(Speech Given at the Commencement Ceremonies for La Salle Academy on the evening of June 5, 2014)
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 2014,
“It might seem crazy what I’m about to say, I’m a hot air balloon that could go to space because I’m happy. Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof. Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. Clap along if you know what happiness is to you.”
Congratulations Class of 2014. We truly have much to be happy about and proud of this evening. We are an amazing class: smart, curious, and quirky individuals. We are Merit Scholar intellectuals, All-State athletes, award-winning artists, National History Day winners, top rated actors, science Olympiads, and talented musicians.
Tonight, however, I would like to focus on not what makes each of us unique but rather the common bond we share. Now and forever more, when you Google yourself, you will read “La Salle, 2014.”
Tonight, we celebrate our graduation from La Salle Academy – a Lasallian school. This is what binds us – what will forever hold us together. This has absolutely contributed to our achievements, though more importantly, it must be what sets us apart in our world.
Graduation speakers offer advice for how to go out there and climb the ladder of success. At this moment, our society’s notion of success has become synonymous with wealth, power, and prestige. Tonight, I want to ask you, instead, to redefine success.
Our education at La Salle has made it clear that we are prepared and ready to take our place in the world. But what I urge us to do is not just take our place at the top of the world, but change the world. Being LaSallian is at the core of who we are, and it should drive everything we do as we go forward. As Lasallians, we measure success by a different metric system.
We’ve heard that phrase, “Lasallian,” countless times over the past four years. But what does it mean to truly be Lasallian?
First, we are animated by our faith – our faith in the presence of a loving God. We begin and end each day in prayer – a practice given to us by St. John Baptist de La Salle himself, who teaches that the more you devote yourself to prayer, the more you will prosper in your work. He instructs us to thank God for the graces and many blessings He has given us. As we leave La Salle, we must continue to live by the spirit of faith. As St. John Baptist de La Salle reminds us, “in the light of faith, you see things quite differently.” God is always near to us – waiting for us to call on Him, giving us His grace and wisdom, inspiring us in all we do. We will need this grace and wisdom for the challenges and life decisions that our future holds.
Being Lasallian also means we live the way of the Gospel – the way of love. We’ve experienced this love in action each day. Our administrators don’t hide in their offices, buried behind piles of paper. They are out and about, reaching out, engaging us and extending themselves – always present to the student body. We could count on Mr. Kavanagh’s cheerful greeting every morning outside the Student Life office and Brother Tom’s friendly hello as he roamed through the hallways. And our Dean, Mrs. Richard, has made it to our lunch in the cafeteria every day for the past four years… making rounds to each table, genuinely concerned about how we were doing and asking for our input on class events and activities. We always knew “they had our backs.” Through their presence, they created a community of love.
And then there are our teachers. Teachers often arrived at 6:30 am to provide extra help in chemistry or math; other teachers stayed until five to help students write essays; and still others organized Google chats to connect with students or offer study sessions on weekends and vacations. They taught us the Great Commandment of love, not only in words but through their example. And now we must follow the example they’ve set. This won’t be easy in today’s world.
We live in a society where we are hyper-connected – to ourselves. We use Facebook as our own personal stage, posting our statuses and our pictures. We “tweet” all day long about how we feel, what we are doing. We have iPhones, iPads, and iPods; oh and don’t forget about “Selfies.”
While concern primarily for oneself might be the norm in our society today, as Lasallians we’ve been taught the opposite of self. We’ve learned to focus on “the other,” particularly others who have so much less than we have: the poor, the marginalized, the neglected. Being Lasallian means upholding the dignity of all human beings. And we have done this in countless ways: through Christian service, mission trips, and donations of time and resources. We have used our education to raise our voice on behalf of those who have no voice.
St. Paul warns us that knowledge by itself “inflates” while “love builds up.” We are called not just to excel, but to engage, not just to succeed, but to share, not only to create a life for ourselves, but to contribute to the communities around us. As we leave La Salle, we must take our essential experiences and lessons with us. Let us continue to nurture the values instilled in us – faith, love, and concern for others – because our world desperately needs them.
Four years ago, when we gathered at the Cathedral for our first liturgy, Mrs. Richard and Fr. Najim gifted us with Believer pins. These small dove pins remind us that the Spirit of God lives within us. We need to stay attuned to the movement of the Spirit within – it is this light inside each of us that will illuminate our way, wherever we go from here.
As we leave La Salle today, I suggest to you: don’t buy society’s definition of success. As Lasallians, we are called to so much more. Yes, definitely follow your dreams and chase success– but take up the challenge of forging an identity that transcends yourself. Care about something; work to solve the problems in our world; find the passion that you are willing to fight for. Don’t settle for the status quo.
There were plenty of signposts along our path directing us to make money, and seek power and prestige. There will be few signposts reminding us to stay connected to the essence of who we are. Stay connected to that place from which everything is possible. Always remember that you are in the presence of a loving God.
The Greek mathematician Archimedes said, “Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.” So, class of 2014, find your place to stand, be happy, and go move the world!
Gianna M. Jasinski (Class of 2014)