Here is Clark Mantooth's 2014 Valedictory Address
The hour grows late and many here have work or school tomorrow. With that in mind, I will try to capture our Seton experience as briefly as I can…no matter how long it takes.
The year most of us were born, Pixar came out with the movie “Toy Story,” which at its heart, was about friendship. A group of diverse characters which included Woody, Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, and Rex, to name a few, banded together and went “to infinity and beyond” to save the day and one another against outside perils. When the dust settled, the toys always shared the safety of Andy’s room. Later movies introduced and integrated new characters, and the series ended with Andy going off to college and passing on his beloved toys to a young girl named Bonnie.
For the past 6 years, Seton has been like Andy’s room. It has been a safe haven. It has been home to scholars, athletes, actors, singers, scientists, engineers, writers, artists, musicians, and comedians. I entered this scene a little later than most, coming into the cast in 9th grade. I found it a bit intimidating to enter a class which had already been together for two years and where I knew only a handful of people. But I was quickly welcomed. I can recall the first day, doing an ice breaker exercise at the beginning of Col. Jones’ geometry class, sitting timidly in my desk, knowing almost none of the other students, when the boy next to me, although comfortably set with a couple of friends, extended his hand and introduced himself. All I can remember from our conversation was that we both played basketball and had green bedrooms – oh, and he was wearing a SpongeBob tie – but since then, we have become close friends, sharing the same schedule junior year, serving as NHS officers together, and now, going to UVA together.
I could easily draw attention to each member of our class, though I would not do this as well as one of our classmates has done for me, and with whom I will somehow have to learn to live without next year. But really, the heart of the matter, the theme of our story, is that this class of students has become like a family. Family life is where you find acceptance, generosity, self-giving, and charity. At the risk of sounding cliché, in our class, there are no cliques and we are all good friends who care about one another. Just take for example, Spirit Week, a time where a special unity and camaraderie – with a touch of classiness – are critical for success. In our time at Seton, this class has accomplished a rare feat and earned the unprecedented title of two-time Spirit Week champions.
In addition to friendship, another hallmark of our class is joy. When I was younger, I was told that living joy meant putting things in proper order: Jesus, others, and yourself. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and the recognition that true happiness comes from knowing and following Jesus. In the words of Mother Teresa, “Joy is a net of love by which we catch souls.” And in my lifetime, I have not found a more joyful group than Seton School’s Class of 2014.
This class has several members who exhibit joy, even when carrying heavy crosses. Whether it involved a family situation, a physical, or a personal matter, I have borne witness to these students as they walked through school every day with a smile on their face, never seeking pity, and always thinking of others. For me, it has been a humbling experience to get to know such people and to watch how they selflessly carry out our Lord’s call of “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24-26). In the words of one of my classmates who suffers from Lyme disease, “There’s no way you can bear your crosses if you’ve already dropped them; we can never give up, we must always pray.”
I would be remiss, though, in speaking of our class’s joyfulness if I failed to mention a member of our class who has gone before us, Michael Joseph Pennefather. I did not have the pleasure of knowing Michael personally, but I had the honor of attending his funeral, and I recall sitting in the old All Saints, filled to standing room only capacity, and hearing how every single person who met Michael could not help but be touched by his optimistic nature and effervescent smile. What has forever made an impression on me, so much so that I dedicated my senior basketball season in his honor, was how Michael, though deprived of the use of his legs, would talk about playing for Seton’s varsity basketball team someday. He had the ability to see past the physical limitations of this world and to always keep sight of the ultimate goal, heaven. Just down the street on his gravestone are engraved the simple words of a child which I encourage Seton’s Class of 2014, and everyone here, for that matter, to take as his own: “I want to be with Jesus.
With Michael’s cheerful nature, too, came a keen sense of humor, and so, I imagine he would have had a good chuckle at some of the more comical instances this class has been accustomed to in the past few years. Take, for example, a certain individual jauntily striding late into a freshman religion class, giving a quick “What’s up?” to his buddy, then, noticing his interruption, begin panting heavily to act as if he had sprinted across the street in an attempt to show that he had made every effort possible to make the class in time. Or take another classmate’s absence from his first few months of high school after jumping through the snack bar window and breaking his ankle in the process of attempting to “impress the ladies.” Or even, more recently, a certain student’s, in his best Steve “Crocodile Hunter” Irwin impression, “faithful” chase of a fellow student down a Baltimore pier. To the onlookers’ amusement, in the excitement, one of his sandals flew off into the face of an unsuspecting pedestrian and was followed by a deluge of profuse apologies – minus the Australian accent.
All this is to say that our class has endured the “best of times” and the “worst of times,” survived the “age of wisdom” and the “age of foolishness,” and weathered the “spring of hope” and the “winter of despair” together and have grown closer because of it. None of these would have been possible, though, without the incredibly dedicated faculty, who never tire of tolerating our antics and always look to both our intellectual and spiritual betterment; our coaches, who impart lessons that extend far beyond a court or field; the office ladies, who keep Seton running like a well-oiled machine; the parents, who chose Seton and then sacrificed to send us here for an excellent, truly Catholic education, and who continue to run those last-minute errands for cookies, donuts, and poster boards; the priests, who say Mass for us, offer retreats, and who hear our confessions – especially those who hear our confessions; and finally, our wonderful director, Mrs. Carroll.
Pope St. John Paul II spoke about each of us finding our life project. And we at Seton are no strangers to projects – ask anyone who remembers world culture or the science fair. Thankfully, for us, though, Seton School is Mrs. Carroll’s life project. The formation of each and every one of her students is her life project, and now, as a tribute to her work, countless sacrifices, and selfless answer to God’s call, it is our turn to go out into the world and begin our work to build the Church as God called St. Francis to do centuries ago. We will encounter outside perils but we already know God has won. It is time to catch souls with our infectious joy
As Mr. Humorous pointed out at the senior banquet, graduation is the cure for senioritis, and so, without further delay, I will now close so we can move on with the evening.
Thank you, Class of 2014, for your friendship and lessons in joy. I have great confidence that we can, in the words of Buzz Lightyear, go to infinity … and beyond. Or, perhaps, better stated, we can strive for eternity together, knowing we have the best friend of all, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
May God bless the Class of 2014!