Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Kindness Matters

These are my remarks to students on Monday, September 30, during assembly.

Pope John Paul once said that a "society can be judged on how it treats its weakest members." 

That's not a bad way to measure the culture of a school, too. How kind are we as a school, particularly to the most vulnerable among us?

I knew a young man many years ago--for the sake of anonymity, let's call him Kevin-- a senior, who was really, really awkward. He had a very effeminate way of walking, which caused some people to whisper that he had gender issues. He was too often teased mercilessly, and because of his awkwardness, didn’t know how to respond appropriately,  so his responses just made his persecutors laugh at him even more. One day, as he was walking down the hall, some sophomore boys began tormenting him, knocking his books on the ground, laughing, and as he bent over to pick up the books, they slapped a “kick me” sign on his back and began running up and kicking him. A senior boy, an offensive lineman on the football team, came down the hallway and when he saw what was happening, he ripped the sign off Kevin's back, and then went to the the ringleader, pinned him up against the locker and said. “Kevin's a senior. He’s one of us. You mess with him, you mess with the whole senior class. You got that?” “Uh, yeah, we were just teasing”, the sophomore said, scared.  Then the football player helped Kevin pick up his books and walked down the hall with him to where a group of seniors had gathered.

I don’t know what happened to Kevin, or where he is now, but I am quite sure that he remembers that simple comment “He’s one of us,” with great gratitude.

To what extent do we stand up for the least among us? And if we come across someone being bullied by others, do we allow that to happen? Bullies, after all, need an audience. They need people to affirm what they’re doing by laughing with them. When people aren’t laughing, or when they sense disapproval from others, they usually quit.

All of us go through bouts of depression from time to time. We’re not sure why we’re depressed, but for whatever reason, we’re just down in the dumps. That’s normal. But the quickest way out of it isn’t to psycho-analyze ourselves or try to do something for ourselves. The quickest therapy is to go out of our way to do something nice for others—to give a random compliment, to befriend someone that needs a friend, to send a text and say something kind to someone that needs it. It’s the way God made us—we feel best about ourselves when we’re being kind to other people.

The excitement typical of the first month or so of the school year is over—and as the academic year progresses, it becomes stressful. When we’re stressed, we have a natural tendency to begin closing down to others, to circle the emotional wagons, to put ourselves first, to become selfish. I encourage you to do the opposite—simple kindness to others can reverse all of those trends, and make a huge difference in someone else’s day.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Fifty Years Later

Student assembly address:

There are a few seminal moments in our nation's history that everyone remembers until he or she dies. Your great grandparents certainly remember December 7, 1941, the date we were bombed by the Japanese in Pearl Harbor. Your grandparents likely will remember July 20, 1969, as the nation huddled around black and white TV's and watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, saying "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." They also remember November 22, 1963, the date that our 35th president, John Kennedy, was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. Your parents remember, and perhaps you remember, vaguely, September 11, 2001, the date five thousand Americans were killed when terrorists ran two planes into the Twin Towers of New York City, drawing us into a war that we're still fighting today. 

These events are etched into our corporate memory, partly because they shocked us, partly because of the power of what the event symbolized, partly because the event changed us as a country in some deep way. 

Last Wednesday, August 28, was the 50th anniversary of another event that is forever locked into our corporate memory: The civil rights march on Washington D.C., punctuated by one of the most famous talks in our nation's history, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. I thought it appropriate, in place of my usual remarks at assembly, to honor this anniversary by listening to a portion of that speech this morning. As we know, Reverend King was assassinated less than five years later, on April 4, 1968. 

May we have the courage to live out the strength of our convictions and to stand against all forms of discrimination, wherever and whenever we may encounter it.