Monday, October 15, 2012

Difference Maker

Dr. Bill Gavigan and his daughter, Jeannie, with Mr. Weber at halftime.

In this, the beginning of our second decade as a school, we continue to recognize particular people who have made a profound impact on the life and culture of Pope John Paul II High School from our first ten years. At halftime of the football game on October 12, 2012, we gave honor to Mrs. Mollie Gavigan, founder of JPII's Hand in Hand program. The text of Mr. Weber's remarks follow: 

Tonight we give special honor to a woman who is the founder of our “Hand in Hand” program here at JPII. Hand in Hand is a program for students with intellectual disabilities—and it’s a program we are very proud of. Students in our Hand in Hand Program are paired with a learning specialist, Adrienne Parks, and receive intensive educational instruction and support, even while they grow intellectually, spiritually, and morally as part of our school community.  The program has been so successful that it’s been used as a model by other Catholic schools all around the country.

I can’t adequately communicate, as headmaster of the school, how special this program is to the life of our school, and how wonderful the kids who are part of it.   They are generous, kind, and fun loving—and they bring out the best in all of us.

However, Hand in Hand would not exist here were it not for Mrs. Mollie Gavigan.  Molly and Bill are parents of Jeannie, a young lady with downs syndrome, and there were simply no options that could meet their daughter’s needs in our Catholic school system here in Nashville.

So in the summer of 2004, Mollie met in the office of my predecessor, Hans Broekman, to make the case that JPII should start a program for kids with special needs. We spoke recently with Hans, who remembers that meeting very well. Mollie’s message was simple: “The Church is willing to give my daughter the sacraments, but it isn't willing to give her an education. I’ve tried everywhere.” Hans said he tried to put her off and delay, saying the school was still brand new and growing, and it just wasn’t a good time. “Yes,” Mollie shot back, “When I found out that Jeannie had downs syndrome, I also thought “now is not a good time.”  Hans said at that moment, he was convicted, recalling, “I felt, as one does from time to time, the strong presence of the Holy Spirit in my office.”  So he proposed the program to the Board, and they approved it unanimously. 

Mrs. Gavigan, however, did more than begin a program: Realizing that the cost of such a program was far beyond what tuition covers, she committed to spearheading the additional fund-raising necessary to  defray the school’s cost. HH began in 2004 and has been part of our school ever since.  As a result of her efforts, her daughter and six others are now proud alumni of JPII-- and we, likewise, are proud of them.

We regret that Mollie Gavigan died in November of 2006 of breast cancer, so she could not be here tonight to accept this award personally. Standing in to receive this honor in her name are her daughter, Jeannie, a 2008 alum of JPII, her son, Bill, and his two children, and her husband, Dr. Bill Gavigan.  Please join me in thanking them warmly for the contribution of their mother, grandmother and spouse.  

Outward, Not Inward

This is Mr. Weber's talk to students on October 22, 2012.      
There’s a famous story about a corporation in Dallas that spent several 100 million dollars building a new corporate headquarters—a 50 story building featuring all the amenities. Besides giving their employees more room, the leaders of the corporation hoped that moving into this new building would improve corporate morale. However, when the big day came for the employees to move in, they realized they had made a terrible mistake. Apparently, the elevator system they installed was too slow, such that all their employees began to complain. It got to the point after several weeks that the leadership began to think the new building was actually hurting morale, and were on the verge of ripping out the brand new elevator system to put in a faster one, which would have cost the company over 10 million dollars.

But before they made that decision, they decided to hire an industrial psychologist to study the problem. The psychologist came to the new building, rode up and down the elevators with employees several times, walked into corporate headquarters and made a suggestion that would only cost the company about $1,000. The company took his advice and from the moment they did, complaining almost completely stopped. The original elevator system is still in use today.

Q. What did the expert suggest?

A. Install mirrors inside the elevators. Once the mirrors were installed, the employees spent so much time primping and inspecting themselves, they forgot all about the slow elevators.

That’s a true story, but there is a kind of parable-like quality to it in terms of what it says about us. It is reminiscent, I believe, of the story of Narcissus from Greek and Roman mythology. You remember the story. Narcissus (Nar-SIS-us) became thirsty and went to drink from a stream. When he saw his reflection in the water, he fell in love with it, not knowing that it was himself. As he bent down to kiss it, it seemed to "run away" and he was heart broken. He grew thirstier but he wouldn't touch the water for fear of damaging his reflection, so he eventually died of thirst and self love, staring at his own reflection.

There is within us, I think, a certain amount “narcissism” –vanity and self-centeredness--that makes us unaware of our surroundings, and certainly unaware of the needs and struggle of others. The “mirror” becomes a kind of symbol of that, and perhaps even a symbol of our society today. We don’t need more mirrors. Instead, we need windows that help us look outward and not inward

That's why I am pleased to announce that JPII has formalized an arrangement with a Catholic school in France for an exchange program with us, our third exchange program (the others are Loughlin in England and the German exchange with a Muenster Catholic school). Madame Taylor and Mrs. Phillips spent Fall break with the leaders of this school in France to talk through how the program would work and recommended to me that we go forward, and I am delighted to endorse that recommendation. There's no better way to look outward than to immerse ourselves in a foreign culture for 2-3 weeks--so especially if you're taking French here, I hope you will look into that program. 

But there are other ways to look outward as well. Our Christian service program places us in situations that may be a little uncomfortable to us, but that's a good thing, in that it helps us understand people with less advantages than we have. I like the fact that there's a good mix of faiths in this school--the interplay between Catholics and non-Catholics is something that helps us re-examine our assumptions. The word "respect" means literally to "look at a second time."  I like that this student body comes from 21 cities or towns, ten different zip codes, and two different states. Contrary to the way many think, our differences should not lead to intolerance, but to respect, as we are able to re-examine our beliefs a second time while considering the beliefs of others. 

So let's try to build more windows in our life and less mirrors. Let us live life with our eyes wide open, able to see others' needs, willing to immerse ourselves in unfamiliar settings, willing to challenge our perspectives and get ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Aside from the fact we all need a little stretching, it makes for a more interesting, exciting life. 

Monday, October 08, 2012

Music: The Universal Language

Benjamin Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. He gives one of the finest talks I have ever heard.  Enough said. Enjoy it!