of school do you want to be?

That may sound like an odd question. JPII has been a school longer than you’ve been a student here, and its reputation precedes you. But JPII's reputation as excellent isn't a coincidence. We are so regarded because previous student bodies insisted upon it. They took pride in JPII, and because of that, they made us special. How people will see us in the future now depends on you. Perhaps it’s one of our human failings, but people are very quick to judge groups on the basis of a single incident or the behavior of one person in that group. If a football player during a game takes a cheap shot, or if a fan says something inappropriate to the opposing fans, or if you’re in uniform after school and you behave poorly, people will conclude, however unfairly, that “JPII students are thugs”. It doesn’t matter how much advertising we do or money we spend –their entire opinion of us will be shaped by this brief incident. Each of you has tremendous power to shape others' opinion about JPII. I hope you will protect and defend JPII's reputation.

What kind of school do you want to be? Even more important than our public image is how you treat each other. Are you going to be a school that ridicules persons who look different or act differently, or are you going to insist on a culture where diversity and differences are welcome? Are you going to allow people to bully others, or are the upper-classmen in particular going to make it clear, we don’t do that here, because no matter how awkward someone else is, he or she is one of us? Are you going to be a school of slobs, or are you going to take pride in your school and protect our beautiful campus by cleaning up after yourself and insisting that your classmates do the same? Are you going to cheat or allow cheating, or are you going to insist with each other (long before a student is “caught” by a teacher or before a Veritas violation occurs) that this is a place of integrity? Will you treat teachers with respect, or will you tolerate disrespect? Are you going to be a place where reverence, integrity, faith and moral living is the norm, or are you going to allow JPII to become a Christian school in name only, no matter how hypocritical that makes us?

What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of school do you want to be? As we begin this new year, you’re going to have to answer those questions for yourself. But as you answer those questions for yourself, don’t forget to notice the needs of others and look to each other for support.

Let me end with a story.

While crossing the border on his bicycle, the 
man was stopped by a guard who pointed to two sacks the man had on his shoulders.

"What's in the bags?" the guard asked suspiciously.

"Sand to build a sandbox for my children," said the cyclist.

"Yeah right”, said the guard. Take them off - let's take a look," said the guard.

The cyclist did as he was told, emptied the bags, and 
 proving they contained nothing but sand, reloaded the 
bags, put them on his shoulders and continued across 
 the border.

Two weeks later, the same thing happened. Again the 
 guard demanded to see the two bags, which again contained 
 nothing but sand. This went on every week for six months, 
 until one day the cyclist with the sand bags failed to 

Years later the two men happened to run into each other. "Say fella, you sure made us crazy", said the guard. "We 
 knew you were smuggling something across the border. I 
won't say a word - but what was it you were smuggling?"

The man smiled: "Bicycles!"

Sometimes, the most obvious things are the hardest for us to see. Let’s pay attention to each other. Together, may this be an amazing year for you and for JPII. God bless you.

1 comment:

Jacob said...

Hi Mr. Weber,

I read your blog regularly, but I have never taken the time to leave a comment. It's about time that I told you how much I appreciate your posts; they remind me of high school and home and give me something to think about.

I'd be interested, when you have the time, to read your thoughts on Caritas in Veritate. The Pope is arguing for a reinstatement of morals and individual responsibility in the economy, and I believe that Catholic schools should be at the head of this movement, educating leaders who can compete successfully in the market but who also bring a Catholic social justice perspective to their positions. Do you think that Catholic schools do a good enough job encouraging their students to live out their faith at the highest levels of the government and economy, challenging students to pursue the chairmanship of a multinational or the presidency of a university, aiming high in order to bring Catholic social teaching to the forefront of what seems to be one of the most plagued sectors of society, the top sector, the leading sector?

Jacob Weatherly