Wednesday, May 03, 2006

To Joy
~for my classmates~

When I was asked to speak at today's mass, The Baccalaureate Mass of the Class of 2004, Gongaza Preparatory School, it was suggested that I talk about the joy of my years at Prep. When I hear the word joy, what didn't come to mind was…AP calculus… the dreaded junior thesis paper…first high school dance… zero hour weight lifting… daily doubles in August…SATs, the ACT, SATIIs. No, I wasn't joyful when I remembered they closed the campus just as we were seniors! Nevertheless, once I thought about it, I was able to find joy in many of the memories we have made in the last four years.

For instance, whenever I hear the phrase "grace under pressure" I will always remember, with great joy, the time when we were seniors and the Gonzaga Prep football team played U-High. Hey, would it be an official Prep function if we didn't talk football? Anyway, it was brutal, the usual U-High/Prep game, and the Titans were out for blood because we beat them as juniors, when Marcus Miller kicked the winning field goal with 3 seconds left. In this particular game, we were on their 35 -- the ball was hiked, went into the backfield and things went south. The play came completely apart and we were fighting for our lives on the o-line. I knew things must be pretty bad in the backfield but I didn't want to face exactly how bad. Confusion reigned everywhere. Then, as #67 was attempting to break both my arm and two of my ribs, I see Dan Cronin, out of the corner of my eye, **25 yards** in front of me** running for his life! Through a complete improvisation, he broke though. He made the touchdown. It was pure joy. Grace under pressure….

Whenever I hear the word courage I will always remember, with great joy, our classmates who lost a parent while we were all here at Gonzaga Prep. Vanessa Anderson, Christina Iron, Wayne Phillips, Katie Mills, David Padagalskas and Jimmy Cameron stood lonely at their mothers' and their father's funerals, while we watched, helpless to say or do anything to console them. After the funerals, they each coped with their excruciating loss in their unique manners. And as each picked up their life and began to resume what are supposed to be " …the happiest years of (our) lives…" their courage was painful, yet joyful, to us all. We pray for them and for their parents in faith and hope, that we may all be together again soon. And we ask for courage for ourselves, that we may know greater joy.

Whenever I hear the word humility I will always remember, with great joy, the Gonzaga Prep Handicap Dances. Ancilla and The Knights sponsor these dances for the developmentally challenged people in the Spokane area; we invite them to a real mixer in our student center, complete with music, DJ, lighting and refreshments. Some come in wheel chairs, some come with attendants, some come with other members of their living community. But once the music starts and we all begin dancing, none of that matters. To be with these incredible people as they dance their hearts out, in pure joy, is quite a humbling experience. The music rises and spirits soar. The pettiness of our own lives comes into focus and our memories fall away. In the end, we are the people in need and the 'handicap' in the Handicap Dance refers to people like me, as we try to master our fate and control our universe. It is in joy and with great humility, that I have been privileged to meet and share time with new friends at the Gonzaga Prep Handicap Dances.

Whenever I hear the word humor, I will always remember, with great joy, the grace and the goofiness of the Class of 2004. Will you ever forget the speech Austin Beckford sang in the ASB elections? Grant Alford's immortal rendition of "To The Window, To The Wall" at the Senior Pilgrimage? David Stone's inimitable "talent" at Mr. Prep? Mr. Peepers? How about the time a certain unnamed senior girl campaigned furiously for everyone to mark all C's on the chemistry final, so that no one would fail? Who could ever forget "Doughnuts!"? Our humor has gotten us through many times. As Bill Cosby said, "If you can find humor in anything, you can survive it." And survive it we have. Even our Junior thesis paper and daily doubles in August. I hope we're still cracking each other up when we're 50 and sending our own kids off to college. God grant us the blessing of humor, for consolation, inspiration and peace in all things.

I have known great joy in being deeply blessed by the mentoring of a circle of generous people, whom I cite now: Monsignor Ribble, Father Goebel, Father JK Adams, Father Tully, rest in peace, Mr. Tom Deilke, Mr. Dave McKenna, Dr. Terry Kay Birrer, Mr. Brian Meier, Mr. Rick LaBelle, Mr. Joe Feryn, Mr. Neil Kempen, Mr. Paul Manfred, Mr. Barry Barfield, Mr. Dennis Dougherty, Mrs. Peggy McEwen, Mr. Nathan Pascoe, Mr. Mike Arte and two people that mean the world to me, my brother Ben, Class of '93 and my sister Angela, Class of '96. I see the face of God in each of these people's eyes and I will always owe a debt of gratitude to them as their love and prayers have helped me, humbled me, and heaped me with insight and strength that I did not know I had.

Not too long ago, I said to Ben and Angela, "What do you think the final word on Prep is?" They answered, with no hesitation, "community".

Community can mean the people here today and people associated with Prep; or it can mean the large or whole community in which we all live. Let's use both meanings. Since we have been at Gonzaga Prep, Prep students have collected and distributed 500,000 pounds of food to hungry people in the Spokane area. We are the only food drive in the area that actually delivers the food and visits the people we are serving. I am reminded of the woman who met us at her front door and began to cry. She said, "I was a Preppie and back when I did the food drive, if I ever thought I'd be the one needing food…." Although we have given much to many through the Food Drive, it is us who have taken the most away, because not only have we learned that life is very, very fragile but we have learned how to respond with love to God, to our neighbors, and to situations in all of the neighborhoods in the Spokane area.

