December President’s Pen: God and the Underdog

God loves the underdog.  No month reminds us more of this than December.  At CRSM, we celebrated the Feast of La Virgen de Guadalupe on December 12.  If you don’t know the story, a poor campesino named Juan Diego is singled out by God through the appearance of Mary to become a conduit for the miracle at Tepeyac – roses grew in the middle of winter on a hillside in Mexico, convincing the Bishop to build a basilica there dedicated to the Virgin Mary as our intercessor to God.

This is also the month we celebrate Mary saying, “yes” to the angel Gabriel to be the conduit for God’s plan to come to earth as a human being.  She was about 14 years old at the time, the same age as our Freshmen, and yet she is our example of great faith, trust, and love through her willingness to volunteer to whatever God asked of her, not knowing what the future held.

Our National Hispanic Honors Society hosted Las Posadas.  This is a singing tradition that reenacts the travails of Mary and Joseph called away from their home to fulfill the requirements of the Roman government’s census, looking for shelter for the night.  A “nobody” carpenter and his pregnant wife knocking door-to-door and being refused, until finally one innkeeper allows them use of his stable.   The celebration itself is a powerful experience because we, as singers, accompany the Holy Family.  We experience their rejection and, ultimately, share in the one welcoming place they were allowed.  Every year, there is something very profound about walking with Mary and Joseph through the last door leading to the stable and our evening’s communal Posadas feast.

Even as Christmas Day nears, the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we are reminded that the news of the Nativity comes first to lowly shepherds tending their flocks.

A dirt-poor country bumpkin; a young, innocent and trusting girl; desperate and homeless refugees; lonely, humble shepherds; and a tiny baby born in a barn – these images convey powerlessness, marginalization, and vulnerability.  Yet, it is through them that miracles occur, that God’s plans for the human race unfold, that God’s Kingdom on Earth comes a little closer to reality.

God loves an underdog.  I think that is part of what makes CRSM so special.  If you look at national and local statistics, our students are educational underdogs.  Less than half of the adults in Waukegan and North Chicago complete high school and only 10% complete college.  Those numbers aren’t from a lack of talent or will.  They are a result of limited opportunities.  The old cliché says, “It takes money to make money.”  Well, a more poignant variation is, “It takes opportunities to make opportunities.”  Unfortunately, communities like ours are not realizing the benefits of a strong economy.  Poverty and unemployment rates are high, private and public investments are low.  As a result, quality educational opportunities are rare.

But CRSM is one shining example of what is possible.  Year after year, more than 80% of all the students who started with us on the first day of 9th grade, graduate with us. 97% of our graduates were accepted to Bachelor Degree programs and 90% directly enrolled into them.   This June, it looks very likely that 70% of our Class of 2015 will graduate college in four years.  Those numbers rival some of the strongest, higher-income high schools in the U.S.!

In their own way, our students are small miracles.  In a cold, unforgiving climate, they manage to blossom. I am so proud to work for them and alongside them.  I’m not alone, either.  Our wonderful faculty and staff, the supportive supervisors at our business partners that are part of the Corporate Work Study Program, and all the generous donors who share what they have to make our school possible are all part of this joint effort.

What’s more, our students recognize that there are many, many more people besides them facing challenges greater than theirs.  Our students are eager to do something about it.  I had the opportunity to read some of the personal statements our seniors submitted with their college applications this year.   One incredibly consistent theme across all their essays lies in their motivation for continuing their education:  every student mentioned in their dreams for their own future, a desire to improve the lives of others.

God loves an underdog.  God speaks to us through underdogs.  God reveals His love for us through underdogs and invites us to show our love for Him in how we treat underdogs.  This Christmas, please remember the powerless, marginalized, and vulnerable.  They belong to God – and how we treat them tells the world everything it needs to know about us.  Merry Christmas.