Senior Banquet 2012


   This Class – Seton’s Class of 2012 — deserves a  Senior Banquet speech like no other.  So let’s try making tonight’s presentation interactive.  Seniors: it might remind you a little of the opening assemblies, but don’t panic or get confused, you really are about to graduate. 

   Now, let’s get going with the audience participation.  Would everyone who is mid-50ish or beyond, let’s say 53,  or older, please stand up.   Any surprises?  Now, anyone of those standing who does not remember where he or she was on November 22, 1963, at about 11 a.m. EST will be allowed to sit down.  But first, someone standing please tell us all what happened on that month, day, year and time.  Right!  That was when President Kennedy was shot.  If you don’t remember where you were go ahead and sit down.  How many of those standing have now taken a seat?     OK everyone else may now sit. 

    I was six at the time and remember the moment so well.  I was  in Mrs. Kramer’s first grade class, when she was suddenly called from the room.  We were told to sit in our places.  She returned, obviously upset.  Later she left the room again.  When she came back she told us that our president had died.  She left the room again and I remember turning to the person sitting next to me and said to him, “I am going to have my mom pray with me tonight for President Kennedy.”  I don’t think I prayed a whole lot as a kid, but night prayers were a never-missed ending of the day, and I knew that that night I wanted to be praying with Mom.   If I had known what the rest of the ‘60’s would be bringing to America, I think I would have asked Mom to say a few more prayers with me that night, and they might have been more fervent.

   Now we are going to go back about 21 years, so let’s have anyone 30 to 52 years old stand up.  Do you remember where you were on January 17, 1991?  Can anyone standing tell us what happened on that date?  Right!  This was when the United States began the bombing of Iraqi forces in Kuwait – the beginning of Desert Storm.  If you don’t remember where you were, please sit.  OK.  Everyone sit.  I don’t think this event is as widely memorable.  I remember it maybe more because of circumstances than the event itself.   I  was at a Father Fasano Holy Hour.  Two Air Force men, Col. Pennnefather and Mr. Vander Woude Sr. were both there.  After the Holy Hour, I remember Col P. showing great surprise that we had decided to bomb.  Mr. VW flew sorties in Viet Nam, so I asked him what the pilots would be thinking.  He said, “Some will be very excited and some will be very nervous.”

   Now let’s have all the seniors stand as we go back eleven years.  This will put you at about the age I was in 1963.  Where were you on the morning of September 11, 2001?  I don’t think I need to tell anyone here what happened on that day.  If you don’t remember where you were, sit down.  OK, everyone sit. 

     On 9-11 I had just finished teaching a Spanish class and was walking out of the room ready for a much deserved free period when Mrs. Von Reyn came to me and said, “Weird things are happening.”   I thought,  “OK , this is Seton, what does she expect?”  You all should know that as Mrs. Von Reyn and I were talking, Mrs. Carroll at that moment was driving toward DC to attend a Diocesan meeting of principals.   Mrs. Von Reyn said that planes had flown into buildings.  I asked, “Intentionally?”  She said that it seemed so.   She gave me some more details, and I asked, “Do you think we should get everyone together and pray? “  She didn’t hesitate to say that we should.  And so the entire school assembled in the gym, and then we all knelt on the gym floor and prayed a very devout rosary – a rosary I’ll never forget. 

    OK.   One last date.  For this one, everyone stand.  This is a fairly recent date, so let’s see how good our short-term memories are.  Anyone who does not remember where he or she was on August 23, 2011, at 1:51 p.m. may sit down, but before you do, who can tell us what happened on that day at that hour?  Right!  The 5.7 magnitude earthquake.  OK if you don’t remember, sit.  Now everyone sit. 

     What did you think the earthquake was when it first started?  Go ahead, be like the freshmen religion classes I remember so well that would burst out in chatter at the least opportunity.  Tell each other at your table what you first thought the earthquake was.   

    If anyone at your table had a particularly interesting idea what the earthquake was, have him stand up and tell us all, then we’ll consider some of the seniors’ thoughts.

   Here’s what a few of the seniors first thought on that memorable day.

   Patrick Hilleary was trimming hedges and didn’t even know that an earthquake was taking place.  Patrick:  jack hammering maybe – but clipping hedges!  When Armageddon comes, we can count on the bushes at the  Hilleary estate being neat and trim.

   Mary Duran thought the earthquake was the spin cycle on the wash machine.  I think we all have experienced an earth quaking wash machine like the Duran’s model.  We have  one at the farm that has these three steps for doing a wash: 1.  Load clothes; 2. Turn on;  3. Put giant rock on top of lid in effort to control out of control spin cycle.

    Thomas Horiuchi was working on a farm 30 miles from the epicenter.  His friend and co-worker said, “Run!”  Thomas asked, “Where?”   Thomas:  during an earthquake is no time for logical questions.  You are supposed to be terrified, so next time do us all a favor and just run.

    John Loth was at the leadership conference at Seton and when he saw things shaking, he thought he was having a dizzy spell.  I am now thinking that maybe Thomas Horiuchi should have been at the leadership conference and John should have been running through the field.   A leader should be calm like Thomas.   And fresh air is good for clearing the head when experiencing suspected dizzy spells like John’s.

     Brian Kelly turned on the water for the garden hose just as the earthquake started and thought that the water pipes of greater Manassas were exploding underground.  I don’t know Brian real well, but I can almost imagine him cranking the possibly explosion inducing water higher rather than shutting it off – just to test his hypothesis, mind you, not to wreak destruction. 

