Friday, May 27, 2011

The Final Final Exam (by Dr. Greg Roper)

The Final Final Exam
Gregory Roper
Senior Convocation Address
University of Dallas ~ Church of the Incarnation
May 5, 2011

President Keefe,
Provost Berry,
Assembled Deans,
Esteemed Colleagues,
and especially, the class of 2011,

I was deeply honored and humbled when Nico stopped by my office last Friday to ask me to address you today. Then I was terrified. Another paper to write? Why didn’t you tell me back in January that this was on the syllabus? And it’s really due Thursday at 3:30? With no chance of an extension? Somebody’s going to hear about this on the evaluation…

No, what really terrified me was: what to say to a class so accomplished, so talented, and—I want to say this from the outset—so close to my heart, and my family’s hearts? --A class with a student who has studied floating magnetic frogs? --a class with someone who can whip up a pair of boots, a saddle, or some seriously funky art-shoes? --A class with several angelic voices—not saccharine but angelic—powerful, soaring? --A class with people so “dumb” that they Google Calculus problems from Rome to keep that side of their brain active? --A class replete with poets, and stuffed with songwriters you all sing along to, even that one is about Oedipus’ sin threatening a galaxy far, far away? --A class with so many quiet thinkers who then turn in brilliant, elegant papers? A class that brought back medieval drama and climbed cliffs (even when, ahem, they weren’t supposed to)? --A class that immediately recognized Dr. Lowery’s gentle sanctity and Father Jeffrey Steenson’s life-changing integrity? --A class that has produced all of these vocations to the priesthood? What to say to a class with countless guys to whom my wife would point and say to my sons, “That is the kind of young man I want you to be when you grow up,” and countless young women about whom she would say, “and that’s the kind of girl I want you to marry”? What can I add to sum up your last four years that you don’t already know better than I could express?

Eventually I gave up, and decided to fall back on something I know how to do. One last time, I’m going to give you a final exam.

This time, it has only one question, not two.

But it is the ultimate, the final final exam question, the one Dr. Alvis’ two questions [“What is the nature of reality?” And “How should a life be lived?”] should prepare you to answer.

Here it is:

Are you ready to die?

Now, I want to assure you that, proposed legislation in the Texas House aside, under this voluminous late-medieval guildsman’s ceremonial outfit, I’m not “packing”.

And I know what else you’re thinking: “Sweet Holy Job, Roper, I know you Irishmen like to read the obituaries, but could you make this any more depressing? It’s supposed to be a happy time, a celebration—we’re heading towards Commencement, a beginning, not… that.” Well, I promise I’ll bring this back around; the nature of reality is, after all, comic. I mean, you can’t hold back grace and comedy in a world where Michael Kelsey can become a multinational pick-up artist, right?

But in fact graduation, leaving UD, can have as much a sense of a little death as of new life; students often feel bereft, find themselves grieving, over losing daily contact with the immediate and close circle of friends, the great professors who are my colleagues, the wonderful, endless yack about texts and ideas. (When I walked down the Mall after my own graduation too many years ago, a five-foot Cistercian, Father Chris Rabay, the Charity Week jailbreak expert long before Father Maguire assumed his mantle, asked me how I felt. I thought I felt great, but surprised myself by choking out, “It’ll be hard to leave this place.” “Oh, we have a saying in Hungarian,” he responded: “‘Life is one long goodbye’.”) And soon after graduation you will find that student loans, marriages, children, mortgages, careers, all involve daily dying to self. I think it’s providential that this remarkable class ended its time at UD with the events of Holy Week so close to finals, so I’m going to ask you my final exam question, whether you like it or not.

Are you ready to die?

The entire education you have received here, if we look at it in one way, has had this question looming from the beginning.

As you know, in the Phaedo Socrates says that “those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death” (64a) If this is true, that “true philosophers make dying their profession,” (68) then quite honestly, I think a truly liberal university ought to have university-wide Senior Comps that ask this one simple, forceful question: Are you prepared for death?

Yet in many ways we UDers become liberally educated by learning about people who fail the exam.

