Every year, each of the four classes have retreats where they go away from the school for the day to reflect and pray. We are having all of our class retreats in the first month of school and yesterday the seniors had theirs. At the retreats, each class will be assigned a patron saint and a class quote to guide them during the academic year. The patron saint for these seniors is Saint Ignatius of Loyola and their quote is from Ignatius: "Go forth and set the world on fire."
We had the retreat over at Saint Anselm College and we began the day in the Sullivan Arena, the site of our commencement. I began saying:
You may be wondering why we are beginning your senior retreat in the Sullivan Arena - a hockey arena. I wanted us to begin our day here - your first real day as seniors - because this is where you will spend your last day as a senior. On June 12, 2012, less than 10 months from now, you will walk into this building as high school students and walk out as adults.
After spending some time there, we moved on to the Abbey Church where the students thought about their leadership role at the schools, their goals for the year, and their ultimate legacy as Trinity students. I asked them repeatedly:
When you leave this school on June 12, 2012, how will we who remain and those who are to come, know that you were here? What will your legacy be?
We joined the monastic community for daytime prayer at noon and the students had time to enjoy the beautiful weather on a beautiful campus.
Mrs. Henning, our Communications Director, gave an amazing keynote reflection focusing on the seniors spending the next 10 months (and the rest of their lives) on fire. You can read it below:
Leadership and Legacy…“Go forth and set the world on fire…”
Sitting here, at the brink of a new school year, you can’t help but have hopes. Maybe you want to get better grades this year or maybe you want to patch up a broken friendship. Maybe you want to set a personal or team record this year on the court or the field. Maybe this is the year you’ll get up the nerve to talk to that boy you’ve had a crush on or tell that girl just how much you care about her. Maybe you’ll decide to follow your dreams or decide what those dreams might look like. Maybe you want to get your apps done and just get into college and maybe you just want to graduate. But, I know that you’re sitting here today wanting and waiting. We all want—we want more for ourselves, more from ourselves, more for others, more from others. And we’re all waiting. But here’s the thing: the time is now. One school day is already in the books. Another has already begun. We’re one and a half days closer to that day in June when we will again gather here at St. A’s and remark on how the fast the days have passed. We will share handshakes and hugs, and we will, filled with bittersweet emotion, have to bid our farewells. I’m always so moved in those moments—for I’m forced to say goodbye to men and women I’ve come to know and love. Yet, mingled with the sadness is a sense of great pride—for I’ve never doubted that all of you will go forth and set the world on fire.
I’ve watched this summer as you seniors have taken on your roles as leaders—of not just your class but of the entire school community. You are a class of leaders, a class of young men and women who are equally at ease with adults and peers, a class of students who isn’t patient enough to wait for things to happen—no, you want to make them happen. And so, I’m here to tell you to do it. There’s a card I have framed in my office, right by my computer, in my line of vision every moment of every day. It asks me, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” Some days, I feel like that card mocks me, teases me, and humiliates me. Other days, I feel as though that question lifts me, inspires me, and makes me dream. What would I do or attempt to do if I knew I could not fail? You see, we’re all a little bit afraid of failure. I’m bold, but I don’t like to lose. I’m confident, but inside, I have so many doubts. But there’s a part of me that has—since the time I was your age, sitting in seats very similar to the ones you’re in, attending a school very much like Trinity—a part of me that has never doubted that I was meant to be great in this life. That sounds pretty cocky, right? I mean, who do I think I am?? But, seriously, I don’t think God sets out to make a bunch of mediocre people. I mean, what’s the point of that? I really do believe that God calls me and us to be great. I have no idea what that means or what that looks like, but it’s that belief that drives me to be who I am in the hopes that I will one day be the person I should be. It’s that belief that drives me to think, to dream, to aspire, and to dare.
One of my favorite quotes is the quote that will guide your senior year this year. It’s the one I mentioned a few moments ago, a quote by Saint Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, and it gets me every time: “Go forth and set the world on fire.” There’s so much boldness in those words. Go forth. Go. It’s a word that implies immediacy and urgency. And to set the world on fire? To do so requires more than just a little spark, more than a tiny flame. To do so—truly, deeply, and fully—requires much of us. To set the world on fire means we’re going to get pretty close to those flames. And in the process, we’re going to get burned. And you know what? Maybe that’s part of the deal, too. In order to bring light to others, to be the flame in others’ lives, and to truly set the world on fire, we need to be unafraid to set that fire, to step close to the flame, and to carry it forth. It’s easy to light a match. Anyone can do that. But to light a fire—one that will burn bright and hot for all the world to notice—well, that takes more than a quick rubbing of a match against flint. It takes time, it takes patience, it takes constant attention. And once lit, constant vigilance for that flame to keep its power. People will want to stifle that flame, to tamp it out. They’ll tempt you into ignoring it, knowing it will die out if you do. They’ll be waiting for the fire to go out, but it’s up to you to make sure it never does. You cannot walk away from it and expect its warmth, its glow, its power to sustain. It needs you. The time for you to set those fires is NOW. You have just one year before we tell you to go forth and set the world on fire. Just 10 months. And the clock is ticking.
