These are my remarks to parents at our "Back to School Night" on August 8, 2013.
In my opening remarks to students on Monday, our first day of school, I encouraged your children to be “BOLD!” this year—to join new clubs, to try out for a team, to forge new relationships, to have the courage to make mistakes.
I want to encourage you to be bold also—bold to accept the mission of JPII and become a partner with us. I often use an analogy from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity that best explains what we're trying to do here. Imagine, Lewis says, we are a living house:
"God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, we 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 we thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. We thought we were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself." (Mere Christianity)
High school is a time of genuine growth and character development for teenagers. With an elevated vision of what's possible for them, with a clear understanding that genuine growth includes the development of their minds, bodies, characters and spirits, we believe that God can truly build palaces—cathedrals, even-- in the lives of our students and they, in turn, can turn his love outward in a life of learning and service to others.
Optimistic? You bet. One of the greatest compliments we’ve ever been paid here came from a parent, who said in one of our annual surveys, there’s an “optimism for excellence” at JPII.
But it’s not a superficial “polly-annish” optimism that believes that teenagers will always be gushingly positive and happy throughout their four years here. Growing up is tough. When God starts knocking about the house, as CS Lewis reminds us, it hurts. This is the time we must be bold as parents and as a school. There will be times that teens cling to their childishness, when we—you and us—must impose discipline. There will be occasions when students DON’T do well on a test, or when they come home in tears over what someone said. At times, they may even feel estranged from this place. During these times, let us take the long view. Remember that a teenager’s best friend can become an enemy in a day, a teenager’s favorite teacher can become a villain in one class. The life of a teenager is a roller coaster, but our job is to stay the course. Know that we are allies, not adversaries, and as adults, we must trust each other, and communicate with each other to help raise kids into the kind of people God wants them to be.
Our audacious optimism in kids, after all, is borne out of our abiding belief in God's grace and the magnificent things he can do with teenagers if they’re placed in a culture that challenges them to stretch for goals and provides support to them when they stumble. If we can do that in tandem--you as parents, we as school-- the sky's the limit for them.
Raising teens to become the people God wants them to be is the most important thing that any of us in this room will ever do with our lives. Let’s support each other in that magnificent vocation, or to quote from our country’s founding document:
With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, let us mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes and our sacred honor.