Achilles was not ready to die. He “detests the doorways of death”: “Of possessions / cattle and fat sheep are things to be had for the lifting, / and tripods can be won,” he says, “but a man’s life cannot come back again, it cannot be lifted / nor captured again by force, once it has crossed the teeth’s barrier” (IX, 405-09). The first philosopher, he critiques the heroic code that motivates his fellow warriors precisely because he thinks that code is no answer to the exam question. He realizes that “a man dies still if he has done nothing, as one who has done much” (IX, 320). And so he holds back, refusing to take part in life because this is its cost, and then in bitterness at his friend’s death becomes a killing machine, death itself, slaughtering indiscriminately, unfree, bound in his hate, his fear, his searing terror at the prospect of obliteration only subsiding when he sees, in the face of Priam, his own father’s grief at his impending death.

Simon Peter was not prepared to die. His fear of it got the better of him, such that he denied, three times, the very man he had proclaimed The Christ, whom he had seen transfigured. Years later, bugging out of a dangerous Rome down the Via Appia, in his “Quo vadis?” moment he turned back, ready this time to be crucified with Christ. One way to address the exam question might be to ask: what changed between those two moments?

Signor Alighieri was not ready to die. Filled with anger and frustration at being manipulated and blocked in his political ambitions, at being exiled away from the friendships and city that he thought sustained him, Dante turned from one thing to another—politics, dolce stil nuovo poetry—as he wandered northern Italy. Even Philosophy was not enough, so he had to make a journey through death in order to learn how to address the question.

In “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, Flannery O’Connor’s grandmother is not ready to die; she rests her faith on being a “good woman” in the sense of being well-born, polite, a “sweet” southern lady. The Misfit must teach her, quite violently, how little all that matters, until finally she learns charity: “She would of been a good woman,” he tells his murderous sidekick Bobby Lee, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

It might be comforting for you to know that most of us fail the exam—at least a few times—before achieving a passing grade. Here’s one example. In April of 1994, I found myself holding onto a sink in a hospital bathroom in Appleton, Wisconsin. I was in the hospital because my appendix had burst. My appendix had burst because, the previous December, when I was pretty darned sure I had appendicitis, the doctor had sent me home because, even though it sure hurt in the lower right quadrant of my abdomen, my white blood cell count was normal. When I doubled over with pain the next April, like a typical guy I decided that this time I was going to be absolutely sure before wasting all of that time in the ER. So I played indoor soccer with the students, taught my classes, went shopping... Ten days later, after I had passed out for the third time, Michele said, in the kind of wifely voice that will not be opposed, “You’re going to the hospital.” The reason I am still here to bore you with this story is that my small intestine, far smarter than I, wound itself around the burst appendix, protecting the rest of my abdomen from the peritonitis that was doing its best to kill me, given that I had helped it to a ten-day head start. So there I was, six days after the operation, in a humiliating hospital gown, finally standing, holding on to the sink . . . and my hands began to shake. And you know what I was thinking? “Greg, You. Are. The. Biggest. Idiot. Ever.” What a desultory, unheroic, just plain stupid way to go. I mean, who lets himself die at the end of the 20th century, in the wealthiest country on earth, from appendicitis? And the next thoughts I panted out showed how foolish I really was: “I can’t die right now. I can’t die. I’ve only been married for four years. I have papers to grade. I have an article I have to finish.”

When you hear someone talking such arrant nonsense, you know he is unprepared for his death. Selfishness, pride, vanity: you can see them all ruling my soul, can’t you?

So I want to reaffirm that it takes a lifetime for some of us idiots to answer the question properly. And it can be an easy question to forget, as life takes hold of you, and you venture beyond the Core. Junior Poets and Senior Theses, Orgo and P-Chem, oh my! Life’s busy-ness and struggles can distract us. Of course we should not blame our majors; if the field we have chosen is indeed oriented to liberal education, if we approach our jobs, our roles as parents, as liberally educated people, these are not somehow pragmatic things we oppose to the philosophical Core, but should flow out of our Core learning into deeper channels. To make dying our profession is to make philosophy not a class but a way of life. A major at UD, for instance, has never been conceived as the “practical” thing you do after you have “completed” the Core-- or worse, “gotten it out of the way”; instead, the major is supposed to focus and refine the lens through which you approach the deepest questions. If chemistry or economics or yes, even literature is not teaching you how answer Dr. Alvis’ two questions so that you might come to this question, I would argue, to heck with it. In so many other places, the way these subjects are taught has little chance of doing that, but of course here at UD you are taught to consider your chosen disciplines in a liberal way, looking at the deepest questions through the lens of Biology or Business Leadership or Education--and that is what makes this such a remarkable place. But even in a remarkable place, we sometimes forget the final exam that is awaiting us.

