We were all inspired and touched by the Convocation Address delivered last week by our own Kamille Morgan, Director of Testing and Studies here at John Bapst. Please consider taking a moment and reading it. It will be time well spent.
Welcome to a new school year.
Welcome back returning students.
Welcome 9th graders and new students in all grades.
Welcome International travelers. Welcome faculty, staff, and honored guests.
Welcome to the great adventure that is John Bapst!
Time at John Bapst seems to go faster than time outside of John Bapst. Sports and music are already in full swing, shortly you will be involved in your classes and then the clubs will begin. Like the start of a race, you can feel the excitement in the air.
Seniors, before you know it, you will be in this auditorium as Bapst graduates!
This past January, I asked Mr.Mackay if I could give the August convocation because this is a special milestone year for me.
In March, I joined an organization called Toastmasters International. I wanted to overcome my tendency towards stage fright. Toastmasters trains people to give speeches without notes. During Toastmasters meetings, I have given five, 5 minute speeches without notes. Even though the speeches went well, I realized later that I dropped and lost pertinent pieces of information along the trail of the speech. I don’t want to do that today. The message is more important than the performance. Toastmasters will have to forgive me for using my notes.
53 years ago my younger self, Kamille Nehrebecki, like (138) of you was starting her senior year of high school. On September 7th of that year she would celebrate her 17th birthday.
Yes, that’s right, in 8 days I will turn 70….the milestone year I mentioned.
I have often imagined stepping back through the curtain of time to visit my seventeen year old self and if I could, give the young me a peek at the future.
If your older self, paid you just such a visit, would you listen?
Imagine with me, there among you sits a 16 year old Kamille Nehrebecki, like you, she is sitting with her friends, Alberta, Faye, Barbara, Georgia, and Pauline, all band members.
I am going to be talking to and about Kamille Nehrebecki but I believe, what I say to her is relevant to you. By the way, she would have been terrified to stand in front of you.
I must give you a bit of background. From the moment she stepped into kindergarten Kamille Nehrebecki absolutely loved school. School was her haven and her inspiration. School was her escape from a home of violence. Her dad was a brooding, angry man who often lashed out at his family.
Kamille’s classmates did not know that about her, it was a family secret. You need not feel sorry for Kamille Nehrebecki, she was a survivor. There is a reason she wanted me to share this with you. Look around you, you do not know what burdens your school mates might carry. So, always be kind to each other. Build your classmates up, never tear them down.
Like many teenagers then as now, Kamille daydreamed about becoming rich and famous; felt invincible; thought she had all the answers, but secretly, life beyond high school scared her to death.
What was ahead in that great unknown? First of all my dear seventeen year old self, you will neither be rich nor famous but you will live a long, healthy and mostly happy life. Granted, at 17, rich and famous has more appeal; at this end, trust me, long, healthy and happy is a better bargain.
Do these questions sound familiar?
“Will I ever meet someone special? Will I ever fall in love? Will I marry?”
Finding true love, rarely happens in high school. So my seventeen year old self, you will meet your only and forever husband in college; don’t spend another minute fretting about it in high school!
“Why am I here?
What is my purpose?
What is the meaning of life?”
That question is almost universal and sparks many theological and philosophical discussions. That question will take you a lifetime to answer.
Life is both a journey and a test and each day of your life’s journey is a gift to enjoy and explore. Your life will be unique and as different from each person in this room as your fingerprints. Even identical twins do not have identical lives. But each of our lives has similar events.
True love happens eventually. It is the eventually part that is hard endure. Learn patience, both in your search for a spouse and in the reality of your marriage.
It is not likely any student in the room has been married but perhaps some of you have gone camping, I will compare marriage to a campfire, and like a campfire marriage takes work, a lot of work. There is site preparation, fuel gathering; the best fuel is oak and maple not the lesser pine or birch. The fuel must be properly seasoned. New fires burn brightly, the blaze lights up the campsite but the best campfire is yet ahead, if properly nurtured, it is the fire that accomplishes; it is the fire that cooks the meal, the useful and comforting glowing coals that chase away the chill in the darkness. Many give up and douse their campfires before they arrive at the cook fire. Over the lifetime of a long marriage you and your spouse will fall in and out of love over and over again. So when you fall out of love, wait, be patient, continue the work; eventually you will fall back in love with your partner and your journey will continue. The reward is a life partner for your journey, someone to walk with and laugh with, a person who shares your common history and your common future, someone to lean on in the times of tears. Someone to dance with in the times of joy.
It is important to know who you are but to do that you must turn off your electronic devices.
We all learn from our mistakes, some are regular mistakes, some are downright stupid and each of us makes many of them. In the past, once you learned the lesson from your mistakes, the mistakes were forgotten.
Today’s mistakes are picked up by social media and instead of being sent to the landfill of ‘life after the lesson’, the mistakes are like haunting, electronic, ghosts.
Minimize your electronic ghosts.
Value your privacy, treasure your aloneness and revel in your imagination. Be temperate in all you do.
