Sunday, October 18, 2009

Living in Daylight

This is Mr. Weber's assembly address to students on October 19, 2009.

About 10 years ago, I got to know 4 boys in my school very well. From their first day as freshmen, they began getting in trouble—mostly for being unruly in the classroom—and they were always sent to see me since I didn’t have someone like Mr. McLaren. We did numerous work details together, scraping gum from underneath dining room tables, picking up paper around the campus and surrounding neighborhood, waxing the school bus on a Saturday morning and anything else I could dream up—just to keep these fellas in line. And as some of you who are frequent visitors to Mr. McLaren’s office might understand, as they became juniors and seniors, despite the fact we were frequently aggravated at each other, we developed a kind of love-hate respect and affection for one another.

One day in their senior year, I was looking for our football coach down at the locker-room after practice. I walked in just as the biggest and heaviest of these four fellas—think Chris Farley from Saturday Night Live—was just getting out of the shower, his backside to me. I pretended to become blind, my eyes seared by the horrible image I had been forced to see. We had a good laugh. Fast forward to May on their last day of school: the four brought me a present and told me not to open it until I was alone in my office. I guessed what it was and was right: The four fellas had taken a group picture together, bending over, mooning me, with the inscription: “Thanks for not giving up on us….” and they each signed their names.

We didn’t get a chance to talk again until after graduation, and they came up to me, a little nervous, and wanted to make sure I knew it was a joke. I said I took it that way, not to worry. “Good”, they said, “So you can throw it away now, but just know, Mr. Weber, we had the last laugh." “Throw it away? The last laugh?” I said. “You fellas are thinking short term. I’m saving that picture. When you come back for your 20th reunion with your wives and daughters, I intend to circulate copies to all your classmates, just for old times sake. You better be generous in the alumni appeals between now and then.”

I tell that humorous story to make a more serious point: We often think the consequences of our actions are short-term, rooted in the present. But increasingly, the mistakes we make in the present have longer-term consequences. Much of that has to do with technology. Back in Alabama, there were two girls in a private school who got drunk and posed nude for a cell phone picture. The boy who took the picture sent it to a friend, who sent it to someone else. When they realized the next day what had happened, it was too late. It had been widely circulated around the city and uploaded to porn sites around the world. When the school found out about it, the two girls were expelled, as was the person who took the picture and sent it to someone else. But that wasn’t the worst thing: These girls had to live with the uncertainty and embarrassment of not knowing who had seen that picture among their classmates and around the city.

Another example: one of my former students got drunk in college and did something stupid and was arrested. It was covered in the local newspaper. Even though he was not convicted and his arrest was legally expunged, today if you do a “google search” for this student, you can still find the account of his arrest. Employers are becoming savvy in using search engines for digging up information about their job applicants. A partner of an accounting firm I know purchases Facebook data about college grads applying for jobs in his firm—not just the Facebook pages that are showing their sites at graduation time, but pages that have been cached over the course of each applicants 4 years of schooling. Even before I was hired as JPII’s headmaster, the chair of the search committee here, Mr. Wood, did a thorough google search and read every article I’d ever published in a magazine, every article about me, every quote that had been attributed to me in the newspaper.

Jesus once said:

There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops (Luke 12:2-3)

The best way to prevent ourselves from being embarrassed or from letting something about our private lives come back and bite us publicly is to work very hard at making our lives exemplary in every way—to live as if all of our actions and words were “in the light” no matter how private they may seem. Part of that is avoiding situations where we’re not in control of what’s happening, like the two girls who got drunk and didn’t realize the implications of what they had done until it was too late. If we live moral lives, if we try to live “in the light” as God wants us to, then we don’t need to worry so much about what’s “out there” about us. We can simply be ourselves.

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