Now here is the wonderful paradox : when you are properly prepared for that final exam, you become—you saw it coming, didn’t you?—free. You can live. In joy. As T. S. Eliot writes in the Four Quartets, “In my end is my beginning,” and he’s right: in knowing our end, in every sense of that word, we can begin again, be born into a new life. That, too, is the meaning of a liberal education: not to make you obsessed with death, but to orient you through death to a new life. Hamlet, of course, is obsessed, engulfed with notions of depravity, and because of that with a dark view of death, his “undiscovered country”. He didn’t know that the point is to take the exam, but then leave the classroom and live your life based upon what you have learned. Thinking all the time but not reasoning very well, isolated from a tradition, a community, a Church that might teach him how to deal with his dark thoughts, he spins in ever-narrower circles. On the other hand, Prospero, at the end of The Tempest, tells us that in his Milanese retirement “Every third thought shall be my grave,” (5.1.312), and I think his balance is about right. The properly-ordered, liberally educated human knows that there is death, that there will be many deaths, and perhaps most importantly, that there will be daily dying to self, but this knowledge does not crush him; it liberates him to live a full, rich life.

One way it can liberate you is with regard to time. Once you confront death and its proximity, you realize what Augustine tells us in those difficult Books XI-XIII of the Confessions: there is only now. And in a universe made and sustained by love (my answer to the “what is the nature of reality” question), there is only one answer to “how to live”: in gratitude for that love, returning love, right now, to the person in front of me right now. I persuade myself, too often, that I’m too busy, too distracted, too consumed by more important things, to love right now, or I kid myself that I’ll love when I have the time to do it right, time to do something big and important that will really make an impact. But that is Raskolnikov’s mistake, a utilitarian heresy that we cannot do anything good until it helps a great number of people. The tiny prostitute Sonya, and the little Albanian nun Mother Theresa, know different: “We cannot do great things, only small things with great love.” That’s what loving right now is all about. That’s how you form community, by answering the call to love that makes us worthy of the human family we belong to.


When you all were still seniors in high school, deciding to come to UD, a little octopus called a Glioblastoma in my brother’s brain finally got the better of him. We gathered in Denver on a Sunday in February of 2007 because the doctors had done all they could; his lungs were so ravaged, ironically not from the cancer but from the treatment, that not even a machine was able to force enough oxygen into his lungs to keep him alive. When he pulled out the breathing apparatus to say goodbye before heading to the hospice, Mark said, “Don’t be sad, because I know I’m going to a better place.”

Spe salvi. Mark, with only an Associate’s Degree, beat our academic pope to his encyclical by nine months. Spe salvi: “In hope we were saved.” Without that hope, I think his death at age 49 would have haunted us, maybe even crushed us. And for the first time I think I really understood hope—not as a wish for something, not a yearning desire that something you want just might happen, but the confident assurance that, because a God-man already suffered with us, for us, and conquered all of that, then all of the little deaths to self, the heavy crosses, and that seeming finality, ultimately mean joy. That is why, and how, the universe is comic. That is what Dante saw, what Peter learned.

Mark died that Thursday. It was one of the happiest weeks of my life. I thought: I just might pass that exam after all.

But you all knew all of this long ago, didn’t you? Because you’re all so much smarter than I am. Because your parents started you on this path, and an entire community of truth and love helped you on your way. Because you took advantage of the UD education my much smarter, wiser, and more accomplished colleagues provided for you. In your love for one another, in the daily kindnesses you showed my family, in the ministering community you have formed based on the truth Christ bears to us in His Church, you prove daily your passing grade on this exam. It’s what makes you a remarkable class. It’s why your leaving here will be like a little death for all of us who will remain behind at UD, especially the Ropers. And know that we will grieve this death, but then we will smile joyfully for a long, long time.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow (by Dr. Greg Roper)

Somewhere Over the Rainbow:
An Appreciative Look at the Spring Class of 2009
Final Convocation Address
University of Dallas Due Santi Campus
8 May 2009
Dr. Gregory Roper

[sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”]

When, on the steps of the Bari basilica, Dr. Hatlie, without any democratic consultation at all, and, in a fit of dictatorial coercion equal to the Thirty Tyrants, declared you the Rainbow Class, I was at best unsure about the label. It seemed too facile, and definitely too early to know this group’s collective moira. But as I overheard a student proclaiming just minutes later as we queued for the ferry, “No, we can’t change it now; our fate has been assigned.” And indeed the Three Fates of Hatlie had, it would seem, measured you out and cut your thread.