My friends, every day is indeed a gift, and life is both a journey and a series of tests. Once you leave here and begin your life’s journey you will have many tests to work through; you just won’t be aware you are being tested until your path leads to a seemingly mountainous task.
After you figure out how to go over, around, under or through it; then you will look at your accomplishment as meeting a challenge on your journey.
As a teacher, I’m telling you, it was really a test.
Life is a most demanding teacher. There are no test corrections or do overs in life. You will make mistakes, you will stumble, and at times fall flat on your face but you will get up, and continue on your journey.
You will learn from each and every mistake you make and your failures will make you stronger than your successes do.
You have often heard speeches that include, “Your school years are the best years of your life”. No, they aren’t. We hope you can tag wonderful, memorable, interesting, informative, useful, and many positive adjectives to your school days, but your best days are ahead. Your greatest adventures are yet to be.
When you spend time with your thoughts and imagination you get to know who you really are. Before you start your life’s journey, know the person making the trip.
By her senior year of high school my seventeen year old self had a developing sense of patriotism, and faith in a power greater than herself. She had a strong sense of fairness, and an appreciation for freedom with responsibility. Add to that a dash of insatiable curiosity and a sprinkle of wonder and humor. These tools she packed for life’s journey. You must decide on the tools for your life’s journey, for your journey is about to begin.
The journey through life is not a direct route; you will take many side paths and wander through times and places.
Find meaningful work. No matter what you choose to do, do it to the best of your ability. I have always told my children and my students, “You do not have to be the best but you must always do your best.”
Take pride in a job well done. When your task is complete and you know you did your best, your reward will be a wonderful feeling of personal satisfaction, the euphoria of right mindedness. Euphoria, that glorious feeling of joy. Right mindedness is when all your talents, learned skills and experiences come together for a particular moment in time.
In the distant future, when and if you are ready for a family, you will embark on one of life’s greatest adventures. My husband and I agree that the best most memorable and meaningful part of our journey has been the time we spent raising a family and the time we now spend with our adult children. My husband and I recently passed the 47 year mark of our journey together.
I spent a portion of my career as a chemistry teacher in Old Town. While there, I was briefly aware of John Bapst. It was a Catholic High School, I was a public school teacher, I never gave Bapst a second thought. By the time John Bapst became a private school, I was a stay at home mom raising a family. Had I realized that I would spend my golden years at John Bapst and that the job I would eventually have here would be the best job of my career, I would have paid better attention to this jewel on Broadway. I would have at least visited and touched the cornerstone of this dear old building, the jewel in my future.
I have always been fascinated with how moments in time and places in the universe, connect. Another great satisfaction will be the things you do when you have free time; gather hobbies throughout your journey, create and be generous with your creations. Make the Simple Gifts of life, giving not only a handmade item but also the gift of your time, a portion of your journey. Volunteer, give back, help others, practice altruism; help others without expecting anything in return. Altruism describes a love for humankind, helping people who are strangers to you. Mother Theresa was such a person. She helped the poorest, starving people of Calcutta. Pope John Paul the 2 nd so cared about the people of the world he would kiss the ground of every country he visited; what a humble gesture, to get down on one’s knees to kiss the ground. Soldiers step in harm’s way and risk their lives to save the life of a comrade. Altruism.
Do enjoy your journey and be present every step of the way.
Take time to watch the sunrise, get up at 4:00 a.m. at least once to listen to the birds chirping the morning awake.
Admire the stars on a moonless night.
Take a deep breath after a rain storm and notice the clean smell in the air; if pure had a scent that would be it.
Listen to the crunch your footsteps make in a fresh snowfall.
Notice the colors of the sky after sunset.
Go forth and enjoy your life’s journey.
Go forth in search of life’s meaning.
The question I have asked myself since I was in high school is “What is the meaning of life? Knowing full well that it was a philosophical question with either no answer or many answers, I would joke with my chemistry classes through the years that “Today’s topic is to discover the meaning of life”. Then I would go into the day’s talk of life’s basic particles, atoms and molecules their energies and reactions. The students would laugh and I would laugh and we would go on with the lesson.
While crafting this talk and after 53 plus years of joking about searching for the meaning of life, the answer finally occurred to me.
It is so simple and yet beautiful in its simplicity. The meaning of life is simply that which gives life meaning, love.
If I am granted the gift of September 7th , I will spend the day as I have spent so many of my birthdays, in a school building with students, teachers and the joys of learning on both sides of the desk. After school, my husband and I will go out for dinner, my children, brother, sister-in-law and friends will call. At the end of the day I will look back over the day, smile and say, “It was a day well spent.”
If I am not granted the gift of September 7th, as I travel toward the light, toward my next great adventure as a spiritual being, I hope I remember to look back over my shoulder, smile and can say… “It was a life well spent.”
Spend your life well my friends!
God bless you every day every gift of your life!
God bless John Bapst, may Bapst forever be our jewel on Broadway!
God bless the United States of America, the greatest experiment in individual freedom in the history of mankind; may it always be so!
I love you all, thank you for listening.