Sunday, August 28, 2011

ACE 16 Graduation Speech

My son, Faus, graduated from the Alliance for Catholic Education program at Notre Dame this summer. The program asks college graduates to make a two year commitment to teach in an under-resourced Catholic school somewhere in the country, during which time they study and earn a Master's degree. Faus was stationed in Denver and taught at two different Catholic schools. He was asked to represent his class as the graduation speaker in July.

He is currently a middle school science and social studies teacher at St. Rose of Lima in Denver.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Establishing a Routine

This talk was given to JPII students on August 22, 2011 during school assembly.

There was a senior boy I knew that would walk into school every Monday morning comatose, almost like a walking zombie. He was a smart kid, but if he took a test on Monday, he usually did very poorly. By Wednesday, he was OK and did much better in school, only to walk into school as a zombie the following Monday. Yes, I suspect drinking was an issue. But I think there was something else happening to him: his whole body clock was completely screwed up from the weekend as well.

Sleep is a good thing. Our bodies need it, and in general as a society, we don’t get enough of it. That’s particularly true of you as teenagers. Scientists are unanimous that you need an average of 8.5 to 9 hours/night to function at peak efficiency, which would mean if you woke up at 6 a.m. for school, you’d have to be asleep in bed by 9 or 9:30 p.m. That’s not happening! Nationally, only 15% of teens get the right amount of sleep, and I suspect the number is even smaller here at JPII.

There’s a commercial that Clairol used to run of a beautiful model who would say: “Clairol: It costs more, but I am worth it.” The underlying message: indulge and pamper yourself. But I think there’s probably a difference between pampering oneself and taking care of oneself. The difficulty of adjusting to high school really isn’t the difficulty of the curriculum but finding the right balance, in disciplining oneself to not only keep up with the homework but also balancing the extra-curricular life with the need to sleep, eat and exercise properly. It’s a time management issue, really, and for most of you, your parents are giving you the space to manage your time as you see fit.

Incredibly, we’re beginning our fourth week of school today. By now you have a sense of your classes, which ones are the most demanding, which ones you’ll need to concentrate more on to do well. You know what your coaches expect of you, and you have an idea of which clubs you want to join and what the time commitments are. If you haven’t already, it’s important to find your groove, to establish the right routine so that you can operate most efficiently. Our bodies are like machines in many ways, and work at their best when we have a regular bedtime, wake-up time, time for rest, time for work. That’s partly why this senior boy was such a zombie and why, for example, most of us are cranky on Mondays: we’ve disrupted the natural rhythm of am earlier routine bedtime and wake-up time from the week by staying up much later and waking up much later on the weekends.

Regular sleep, regular exercise, and regular study times- find the routine that works best for you and try and stick to it. And don’t forget to include prayer as part of that routine: God wants us to rely on him, and when we do so, we’ll find he can take a lot of weight off our shoulders.

Have a good week.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pay it Forward!

This is Mr. Weber's assembly address to JPII students on August 15, 2011

You may remember the movie that came out in 2000 called “Pay it Forward,” starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment. Osment plays a young boy, Trevor McKinney, who decides to do a school project in which he does three good things for three people, and then asks those three people to do three good things for someone else, to pay the generosity forward. The idea behind the movie is that individuals can change the world through kindness that inspires more kindness.

Since that movie, there has been a national movement called “Pay it Forward” that has its own website and invites people to share stories of ordinary people being inspired to help others. A couple of interesting stories: There’s a posting from an employees at McDonalds who worked the drive-through. One day a man came through and paid for the person behind him, who then paid for the person behind him. Apparently this went on for about 35 cars before someone broke the streak. There’s a story of a woman who had a flat tire, who was helped by a passerby. When she offered to pay him $40, he said he’d prefer she do something nice for someone else in his name, so she contributed the $40 to a soup kitchen.
There’s another story about ten college girls who went out for breakfast, and another patron paid their bill, saying they were the future of our country, so that the next time each of the girls went to a restaurant, they each paid for a random person’s dinner there.