And no matter how un-rainbow-like you attempted to look on that day in the Basilica of San Clemente, you really were, and have become, the Rainbow Group. May I just say here parenthetically that you answered that day just a few weeks later, in what I found a frightening fashion, with the 80s dance; for every Flusche-inspired stylish black outfit the first day, there were multicolored leggings and bad eye shadow during the later evening, and I still shudder when the image comes to my mind of Mr. Aaron “Richard Simmons” Tucker flouncing about in Shakespeare Alley that evening.

We really do have a veritable rainbow of people, in one of the most diverse groups I can remember on this campus: we count among our number a Pakistani Muslim, a well-traveled Jew, a Vietnamese-American, a Polish-American, a Lebanese-Latina, a Peruvian-American, a Phillippina-American… among the faculty we have a North Dakotan-Minnesotan director, an expatriate small-town Texas art history professor, a post-Anglican married Roman Catholic priest with a family, and (may God help us all), a philosopher who throws away his commitment to rationality by being a Dallas Cowboys fan. (He honestly seems to think the Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, has a soul… or at least some kind of “dispositions.”)

We also have a panoply, a rainbow of skills and abilities on this campus. We have speakers of Spanish, French, Dutch, Syriac, Arabic, German, Greek, and Latin among us; we have people who can say the word “rainbow” as teƧza, regenboog, arco iris, ouranio toso, qaws quzh, and I’m just talking about Dr. Hatlie’s wife Dr. Roggema here…; we have musicians and dancers, athletes enough to take on the North American College in soccer; a knitter; a boot-maker; we have gentle souls and fierce competitors. Destined for Broadway for their ability to connect with an audience and bring out smiles in all, we have had on campus two of the sweetest little girls, Hannah and Kora, you will ever meet. We have a ten-year-old engineer and a seven-year-old artist-athlete, both of them black-belt Lego Masters. We have someone who can, if you trust his words, do incredibly unpleasant things to your body with his bare hands in three seconds, or, in thirty seconds, using the same hands, cause you to moan in so much delight that others present might think you are doing something rather private in a public place. (That was a heck of a back rub…!) We have a superb set of RAs who can balance thirty tasks at once: get you around foreign cities, bind wounds, teach Latin and Rugby, play the piano, set up Renaissance games, take photos, organize your housing, and fix you a cappuccino, all without breaking a sweat. We have dedicated, scholarly, fascinating faculty members, as you heard in Dr. Hatlie’s thanks to them. Perhaps bearing the most complex and valuable set of skills and talents, in two of the more unrecognized members of our community, a psychological tester and an artist/singer, we have two moms, who show these stunning talents in ways small and large, who care for all of their children, the little ones to the twenty-year-olds, with cookies and cakes, band-aids and a caring ear, hugs and encouragement. (Let’s take a moment to give it up for Mrs. Blue and Mrs. Roper…)

Soaring above perhaps even these is our multitalented Dean and Director, who is, I can say without qualification, the best leader I have known in eighteen years of working in academia. A terrific scholar who is not lost in a world of foggy footnotes, a fine classroom teacher, he is at once a superb administrator and a caring leader, exhibiting the virtues of courage, temperance, fortitude, and justice in his every action, and binding these together with a generosity of spirit that is boundless. He is a veritable rainbow himself, all of the colors bright, and I have been humbled to serve with him, for him, and under him four of the past six years of my life.

But it is not enough to simply list, like Book Two of the Iliad, a catalog of rainbows. As UD students and professors, we have been taught to go beyond mere listing of accidents to the substance of the matter.

And to do that, I suppose I must follow my own advice and scratch an itch.

Which itch? Well, it is the one first voiced by a little green philosopher-actor who, coincidentally, has a disordered love for his pink girlfriend.

I’m talking about Kermit the Frog, of course, who asks, “Why are there so many songs about rainbows? And what’s on the other side?”

