Good afternoon Br. Andre, Professor Grinstead, Doctor Topping, Sister Mary Peter, Sister Maria Perpetua, Luke, teachers, Mum, Dad, friends, and guests. Thank you so much for being here this afternoon. I remember having a conversation with Sister Mary Joseph when I was in second grade. I was all worked up about today. I asked Sister what I was going to say in my graduation speech, and I think her answer was something like, “You have a long time to think about it; don’t worry.”
Well, here I am. The time is gone, the thinking is done, and the worrying about the why’s and how’s of my inescapable ten minutes at this podium is over. My goal now is to show my teachers, my classmates, and my family what eleven years at school and seventeen years at home have given me. What have they given me? What have you—all of you—given me? Memories. Beautiful, valuable memories which I will continue to cherish no matter how old I get or how far away from home I go. What I’d particularly like to point out today, though, on our brief trip down Memory Lane, are certain memories which have taught me amazing life lessons. Why else would we have memories if not to learn from them, right?
The first lesson I will share with you, I received very early on: If it feels like the end of the world —chill out. It probably isn’t. When I was in second grade, at the beginning of every day, Sister Mary Joseph would write our names on the chalkboard and put ten points next to each name. When we misbehaved, we lost a point. If we got down to a certain number of points, we got sent to the principal’s office. Before we went home, Sister gave us as many animal crackers as the number of points we had left, and I always took pride in the fact that most days I went home with nine or ten animal crackers. But one day I only had seven animal crackers at the end of the day. I was devastated. Having to go home and tell my mom that I had three points erased was very upsetting to me. Being the mostly happy child that I was though, I soon bounced back and returned to my usual perfect or near-perfect scores. And so I learned that most of the time, things aren’t as big of a deal as we think they are.
Skip ahead a few years and you’ll see Sister Mary Peter presenting me with another invaluable life lesson: The Religious here at St. Benedict Center love their children. This truth hit home less in the classroom than on the playground. I remember playing “Dragon” with Sister Mary Peter. I loved sneaking up on her while she was “sleeping” and trying to grab the colorful scarf that we used as a key to rescue everyone from the “fridge.” I remember thinking that I was a really fast runner, but now looking back, I realize that Sister was really good at pretending she couldn’t catch me. I can now appreciate that while grown-ups might teach a child because they have to, they’ll only play with a child because they want to. I grew up where teachers actually wanted to play with the children. And that means so much to me.
Of course, this isn’t to say that the Sisters here don’t love to teach, as well! For example, this next stop on Memory Lane concerns my junior high years with Sr. Maria Perpetua. We were learning the Doctors of the Church, and were having a difficult time trying to remember their dates, books, titles, and everything else. Sister Maria Perpetua came up with the idea of making little stories by which to remember all the facts. She got us all laughing and having a good time instead of stressing out about it, and not only did she make it fun, but the information stuck. To this day, I still remember the story about St. Cyril of Alexandria. He was golfing with St. Gabriel because St. Cyril is the Doctor of the Incarnation. He had to keep yelling, “Fore! Fore! Fore!” because he was terrible at golfing, and 444 happened to be his year. On the sideline, there were a bunch of daddy seals, because St. Cyril’s title is “Seal of the Fathers.” St. Cyril took a swing and the ball landed in a pond. He went to retrieve it, but had to jump in to do so. St. Cyril was surprised to find a treasure chest at the bottom of the pond, guarded by the Lockness Monster. This is because St. Cyril’s written works were compiled into one, called his “Treasures.” St. Cyril is also known for battling the heretical teachings of Nestorius. Back on the shore, St. Cyril opened the treasure chest after defeating the Lock Ness Monster. Inside there was a giant golden mouth. This is because one of his titles is “Golden Mouthed.” Isn’t that brilliant?
This experience taught me that there are always going to be obstacles in life, and instead of repeatedly hitting your head against the wall, just take a step back and find an alternative approach. And who knows, you might have fun along the way.
Having come full circle from classroom to playground and from classroom again, it may not be a surprise that another of my favorite memories came to me on the playground—only now we called it “The Field.” I was a sophomore. Lunch recess meant Ultimate Frisbee. Once the teams were on the field, there were no friends. We all played to win. Ultimate Frisbee was life during those forty minutes. We all knew who the best players were, who was good at throwing, catching, blocking, and running. Everything mattered. Our games were very focused and intense once we had the basics down, to the extent that many a game ended with some of the best of friends being enemies for the rest of the day. Sister would always tell us to “leave it on the field,” but...we were girls. As such, all our pettiness was clear come class time. The next day (being girls) we were all the best of friends again—until P.E. From this I learned that you should never play sports with girls. No, but seriously, it’s important to have fun and not burn bridges over insignificant things. Life is too short to play too seriously.