Now those of you who know me know that I love Disney. It’s not so much the fairytale happily-ever-after stuff that appeals to me—after all, I’m not quite the princess type. What does appeal to me, however, is the sense of magic, the belief that all things can be magical. Disney provides and creates magic; as corny as it sounds, it’s as simple as that. It’s a corporation that knows that people crave wonder and magic, that people are impressed more by the little things than the grand overtures. That joy and wonder are all around us. If only we take the time to look. The biography of Walt Disney is an interesting one—and I won’t bore you with a lot of facts and history—but he suffered numerous setbacks and rejections before becoming the iconic genius behind Mickey Mouse. He never lost sight of that initial sketch of a mouse he called Mortimer, and he’s often quoted as saying, “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing—that it was all started by a mouse.” Walt Disney summarized his philosophy and vision in this way: “I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.” Four words make up that vision: Dream. Believe. Dare. Do. Dream. Believe. Dare. Do. Not so different than “Go forth and set the world on fire,” huh? Both call upon you to be bold and to do. The time is now.
Last night, after the cookout, around 9, Mr. Flaherty and I were still at school and met up in my office to talk about the retreat. He had just finished up his talk, and I—well, let’s just say mine wasn’t done. Unknowingly, we would both be referencing the film Dead Poets Society. Mr. Flaherty and I are just a year apart—I’m older and, of course, wiser…—and that movie came out in 1989, just as I was finishing up my eighth grade year. At that point in my life, I don’t think my head knew what my heart had always known: that I would become a teacher. But, that movie spoke to me then—and speaks to me still—in profound ways. I aspired to be the kind of teacher represented by Mr. Keating. When my head did finally catch up to my heart, it all clicked: I would be a teacher. And maybe, just maybe, I would also write. Either way, I spend my life creating—and my heart is never more at rest and my mind never more inspired than when I am in the process of creating something meaningful. I mentioned that I always felt like I was supposed to do something that mattered, that I was supposed to be great. I don’t think I am—but, to be honest, I hope I never get to thinking that I’m all that. For once those thoughts set in, I fear I would stop and simply rest. And there is no rest if you want to be and become your best self. I was a junior in high school when I decided to teach, and 10 years ago this fall, I gave my notice, told my department chair I would finish out the school year, and leave teaching. She asked me to consider taking a leave of absence when I was more interested in taking a leap of faith. She wanted me to know I’d always have my job, and I wanted anything but a safety net. I thought I was done. Burned out. Disillusioned. I thought there was something else out there. I thought I would write, thereby fulfilling a childhood dream. I thought I wouldn’t miss teaching. After three years, that calling that first hit me when I was your age still hadn’t quieted, and I returned to the place where I knew I was home: the classroom. And while I’m no longer a full-time teacher, there’s not a day that goes by when I am not dreaming, creating, working with words, laughing, sometimes crying (not going to lie!), and honoring that call. Still, while I find it easy to dream, it’s not always easy to believe, to dare, or to do. But I guess I’m not necessarily interested in what comes easily…
As you sit here, full of hope, vision, and promise, think about the dreams you have and all the things you’d like to do and the things that fear is keeping you from doing. It’s easy to sit there and think, “that’s silly. I can’t do that.” Every great idea—and even the not-so-great ones and all the ones in-between—began with a belief. It’s time for you to dream. To believe. To dare. And to do. It’s time for you to go forth and set the world on fire. But first, you must ask, what is it that I’m being called to do and to be?
There’s a scene in Dead Poets Society when Mr. Keating harnesses the attention of his young students and reads them a poem by Walt Whitman. I’m a huge Whitman fan, and I no doubt feel about this poem the way I feel about that card in my office, the one that asks me “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” I’m challenged but inspired. Emboldened but still trying to quiet the fears and doubts. The poem is titled “O Me! O life!,” and Whitman writes:
O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
This year, ask yourself: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” This year, you have the opportunity to make your mark, to leave an impression. This year, you can contribute your own verse. What will it be? This year, you have the opportunity, if you choose to take it.
Are you willing to dream? To believe? To dare? And to do?
You can all set fires. But who among you will keep them lit? Who among you will be the ones bold enough to go forth and set the world on fire?
We’re waiting. Trinity is waiting. The world is waiting. Go.