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!

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