July President’s Pen: Knowing that we are part of something bigger than ourselves

“Joy” is a term that has been on my mind a lot lately.  The end of the school year and beginning of summer descend on CRSM like converging whirlwinds.  Everything happens so quickly but they are always times of great joy.  With so many events and activities, it’s difficult to absorb more than a brief moment of one before the next catches your attention and pulls you away.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was up on the stage at Senior Send-Off, our annual student awards ceremony, witnessing a student in the second row realize she had just been named “Most Academically Improved?” Her hands cover her mouth as she tears up, classmates patting her on the back.  Seemingly only a split-second after that, we are gathered in Holy Family church for graduation with our Chairperson, Chris Perry receiving an honorary diploma and leading the Class of 2019 in moving their mortarboard tassels from right to left.

In the parking lot, amid a flurry of flowers and balloons, one family asks our principal, Mike Odiotti to take their picture.  Flanked by Grandma, both parents, and four younger siblings, our new alumna stands in the middle with a look of extreme pride rivaled only by the look of pride in her parents’ eyes.  Four years of hard work for the alumna and 18 years of sacrifice for her parents summed up in one beautiful photograph.

Then it’s the following Monday, when our rising 9th graders are on campus for their first week of Corporate Work Study Program training.   Watching each get dropped off and enter CRSM for the first time as an enrolled student, even the most confident looking of them, a tall young man in his dress shirt and tie, betrays a trace of anxiety as he leaves the safety of his mom’s car and walks through the front door alone.

A steamy morning two weeks later sees students, staff, and alumni lining up in front of our building to board buses for the Freshmen Trip to St. Mary’s University in Winona, MN – the air charged with excitement.  For some students, this is their first trip out of state; for others, it will be their first night away from home ever.  One highlight of that trip is the final evening when our alumni divide into discussion panels: Academics, Work Study, and Campus Ministry.  Groups of freshmen rotate through each panel, asking questions. We do not script alumni responses, yet their words consistently reinforce behaviors and attitudes that lead to success at CRSM and beyond.  Consider the power in this moment:  groups of 14-year-old students on a college campus, eating in the college cafeteria, sleeping in college dormitories, taking classes in college classrooms, now meeting with young adults just 5 – 10 year older who are advising them about navigating high school and college.  The poise and self-confidence our alumni exhibit shouldn’t surprise but I am bowled over by these young leaders and their contagious sense of purpose and possibility.  One alum tells the freshmen audience, “CRSM teachers see more potential in you than you see in yourself.”  All our alumni volunteer for the trip – giving their time freely for this important right-of-passage for our 9th graders.

Back at school, there is more to witness.  Now we are hosting the iBio Camp, promoting interest in STEM-related fields for grade school and junior high girls. Through the huge windows at the back of our cafeteria you see students and our Science teacher, Chris Call, working on our first attempt at a school garden.  Other students are in classrooms or the library working with their Chromebooks to complete on-line credit recovery courses.  Even in the unfinished portion of our building, about thirty rising sophomores are doing calisthenics and lifting weights on the bare concrete floors in order to complete their state-required fitness credits so that they can take AP World History this fall instead of gym class. They pass by breathless (and a little sweaty) but with smiles.

As CWSP training continues, it is always gratifying to see supervisors from various business partners like Abbott Labs, Discover Financial, Abbvie, Grainger, and Walgreens in our classrooms conducting workshops about ‘making a good first impression’ or ‘communicating effectively in a professional environment’ or ‘ensuring accuracy in your work product.’  Talk about investing in the next generation!

Joy is what I think I have been experiencing in these little moments at CRSM. Maybe joy is just knowing for a few seconds at a time that we are all part of something far bigger than ourselves and far more wonderful than we can imagine.  If that is the case, I think joy and faith are inextricably combined.  Joy is experiencing God’s presence in the here and now and sensing even fleetingly that we are part of the coming of God’s Kingdom.

The look in a parent’s eye at graduation is part of a dream fulfilled, hope becoming manifest.  The apprehensive step of a student entering high school for the first time is really the first step toward discovering and developing our God-given talents in order to make the world a better place.  An alum’s confident voice giving advice is testimony to the far-reaching power of ‘paying it forward.’  The simple gesture of supervisors giving up their work time to train students they don’t yet know is proof we are all brothers and sisters and our real success can only be defined in terms of collective success.

The theologian Fr. Henri J. M. Nouwen said, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”  Finding joy in these daily moments doesn’t seem like a conscious choice but perhaps that is CRSM’s greatest gift.  C.S. Lewis says that for believers, when they see a sunbeam, “One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.”

The people who comprise CRSM make it easy to find joy.  Being with them you can’t help but believe that God is with us and God is the source of our moments together.

Come visit CRSM and find joy – it’s an easy choice to make.