Well, let us begin by looking at the nature of reality… of rainbows. And then see if they can teach us how to live our lives.
Of course for a rainbow there first must be rain… and we’ve had our share of that this semester, literally and metaphorically. We could almost summarize this semester by quoting the beginning of one of my favorite chapters from Winnie the Pooh: “It rained, and it rained, and it rained.” It rained and snowed on our way to Bari; it rained in Olympia; it rained a bit in Delphi; it poured in Nafplion. The Easter Triduum had its share. There was wind, and there were storms, this semester: need I say more than “If the devil was a ferry…”? finish it with me, guys: “he’d be the Blue Star!” When Carl cannot, because of the rain, even stage a simple bocce ball tourney, you know something is up. We’ve had our share of metaphorical storms and rain, also. We’ve dealt with facial disfigurement in the Circus Maximus, socialist Acropolis employees depriving us of an up-close-and-personal with the Parthenon, and obnoxious Italian students at the theatre in Epidauros. You had your own literal and metaphorical storms over ten day. And it occurs to me now that, during our most dangerous part of the semester, as Kara and Gayle and I called up to, and Dr. Hatlie and a really angry Greek police chief called down to, and were repeatedly answered by, a strangely calm disembodied voice tucked a few hundred feet above or below us, that perhaps the reason our group’s leprechaun was on a ledge in Nafplion was that he had been searching for a pot of gold up there, and the faeries had bewitched him…

But rain isn’t enough for a rainbow to appear: we must also have light. And in fact what occurs to me is that for every one of those moments I just mentioned, a glorious day followed: a beautiful cool day for the race in Olympia, a stunning walk up the site in Delphi, the cleansing of the temple in Epidauros by Mr. Gibula’s judicious use of the national anthem, the gorgeous day at the Palamidi Fortress after the great wash of relief we all felt when Mr. Wilder was safe. Even our trip back from Greece, on a beautiful new ferry on glass-smooth waters, had a way of erasing that demonic trip to Patras.

So we are getting closer to the nature of the reality of rainbows, but perhaps we should look a little further.
A scientist might say a rainbow is the result of refracted light. A romantic might say that robs a rainbow of its poetry, but I would disagree; I think, as I often think about scientific knowledge, it actually enhances the beauty and wonder of rainbows.
For when we combine water and light, as we could all see on a wonderful afternoon at the villa in Tivoli, you get spectacular results. And you get deep symbolism of our greatest needs and deepest aspirations.

A rainbow is of course NOT an illusion—we’re not dealing with one of Mr. Padgett’s splendid card tricks here, where we are cleverly deceived—no, in refracting, a rainbow tells us the TRUTH about light, that light is made up of an infinite number of colors and parts of the spectrum; it tells us that, as Roberto Benigni might say, Light is Beautiful, and that much of the time we do not even really see it for what it is.

But a rainbow also teaches us that at times we have to be bent, refracted, to reveal our true beauty. That is, troubles do come, and, as we’ve seen here, they often don’t just “melt like lemon drops”; we’ve seen this in King Lear, in the Book of Job, in the late Roman Republic, in the difficult struggles of the early Church, in your own occasional homesickness and stress over grades. What we have learned as well this semester is that suffering does exist—ankles twist, mensa lines are long, toilets run endlessly and fire alarms go off at strange times of the night; friends struggle, uncles die, Dachau did exist and has happened again—and that there are Iagos out there, people who will seek to destroy us, or deny us the use of our talents. Think of Michelangelo’s opponents who tried to ruin him by getting him the contract to paint the Sistine Chapel and work for the obnoxious Julius II. They tried to bend him, even to break him, and instead, he refracted all of this into one of the world’s great wonders of artistic beauty and truth, which no amount of crowding, and guards calling “Silencio,” can diminish.

So if a rainbow teaches us anything, it is that it is through our very brokenness, and the unbidden grace that comes to shine through that, that we discover the marvelous. And that this marvelous reveals the beauty and grace of creation.
It would be presumptuous, and I suppose redundant, for me to catalog all of the marvels we have seen and read and experienced here this semester, and you know better than I your own catalog, from Sacre Couer to Fatima, from Hagia Sophia to a Khang Tran topspin, from Rebecca and Nick singing in the tholos tomb at Mycenae to a quiet walk in the vineyard, to Mr. Kelsey transforming into one seriously dangerous pick-up artist. I think you would agree we have seen a plethora of marvels this semester.

