The End of Our White-Water Rafting Trip

(Student Address delivered at the La Salle Academy Commencement Exercises on Wednesday evening, 8 June 2016)


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 2016,

Senior year is full of lasts: the last time we put on our school uniforms, the last time we cheered in the Beehive, the last time we got senior privilege and smirked to our friends that we got to leave early, and today: the last time that we, the class of 2016, will all be in the same room, together as one. At our first senior assembly of the fall you probably thought: this is the last time I am going to hear about Mr. Kavanagh’s white-water rafting trip. You were wrong. We are going to talk about it one last time, right now.

Mr. Kavanagh first told us the story of his white-water rafting vacation at the beginning of our freshman year. When he went on this adventure many years ago, he was struck not only by water, but also by the parallels between white-water rafting and high school. Throughout our four years he has continued to draw from these comparisons, using this story to motivate us to succeed and warn us about the obstacles ahead.

Freshman year was a lot like starting off down a powerful river. We were bombarded by new friends, new clubs, new sports teams, and a new course load. We had to listen to our teachers and our dean to learn quickly what it meant to be Lasallian: a person of faith, service, and community. Without the guidance of these role models, we may have drowned. Then, in sophomore year, we tested the waters. We stopped being little freshmen and got bigger roles in the school plays and starting positions on the sports fields. We discovered what classes interested us and became involved outside of the classroom. Junior year was a challenge. We traveled through rough waters where giant boulders crouched underneath the water, waiting to snag our raft. We started taking advanced classes and the SATs. We got leadership positions and driver’s licenses. It took all of our collective efforts to help each other navigate and make sure no one got stuck on the boulders. However, some of us did. Many of us were faced with difficult challenges junior year, and it is truly a testament to the strong community here at La Salle that we are all here celebrating our graduation today.

Even though the journey was hard, we finally made it to senior year. We jumped out of the raft and floated down the river on our own. We applied to colleges, gained more independence, and started making our own decisions. We felt alone as we floated without the raft, not noticing that our teachers were still waiting nearby, ready to dive in and save us at a moment’s notice.

Now that our journey is over, we expect to get out onto dry land. But at the end of the river is not a shady picnic spot, or your mother waiting with towels and dry clothes. At the end of the river is the ocean. And as the river on which we have been journeying flows into the tumultuous waves of the ocean, we are separated from our companions and forced to sink or swim. We have become skilled white-water rafters, but can we apply this knowledge to handle the open seas?

Surprisingly, the lessons that we will need to stay afloat are not the lessons that we crammed into our brains the night before a test or scribbled down during homeroom. When we look back on our education at La Salle in many years, we might not remember what the secant of pi/3 is, or who said, “Out, out, brief candle.” What we will remember is far more important. We will remember what it takes to be Lasallian: faith, service, and community.

La Salle is one of those unique places where faith, service, and community come to life each day. Praying together every morning and reminding ourselves of God’s presence at the beginning of each class has strengthened our faith. Spending our Wednesdays at different sites around the community developed our sense of service. And sharing special intentions with our classmates and teachers helped build our community bonds. After four years that were both too long and too short, we will leave this safe haven where everyone cares about us. There will be no teachers to stay after school to help us make up missed material or inquire about how we played in yesterday’s game, no Dean McVey to watch over us to make sure that we succeed. We are going to lose the safety of our raft once we leave La Salle and enter the huge body of water that is the adult world.

But it is our strong faith, our dedication to service, and our sense of community that will guide us in these sometimes-troubled waters. Our Catholic, Lasallian education will shine like a light in the darkness, reminding us of our faith and guiding us to get out of our comfort zones and change the world.

We are the future leaders, teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, social workers, engineers, clergy members, artists, and of course, mathematicians, who will revolutionize the world. It has been one of the greatest privileges to be around all of you for these last four years. I could not have asked for better companions on this white-water-rafting adventure. You have taught me so much more than I could ever hope to learn in a classroom. You embody the spirit of St. John Baptist de La Salle and I know that we are a class that will dedicate ourselves to giving back to the communities that have given us so much. Many of us have already begun.

Thank you so much to the teachers and administration, and most importantly, congratulations to us, the class of 2016.

Allison R. Paul–Class of 2016