This theme of “Pay it Forward” is going to be the theme on Friday night, when we thank Mr. Carell for his magnificent gift to JPII in the opening of the Jim Carell Athletic complex. He’s challenged us to respond to the magnificent gift he’s given us by being generous back, by paying it forward. There will be opportunities for us to purchase bricks and contribute to the completion of the project, including lights, statues and other finishing touches. But beyond the financial piece, I hope that paying it forward will be a theme in your life in your dealings with others. God has blessed us in so many ways as students and teachers of JPII, and the only real way we can repay him is to return that generosity by helping others.

May your generosity, through your Christian service and through your day to day interactions with your peers in the hallways of JPII, always be a mark of this school and this student body.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Building Cathedrals

This is Mr. Weber's talk with parents in JPII's "Back to School Night" on August 11, 2011.

The story is told of two brick-layers, working on a project together in medieval France. One is a miserable cuss, constantly complaining about the monotony of his job: "Brick after brick, same thing, over and over, " he often grumbles. But the other mason is happy, takes pride in what he is doing, and even whistles while he works. This fascinates their foreman, who finally asks the second why he likes his job so much. “Why?” he responds. “Because I am doing something important. I am building a cathedral! “

It's easy for all of us, within the scope of raising or educating children, or within our jobs and the built-in stresses of meeting deadlines, handling complaints, or dealing with difficult people, to lose sight of the big picture, the "why" of what we're doing. It's too easy to become like the first mason.

On the occasion of our tenth anniversary year of Pope John Paul II's opening as a high school, we spent a lot of time this summer--at our leadership meetings, during our Board retreat, in our pre-year faculty meetings--talking about the fundamental beliefs that inspire us at JPII, our "why." We were prompted to do this on the basis of Simon Sinek's book, "Start with the Why," a succinct summary of which is contained in this video:

What is the "why" of JPII? Our summer discussions were lively, inspirational, and full of story telling.

Mrs. Ebelhar told the story of when Golden Tate walked into her choral classroom for the first time as a freshman. Like all JPII students, he had to take three years of a fine arts class, and "singing" seemed like it would be the easiest and least objectionable. But he found out on that first day he'd have to learn to read music, sing in parts, and perform in public concerts. He wanted out--he was a football player, not a chorister! But he stayed, grudgingly, mostly because there weren't any other better alternatives. Fast forward to the end of Golden's junior year. He had completed his three year requirement, but he begged Mrs. Ebelhar to place him in the advanced men's choir as an elective for his senior year, where he would have to wear a tuxedo and perform. Mrs. Ebelhar agreed, of course. So even while Golden was being recruited by every university in the country as one of the nation's best high school football players, he also sang with great pride in the advanced men's choir.

There were many other stories. A coach told the story of a senior boy who was a C student when he came to JPII as a freshman-- in his mind, to play a sport. He's never made less than a B since, inspired to work hard in a culture where it's "cool to be smart," in the words of a recent graduate. An admissions counselor relayed the story of a young man who so shy during the admissions interview he could only mumble short phrases, but four years later, graduated a confident, happy, young man with a scholarship to one of our nation's best universities. As a faculty, we reminded each other, through these "before and after" stories, how privileged we were to watch God's grace work so powerfully in the life of so many of our students.

Each administrator, each Board member, each faculty member, described the "why" of JPII a bit differently this summer. As parents, you may have your own version. But the essence of the "why" in what we're doing is eloquently described by C.S. Lewis in a short passage from Mere Christianity:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

There is a great optimism in students at JPII--in who they are and what they can become. We believe if they are immersed in a culture of high expectations, if they are supported by adults who model right behavior and pick them up when they stumble, if they belong to a team, activity or club that they are passionate about with others who share that passion, and if they are invited to grow in their faith through many opportunities for worship and serving others, God will work in their life and help them flourish to become something special.

God’s dreams for us far exceed our own. We see only limits, whereas God sees infinite horizons. No matter where they begin, when teens are immersed in a culture of optimism, expectation, faith and support, they are elevated to look above the walls of their perceived limitations to see beyond what they once believed about themselves, beyond the cynicism of what society believes, even beyond what we who love them may see and hope for them.