St. Ignatius was clear in telling us that we should "…give and not count the cost." But as I plan to begin to study business in the fall, I think St. Ignatius wouldn't mind my pointing out the following: since we came to Gonzaga Prep in 2000, the Inland Northwest Blood Bank has collected 965 units of blood from the students of Gonzaga Prep. I understand that a unit of blood costs a patient about $350. You don't have to get a 5 on the AP Calc test to realize that in the last four years we have made a contribution to critically ill people in our community that has a retail value of $337,750.

What some at the church today might not realize is that every Gonzaga Prep graduate completes a minimum of 20 hours of community service. I'm deeply proud to announce that as a group, the Class of 2004 has completed at least 12,000 hours of community service. We have volunteered at nursing homes, hospitals, community and day care centers, schools, clinics, over 30 different agencies. At the state minimum wage combined with employer payroll tax costs, these 12,000 Class of 2004 hours represent another contribution to our community of $103,400.

Our service organizations such as Key Club, Ancilla and The Knights of The Leash not only sponsor events as The Handicap Dance and The Blood Drive but also sponsor recreation events at nursing and retirement homes such as casino nights. In this year alone, our senior year, Ancilla and The Knights have answered the call to work over 50 service projects. Our Key Club, one of whose founding members is my sister Angela, was awarded The Chase Youth Commission 2004 Chase Youth Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Community. St. Margaret's Shelter, Second Harvest Food Bank, Head Start, United Way, Camp Sweyolakan and the Ronald McDonald House, to name a few, were the recipients of these outstanding contributions by our devoted Key Club members.

Our Lenten Service Projects give the entire school another opportunity to know and understand our larger community better. In 2004, we worked on a variety of projects in Hillyard, at Bemiss Elementary, at Logan School, at St. Al's school, at Second Harvest Food Bank and with Head Start.

We have read to little kids, comforted families of the critically injured, taught English as a second language, supervised cafeterias, assisted kids with homework, baked cookies, poured milk, served as teachers' aides, visited the elderly and physically disabled, played checkers with residents of convalescent homes, filed and served as lunch buddies to grade school kids, among other things. While we were actively participating in our respective community service efforts, I don't ever remember one of you turning to me and saying, "I'm feeling joyful here….". But I do remember after we retired to Dairy Queen for Blizzards or to Zip's for a tub of fries, there was a contentment that set in…a contentment that comes when you know what you know is real. And we knew what we had just done was real and that it mattered. I think it was a moment of true clarity, because on some level, we all felt a certain joy. It was the kind of joy that cemented our community with each other and helped us really understand our obligation of love, truth and service.

I haven't mentioned the joy of having parents who drove their cars a little longer, who wore their own shoes a little longer, who stretched the paychecks a little further, so that I, we, could attend Prep. But as a true confession, I must tell you that I am filled with great joy when I think of them. I haven't mentioned the fathers and brothers who coached and painted, set up and took down, hauled away and delivered, those fathers and brothers who did anything they were asked, quietly and with no fanfare, so that we would have a little more. I haven't mentioned the mothers, o those Catholic School mothers! The hot dog mothers, the library mothers, the room mothers, the car pool mothers, the scrip mothers, the auction mothers, the spaghetti mothers and yes, in their final triumph, the All Nighter Mothers, those mothers who gave all, with love and then love, so that we would know a little more. I haven't mentioned the teachers, counselors and administrators, who could have worked anywhere else for more pay, better benefits and fewer hassles. But they didn't. They wanted to teach and work in a place where men and women for others matter.

I am filled with a great, unrestrained joy at having been with all these people for this part of the journey and know the memory of the joy they imparted will sustain me further as the water gets deeper and my path becomes rockier.

From the time we were in pre-school, we have been told we are special. And we are special. When we hit grade school, we were instructed to follow the light. But when we got to high school, we knew that we had become the light.

Now, as special people, it's our charge to take the light into the world. We are now the voice of men and women for others. We must speak against and actively work to eradicate poverty, abuse, and neglect; we must seek to ease the plight of the sick and the addicted, the disenfranchised and the misfortunate. If there aren't programs and projects in place at the schools and offices and labors in which we are enrolled next year, we must make those programs and projects with the eye and the ear that we have grown here at Gonzaga Prep. We have seen each other step up with grace under pressure, with courage, with humility, with humor and triumph despite impossible odds. Not only do we know how to do this, we have seen each other do it. What goes on at Gonzaga Prep, must not stay at Gonzaga Prep.

Henceforth, I will always remember you with great, great joy and I salute you for the final time with words uniquely special to us:

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart;
And lean not on thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge Him and
He will direct thy paths."

No matter where our paths take us, no matter the pitfalls and the misfortunes that beset us, no matter the trials and separations that tempt us, no matter the pain—no matter the joy—there is one thing that we will always have, that will always be ours, and ours alone:

We are

The Class of 2004

Gonzaga Preparatory School.

Call it all joy.


BX_boy said...


PDXPup said...

By far one of the best homilies ever given at St. Al's...

jb3ll3 said...

That altar has never been the same!

green libertarian said...

Wow. Stunning. Powerful. Inspiring. Moving. Very very well done.

As a Quaker, we believe in the Inner Light that is within all God's children, so I appreciated that reference.

I hope my daughter has half the wonderful experiences noted here when she starts Prep next year.

with great joy...

jb3ll3 said...


I should have known....

CynM said...

Yup, I cried. Thank you for posting it.

JBelle, you have so much to be proud of with that child.


jb3ll3 said...

Thanks, cyn. they are all good kids and generous in every regard with their mother. Even, and I only mention this, just, so folks will know I have perspective about my children, even if they don't come home often enough. Of course, those children that might show up in the next couple of weeks would be...well, just the favorites. yeah, the favorites.