    Denise Heisler was standing outside next to an air conditioning unit and thought the AC was the cause.   Denise might be on to something here.  If shaking the earth could cool the air, she may have just stumbled onto the solution to global warming.  So if you see Denise wandering around and hear her occasionally shouting “Eureka!” you’ll know why.    

    OK,  this has been fun, but now we have to draw some lesson of life from all of this that you seniors will remember and pass on to your children and your children’s children.  We are about to make May 16, 2012, a night you will never forget.  The really good news is that we’ve spent so much time being interactive that this important non-interactive part will necessarily be brief.

   There are events in our lives that are more memorable than others, and events that are more important than others.  Memorable and important may not coincide.  For example,  I don’t remember most Masses I’ve assisted at, but that doesn’t make any of them less important.  My performance as the green pumpkin that could not turn orange in our 3rd grade class play was certainly memorable, but is fairly low on the importance totem pole.       

      I have looked over the last names of this year’s senior class and I am amazed.  I think one would be hard pressed to find a class with a more impressive resume of both students and parents.  We find here the sort of people that we lionize – people we think of as important.  People with athletic prowess; people with stage presence – actors, actresses and vocalists; people with political power and others who are political activists; people of heroic military service and others who serve or have, in other ways, served our nation and communities, some putting themselves in harm’s way.   (Putting one in harm’s way probably should include anyone who drives the Beltway or its arteries.)  We have intellectuals and accomplished professionals and we have teachers and coaches.  And this is just among the families that I know something about, and there are many I don’t know at all.   What we all do know is that we can’t just swim or skate, litigate or debate our way into heaven.  We also know that we can’t just sing or act or memorize a fact to get there.   And what makes this group of students and parents worthy of lionization is that they know this and they live their lives accordingly.     However, there are names in the list that I think fly under the radar.  There are last names that when I read them, I immediately think of suffering.  Suffering of a family in one way or another.   I am reminded of what Jim Pogue wrote recently after he had found out that his baby daughter had cancer in both eyes.  In essence Jim said that he and Jill  are able to cope because they have been given the example of so many at Seton that they have seen suffer heroically.  There are many who have given us memorable and important witness in what it means to carry a cross.

   The Church has us remember and honor great witnesses to the Faith — our martyrs.  In so doing, we carry with us the memory of horrific tortures and brutal deaths.  Do we like to think of Peter hanging upside down in crucifixion, or of Thomas More’s head on the chopping block?   Are we eager to consider the blade of the guillotine slicing through the Carmelite Nuns Compiegene or of Maximillian Kolbe’s starvation and lethal injection?   Do we find some morbid pleasure in Joan of Arc being turned into ashes at the stake or of Ignatius of Antioch being torn to shreds by the teeth of lions?   And what about  Padre Pro’s facing a firing squad or Edith Stein’s entrance into the gas chamber?

      What we do is to keep the methods of those who carry out the martyrdoms in a ghostly fashion while recognizing clearly that what each martyr has done is to give himself completely to God and with remarkable joy.  So we think of the humility of that fisherman whom Christ made the highest authority on earth, humbly asking for a crucifixion different from Our Lord’s; and of that high ranking official and litigator in Henry VIII’s government blithely laying his head on the block while consoling the executioner; we consider the stage of the scaffolding from which those holy nuns sang the Laudate Dominum and without fanfare offered their lives for the end of the Reign of Terror, and we also hear the notes of song that  came from the starvation bunker led by one who volunteered to be there;   we think of that teenage girl who knew that heavenly residents had asked her to become general of the soldiers of France and so could with all serenity be unjustly bound to the stake ; we think of that Apostolic Father’s courage as he willingly let the teeth of the lions grind him into finest wheat rather than make a cowardly spectacle for the enjoyment of the bloodthirsty crowd;  we think of the good Padre blessing the unwilling soldiers who were commissioned executioners;  and we think of the great mind of that Jewish convert who simply said, “We go to be with our people” as she and others were loaded into a train car.  Each of our martyrs serves as a teacher and as a coach for us as we make our way heavenward.  

     Our martyrs are the epitome of greatness.  This is the greatness that we must seek because it is an echoing of Christ from the cross when He said, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.”  He then bowed his head and died:  a complete giving; a total sacrifice of self; humble submission in love.

    Most days of your lives are not going to be memorable, but that does not mean that they are not going to be important.  Jesus’ giving of Himself on the cross to His Father is our template for making each day important.  We make each day important by a little martyrdom of will and pleasure.  Seniors, if you do this, you will be prepared for the much bigger acts of self-denial that you will be called to.  I think marriage is a great example of a future martyrdom for many of you. Spouses publicly vow to honor and love in all the good and all the bad times, that is, to give of themselves completely.  An action at the recent marriage of Seton alumni Patrick Greneir and Teresa Myers symbolized this.  Patrick and Teresa held a crucifix and Father Melmer put his stole over their hands while they entered into the matrimonial union as they recited their vows.    

    Most of our days will not be as memorable as a wedding day.  But whatever the circumstances of the day, it can be made better and more important by an act of mortification.

   The earthquake that was the prelude to your senior year made for a memorable day.  But you will make it into an important day if you let it be a reminder to you that this world is not so stable, not so permanent as it might seem.  And that memory will inspire you to make each day important by looking toward the day when you leave this world behind and take with you to the throne of God your acts of sacrificial love that will unite you with all the Holy Martyrs in eternal praise.     

   God bless the Class of 2012.  Our Lord is truly risen!  He is risen indeed!

Jezu, ufam Tobie.  Alleluia!