That's why you sacrifice to have your kids here. The great joy of being a teacher or a parent at JPII is we get to witness this transformation -a liberation, even- as young men and women grow in confidence borne from achievement and as they begin to think differently about their futures.

Sure, there's going to be times when it's a little uncomfortable. As C.S. Lewis' beautiful analogy reminds us, when God starts "knocking about the house," it can be painful. Kids may be asked to work harder than they want, they may get grades from time to time that disappoint them, they may get irritated with us, much in the same way they get irritated with you as their parents when you set limits. Raising teens is not for the faint of heart! But it's all worth it. It's worth it because of the kind of young men and women they will become.

We, too, as parents and teachers, are building cathedrals! May God give us the wisdom to build well.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Taking Off the Training Wheels

Editor's note: This is Mr. Weber's assembly address to JPII students on the first day of school, August 3, 2011.

Welcome students, to our tenth year as a school! I especially want to welcome the 166 brand new freshman and transfer students. Also, welcome to our good friends from England who are part of our Loughlin Scholars Exchange program and our four new students from Muenster, Germany. We're glad you are with us!

Those of you who’ve been here a while know that we sometimes quote our namesake, Blessed John Paul II, who had a special love and respect for young people. At World Youth Day one year, he challenged people exactly like you with this brief quote.

"Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."

My family lives in Stonecrest neighborhood with a lot of young families. One day this summer as I was on a walk with my wife, I saw a father teaching his son how to ride a two-wheeler—I think they had just taken off the training wheels. This is a big, scary moment in the life of a little boy! I’m guessing the boy was about five. The dad would start by pushing him down the sidewalk as he held the boy up, let him get some speed as he ran with him, then let go. The boy would go about ten feet, the front wheel would begin to wobble, he’d lose his balance, and crash. But the young boy was determined. He’d pick himself up, call his dad over and try again. Ten feet on his own again, wobble, crash. Fifteen feet, wobble, crash. As we looped around the block about twenty minutes later, they were still at it. I estimate he crashed about fifteen times, until finally he was able to go unassisted. He called out—“Look Mommy, I’m doing it!” as Mom and Dad cheered him on with obvious joy and pride.

Fifteen times that little boy failed, but it didn’t deter him.

Something happens to us as we get older. At some point late in elementary school, we begin to shy away from failure. We begin to play it safe. Maybe it’s because we don’t want to look foolish or to be laughed at. Perhaps it’s because we don’t want to stand out and look different. But whatever the reason, we start aiming for the middle, where it’s safer and we draw less attention to ourselves. We start being satisfied with mediocrity.

That can take many forms in high school. Instead of trying out for a team, you can be the critic in the bleachers who makes fun of the players on the field. Instead of being the guy or girl who volunteers an answer in class, you can make fun of the person who seems eager and engaged. Instead of taking the risk to ask someone you like out, you can be the guy who plays World of Warcraft all night long. Instead of being the guy who really strives for good grades, you can be the person who just does the minimum to get by.

Don’t be that guy!

Here’s what I think: God has an unbelievably cool plan for your life that far surpasses the dreams that you might have for yourself. But he’s not going to force you to do something against your will or try to cram that plan down you throat. If he did, he’d take away your free will, and he respects you too much to do that. But if you’re open to God’s grace, if you’re willing to stretch yourself, join some clubs, do some things that are outside of your comfort zone, take some risks, he will work with you to make you something new, something special. Our job is to take those first steps. We have to take off the training wheels. We can’t play it safe.

So here’s an odd message for a headmaster to tell students on the opening day of school. I hope you fail often. That’s right—I hope you fail, and fail often! Because if you do so, that means you’re trying often and that you have the courage to keep getting back up onto that bike and trying again.

We can learn a lot from young children! May you have the courage to challenge yourself this year, to put out into the deep and let down your nets for the catch. If you do so, you'll be surprised at what God has in mind for you. May you all have a magnificent year!