(Student Address delivered at the Commencement Exercises of La Salle Academy on Thursday evening, 8 June 2017)
Your Excellency, Bishop Evans; Brother Thomas; Mr. Kavanagh; Representatives of the Diocese and the Brothers of the Christian Schools; Members of the Board; Faculty; Alumni; Parents; Guests; and fellow members of the graduating Class of 2017.
Everything we’ve worked for the past four years has led to this very moment. A moment where we take time to reflect on what an incredible journey it has been. It’s a lot to absorb. If it’s too intense, just pause, and think about Mr. McGinn’s basketball skills from beyond the three point line.
It takes a lot of courage to send an email of yourself shooting an air ball to a class of 326 students. But that captures what our dean represents. Humility, humor, and so many other virtues. That’s Mr. McGinn. Someone not afraid to sing karaoke at the Christmas movie night, nor someone afraid to walk around during every lunch and ask if everyone’s “hangin’ in.” He was a dean who, during a class assembly in the theater or the auditorium, could transition so effectively from the crux of a serious message to calling out an unsuspecting student about dress code in the back row. He deserved the video our class made of 100 reasons why we love him. And so with the acknowledgement of one of our strongest mentors, role models, and leaders over the past four years, let’s now move to our class- what this class has done, what this class will do, and what this class’ legacy will be.
Here at La Salle, our mascot is the ram. And I think that the ram is so appropriate to describe our class and our journey. For example, there were times when we butted heads. We butted heads with each other, our teachers, our parents, and even ourselves. But all the hardships we faced were a necessary part of high school. Hardships ranging from growing up, to changing relationships, to resisting an increasingly materialistic culture, to frustration about schoolwork, to difficult losses on the athletic field, to waking up to that same blaring alarm on a cold morning that only an iced coffee from La Salle Bakery could fix.
But after every hardship we faced as a class — we bounced back like the Patriots in the second half of Superbowl 51. The times when we butted heads with each other, our teachers, our parents, and our alarm clocks didn’t stop us from climbing the tallest of mountains. What defined this class was doing more than 8:30 – 2:30 every day. Every single person in this class found something they cared about at the Academy both during and outside of classes…they found a place where they were happiest. This class achieved extraordinary feats in the classroom, was involved in clubs, won countless state championships, put on successful plays, performed in distinguished concerts, showed wild school spirit, and served our community.
As rams, the difficult terrain we navigated didn’t stop us from keeping a resilient sense of humor and positivity. It didn’t stop us from dancing on top of lunch tables, having tailgates before a big game, or just laughing with friends until our stomachs hurt. As seniors, we’ve enjoyed a senior-only parking day, movie nights, a dodgeball tournament, and free Palagis during lunch. And throughout these four years we’ve learned to be comfortable with one another. It’s clear we came a long way since awkwardly singing the La Salle fight song in bright yellow t-shirts with Mr. Finnegan during a sunny freshman orientation.
Every individual in our class is just that-an individual. Over the past four years, we have met and interacted with people who come from unimaginably different backgrounds and cultures. And at La Salle we are encouraged to celebrate that diversity-that diversity of thought, culture, and religion. But paradoxically while we’re all different, while we’re all individuals, we’re also all the same because La Salle is something bigger than all of us individually. As members of the La Salle Academy Class of 2017 we represent the classes that came before us, and pave the way for every class that will come after us. Together, we pay tribute to our identity as a Catholic school which executes the vision of St. John Baptist de La Salle-to unite men and women of diverse backgrounds in the pursuit of faith, service, and community.
Our journey up this mountain of high school allowed us to fulfill the essence of our collective Lasallian mission. Just like rams sacrificed in the Old Testament, we were called over these past four years to be, and continue to be, living sacrifices for those who need us most in our community through our service. As a class we have touched the lives of others in our local community through Lasallian Youth and Christian service, our national community through service trips, and our international Lasallian community through partnership with our sister school in Rongai, Kenya.
The world needs young men and women like us.
And in such tumultuous times, the world needs us more than ever. Today is the day we stop to take in the incredible view we have worked to achieve and to give thanks for each other and every person that helped get us here. As rams we look back at the mountain we just climbed. We remember the beautiful moments when we stayed up long nights talking with a friend, performing in a play, winning a state championship, acing a test we worked for, attending mass together, making a difference for others in our community through service, taking senior privilege, or one of my personal favorites, getting a call the night before a snowstorm at 7 o’clock sharp with a friendly “Good Evening. This is Mr. Kavanagh calling from La Salle Academy.”
But we also remember the less glamorous moments-frantically trying to submit an essay on Google classroom 10 minutes before midnight, cramming late into the night for an exam the next day, or matters more serious like getting in a fight with a close friend, or losing loved ones.
But let’s not be complacent with our achievements, nor dwell on the hardships of the past. We look back, but we also look ahead to the sprawling landscape ahead of us, and marvel at all the other mountains in the distance yet to be explored and conquered. But we won’t just stand here and take in the view. In the words of a beloved teacher at La Salle I’ve had, “Take pride in how far you have come, but likewise have faith in how far you can go.”
Let’s not underestimate ourselves.
No matter where we go after this point- whether we go to college, take a year off, start a business, serve in the military or the Peace Corps, pursue a religious vocation, work to provide for family, whatever we do- Let’s strive to learn more, to achieve more, and to serve more, each and every day. That’s what we’re capable of, and that’s what La Salle calls every one of us to do now and forever.
But I’m not worried about our class- a class that’s been defined by doing whatever it takes to make it happen instead of just taking in the view. So in the same zealous spirit with which we have approached these past four years, congratulations to us, the La Salle Academy Senior Class of 2017.
Alexander P. Philips–Alumnus, Class of 2017