Obviously, there are times to be serious, though. Exam week, for instance. The following memory and subsequent life lesson is one I will never forget. Maria, Veronica, Gabriela, Juliana and I were all sitting in the lunch room after a long, exhausting day of exams. Suddenly, Veronica screamed because she stepped on a chipmunk, which had found its way into the building. Although the chipmunk was unharmed, Veronica was traumatized. She burst into tears, and, paranoid at the thought of stepping on an animal, I also started crying when I stepped on a paperclip. As some of you may know, Maria has the tendency to cry when I cry, so at that point, Veronica, Maria, and I were all sobbing. Then an adorable kitten wandered into the room. Gabriela grabbed it for comfort, but the kitten was not in the mood to be pet. It jumped out of her lap and ran away. Feeling rejected, Gaba followed suit and started bawling. At last, because everyone else was crying and there were just too many little critters running around almost being stepped on and rejecting people, poor Juliana joined our sob-fest. By this time all five of us were laughing through our tears at the ridiculousness of the situation. From this I learned that it’s okay to laugh and cry after a stressful day.
This trip down Memory Lane would not be complete without mention of this next lesson. Each of my teachers throughout my high school years—Brother Andre, Mr. Chouinard, both Miss and Mrs. Zehaykevitz, Mr. Bersaw, Mrs. Cohen—have taught me in different ways not to give up, but no one drove home the lesson quite like Professor.
One time in particular, I was having a bad day/year/life, and I went into Professor’s office. He talked me down and told me that everything was going to be okay. He said that I was almost done with school, and after that I would be in the world. He said that some people don’t succeed in life, but he was sure that I would. He said that I was going to make it. That I would be fine. He told me he didn’t just say that to everyone, but he really believed that I would do alright for myself. For some reason, it meant so much coming from him, and it stuck with me. From this I learned that everything will be okay in the end, we just need to persevere and get through the rough patches.
Not blowing things out of proportion, appreciating God’s consecrated Religious, learning fancy ways to retain information, valuing good sportsmanship, recognizing the need to let out your feelings in stressful situations, and knowing that perseverance is key in any worthwhile endeavor—these are the amazing lessons that I have learned over the years here at IHM School.
I will close with my most precious memories of all, experiences that have not just taught me, but formed who I am as a person. These come from my family, of course. It was from my time spent at home with my siblings but especially with my parents that I learned true gratitude.
I am so grateful that my siblings and I grew up the way we did. Surrounded by woods, we had the outdoors and each other to keep us entertained, and looking back, I’m sure the way I grew up is the reason why I’ve become so close with my siblings. I remember one winter night we were really bored, so we tried to go night sledding. It was dark and cold, so we all ended up just wet and miserable. We went inside to have hot cocoa and get dry, and it ended up being a great night. I’ll never forget the time we had a bucket of tadpoles going. Every day after school, we would be outside at the pond trying to catch more for our bucket. When school got out, we started spending all possible time outside building forts in the woods. One time we made teams to make forts with, and we spent the whole day in the woods hiding and spying on the other team. When it started getting colder and turning into fall, we would have tons of fun raking leaf piles and jumping in repeatedly. I remember one time sitting around a campfire with my siblings, roasting marshmallows, and coming up with “scary” stories. Although we got into tons of fights all the time, the good times made up for it, because we could never stay mad at each other for long. From this I learned to be grateful for what you have. Even if at the time it doesn’t feel like there is much to be grateful for, there always is.
Which brings me to my parents. I cannot even begin to express how much I owe them. I remember one time when I was maybe ten—I had had a bad day at school, and I was in a really bad mood, so I decided to run away. I packed my backpack with one change of clothes and one sleeve of Ritz crackers (I couldn’t take more than that or Mum would notice), and I started walking up Prospect Hill Road. As I walked, I ranted to myself, “I’m never coming back.” I didn’t get very far. I started thinking about how much I loved my mom and my dad, and how I could never run away because I would miss them so much. This was when I realized that I would always need my parents in my life, no matter what happened. Mum, Dad, having you there by my side all these years is what has gotten me this far. You really do know best. When I was a toddler, Mum, you knew best when you told me not to touch the stove. Of course, being a child, I touched it anyway and got burned. Dad, you knew best when you were teaching me to drive and yelled at me to push the brake because there was an oncoming car that I couldn’t see. I’m glad I listened that time. Mum, you knew best again when you told me to stop eating Christmas cookies because I would overeat and regret it. When you walked away, I ended up eating more and proving you right. Dad, you knew best when you made us work outside every summer growing up instead of letting us sit inside and waste our time watching T.V. This helped me learn the value of time and hard work. Everything that you both did, however unfair it seemed at the time, really was for my own good. How can I ever thank you?
I’m convinced that God gave us memories for a reason. Not only do they determine what we know (and therefore how much we are able to pass on to others) but they comprise our very selves.
Next month, I will be moving to Oklahoma with Maria. That’s 1,618 miles from here. One thing I’m sure about is that no matter how far away I go, the people I’ve met and the memories I’ve made here will never be forgotten. I thank you—my classmates, my teachers, my Sisters, my siblings, my parents—I thank all of you, for that. God bless you.