Although I have learned many lessons since I graduated in 1978, there are three that I wish I had fully grasped when I was your age.
First, be intellectually serious about your faith. Bishop Gorman is a Catholic high school, which means that it is tethered to a rich intellectual tradition, one that has been, and is, the home of some of the greatest thinkers the world has ever known. This is a point of pride that you should enthusiastically trumpet. When I was your age, I had a juvenile understanding of my Catholic faith and its relationship to the life of the mind, because, well, I was a juvenile.
As children of Abraham, our faith is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures. Our Church, however, begins to take shape in the First Century with Jesus of Nazareth, the smartest and wisest man who ever lived. His life, his ideas, his deeds, and his example, and those of his followers, changed the ancient world and thus altered the trajectory of history itself.
But that is far from all it has accomplished: throughout its history the Church’s finest minds have wrestled with and shrewdly engaged the intellectual and cultural challenges of their day, in order to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) The sheer scope of this project in the shaping of Western civilization boggles the mind. Ideas and concepts that we take for granted – found even today in disciplines as diverse as economics, astronomy, medicine, ethics, architecture, music, mathematics, and politics – developed and flourished under the direction of the Church’s most accomplished and gifted intellects.
The founders of Bishop Gorman High School in 1954
Second, love is the virtue on which your entire life depends. Love, according to St. Paul, is greater than faith and hope, both of which are worthless without love (I Cor. 13), for “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Cor. 13: 7) Jesus told his disciples that there is no greater love than when a person lays down his life for a friend. (John 15:13) Love, to put it simply, requires a giving of one’s self for the good of others.
If you start to think deeply about love, you realize at some point that your entire life depends on it. What immediately comes to mind, of course, is the love of your parents, teachers, friends, and family, and how that love made possible your presence here today. But there are others, who no longer share our time or space, though we participate in the institutions and ways of life that their love brought into being and helped sustain. They are, as the author of Hebrews would call them, a great cloud of witnesses.
Bishop Gorman High School was founded in 1954 by a small group of Catholics, whose names most of you would not recognize. Although they, of course, lived in Las Vegas, most of them had in fact emigrated to southern Nevada from such far away and exotic places as Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, New York, and even Steubenville, Ohio. They trekked great distances and made great sacrifices because they loved their Church, their community, their children, and the subsequent generations whose members they would never know. You, indeed, we are the beneficiaries of that love.
The proper response to this on our part is gratitude, followed by emulation. This means that love and our response to it is not about you and me following our dreams, though dreams, of course, are not unimportant. Rather, they are secondary to, and acquire their meaning from, the way we respond in love to those to whom we are committed by the bonds of family, marriage, church, friendship, nation, and even, as the Good Samaritan learned, happenstance. Love may also require that we remain steadfast while doing good in the face of adversity, or it may mean picking up our cross and putting down our iPhone.
Bishop Gorman High School today
Third, what you accomplish in high school is not your destiny. When I graduated from Gorman I was a three-sport letterman and a member of its AAA state championship basketball team. But I earned no academic awards, and if I had applied to the university at which I am now a tenured full professor, Baylor, I probably would not have been offered admission. I was an average student with a lot of potential, largely hidden under layers of adolescent mischief.
It was only during the second semester of my sophomore year in college, after what seemed like a fortuitous serious of events, that I began to realize that I loved to read, write, and think.
I discovered, to my amazement, that there were people far wiser than me, who lived long ago, and despite their absence from this mortal realm, could be my teachers. In the chorus of voices that harkened from the past were Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm, and John Henry Cardinal Newman. They were among, what G. K. Chesterton called “the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.” I had discovered a reservoir of insight that, again in the words of Chesterton, “refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”
If life were a baseball game, high school would be the second batter in the second inning of the first game of a double-header. There is a reason why we call this ceremony a commencement. It is only a beginning.