Graduation Speeches: A Time for True Assessment (Part 2)

by Michael Van Hecke, M.Ed.

In my previous article, Graduation Speeches (Part 1), I proposed that valedictorian, salutatorian or student speeches given at graduations should be a primary point of judgment, or “assessment” to use the modern term, on whether a school is fulfilling its mission.

To help highlight what is possible, and what schools really can do in the modern world, I give you more of their words, directly. Here are a few more protracted examples of some excerpts from two different schools that are purposeful in their mission—one an inner-city high school that shifted its mission six years ago and is now reaping the rewards, the other a newer school founded on the mission expressed in The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools by Archbishop J. Michael Miller.

From Saint Mary’s, this valedictorian was part of the first four years of the re-shaped focus on mission. She was clearly formed by the school’s newfound inheritance of the Catholic intellectual tradition.

For the past four years, Saint Mary’s has proposed a path to Truth, a way to profoundly live, and now it is up to each of us to pursue that end of happiness. As Christians, we realize that the true fruits of our labor come not in this world, but in the next, so we can be joyful in this earthly life even through the hardships and in the pit of all suffering.

So as we go out into the world, remember that there is a deeper and exponentially richer life behind the thick curtain of fake culture. This fake culture lacks foundation, and so moves on into despair, feeding into its own facade that it perpetuates. This sort of society creates a mere shell of a person, made to progress, not to live. The people of this society are caught up in the superficial, floating in the realm of his or her own made-up reality that plays on in a monotonous loop winding down to nothingness and eventual oblivion.

[W]hile most people seem to think the biggest problem in our culture is outer turmoil, there is a much larger crisis at hand: the crisis of inner turmoil. The world has seen great impending fears and struggles before (the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 or the advent of WWII, etc.), but the real issue at hand is a society with an aversion to truth.

We are living in the midst of a culture that has completely forgotten the importance of asking the big questions: “What constitutes a human person?” “What is the end of a human person?” “What is beauty?”

I can guarantee you that the vast majority of people our age, when asked “how they were going to make a difference or change the world”, speak of political reform without ever picking up a copy of our favorite treatise by John Locke…. They speak vaguely about “equality” without ever considering the nature of the human person and what it really means to be “equal.” Everybody wants to be the one to “change the world,” to leave a mark behind saying “I did this,” but how are we even supposed to know how to make a difference if we don’t know what differences need to be made?

This isn’t a make-believe reality. If you are under the impression that Jesus is some sort of sentimental or fairy-tale-like idea made only to induce a synthetic sensation for people to feel better or worse about the life they lead and the choices they make, you have tragically and thoroughly missed the point.

We have all been blessed to have a school which loves us and desires for us to turn the tide of civilization by forming individuals in the Truth. We are all greatly fortunate to have teachers and parents who want us to be different, to make a difference, and to know that the path to happiness and true life only starts with a proper formation of our minds to know Truth and to love the Lord.

Now is the time to take the blessings we have been given and turn them into something fruitful.

We can all skate through life, perhaps even with some worldly success, and we might think we are happy enough, but a life lived in Christ is a promise of eternity, the summit of all happiness, and perfect love. We were entrusted with the world and in Christ we can change it for the better in whatever wonderful ways, big or small, He has planned for us.[1]

At my own school, the valedictorian understands the purpose of what he was educated for—the mission of all Catholic education:

We have received an incredible formation here. We have received our friendships. But what is it all for? What will we do with them? There are many different paths we can take, but they must all have the same mission, the same end. We must do what our teachers have done for us. We must aid the Church in her great duty of spreading the Good News to all we meet by being examples to everyone of the joy that can be attained through Christ and His Church.

Then, his classmate, who gave the class-speaker address… Read more>>