But what the marvelous requires of us is appreciation. Appreciation means to stand in awe and pleasure, to seek out the good of the thing, and to respond to its goodness. I confess that what irked me (just a wee bit) about Dr. Hatlie choosing a label for you is that Michele and I already had from the earliest weeks of the semester our own name for you: the Appreciative Group. Rather than carping and whining about what you didn’t have, from January 21st you truly appreciated what you have been given here, and we saw it in ways small and large: the way you appreciated the stunning sites and fascinating history of Rome, or the mensa ladies’ care of you; the way you responded to lectures; the attention you gave to us on site; the joy with which you took to Kora Blue climbing a tree, or a Stephanie Stoeckl twinkle in the eye; the way you appreciated each others’ personalities and gifts and quirks and talents, the way you saw, if I may say so, the radiance of the divine in the art and architecture and concepts and men and women on the streets. You knew there were things more important than yourselves, and you sought and appreciated the good in them.

And appreciation, rightly ordered, leads to wonder, which is what cracks open our ability to see truth, to bathe in beauty, to pursue the good. A few times in other semesters I’ve just felt crushed by a student who looks at the Acropolis and says, “Yeah, let’s go get a gyro” or finds Rome tiresome or spends all of her semester longing for Cheetos and not appreciating a good hearty bowl of penne alla vodka. But that didn’t happen this semester; you all understood the secret of appreciation. It was there the day I saw two very different guys, Senor Herrera and Mr. Burton, walk out of the Scavi tour wiping tears from their eyes; it was there in your excitement to be at the Hill of the Pnyx, where democracy was born and Socrates sentenced to death; it was there in the reverence and calm of so many of you at Mass, even when it was held in a crowded lobby in Delphi where we had to move the exceedingly illegal-looking hookah from behind the altar.

If there is something I think the Rome semester is supposed to do for you, it is to give you this chance to appreciate, to move to wonder, to crack you open with Thucydides and Hamlet and Athanasius and Ryle, with Augustine and the “Apollo and Daphne” and a quiet talk in the pergola with a friend, to have you open yourselves to truth and beauty and goodness, to see the beauty in the refracted light of a new country, a new culture, a new set of experiences in your lives. For if you have that wonder, we don’t have to worry about how you will be as students; all of your studies will be a part of your wonder, the Core will come alive, your majors will widen and deepen. For if you have that wonder, beauty will come to you, you will be humbly open to truth bigger than yourself, and you will seek out how to act with goodness.

Finally, what we know about rainbows is that they quickly fade . . . and we must take a moment, when they appear, to pause and notice them, to appreciate their grace and beauty and meanings for us, or we will miss them. As Doctor Hatlie told us in the opening convocation, as he spoke about the Greek word ekomeny, we on the Rome semester are aware at once of living in the best of all possible places and that it is, at this very moment, passing away, and while this may give us pause, and perhaps lead to a bout of Rome Sickness next semester, it should not lead us to despair, for it reminds us that so much of the good around us is pure gift, and the only response is gratitude. And if you have learned that, that all is gift, on your Rome semester—from the sunshine and rain, the basilicas and temples, the texts and images, the crowds and the moments of solitude—then you will have something not ephemeral as a rainbow, but as solid as Peter’s rock, the deepest and most enduring secret of life.

So at the end of this intense experience in a world of Oz, as you begin to crave fajitas and good Texas barbecue, a beer and a braut in Wisconsin, or an In-and-Out burger in LA, as you head back to the other side of the rainbow, you may be tempted to see this semester as a singular experience, a strange illusion, a fading ephemeral moment in your life that will not be replicated back in the hum-drum world of Irving. But I think, as the Rainbow Class, you know better, and can turn your appreciation for these marvels into permanent parts of your soul. For the Rome semester does its best work when it is not a one-time event, but when it irradiates your life back in the rest of the world with the truths, the beauty, and the goodness you have experienced here. So as you prepare to click your heels tomorrow, saying quietly (and correctly), “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home”, and as you then fly “where lovely bluebirds fly”, I hope you’ll take a piece of the violet, or orange, or blue, or green, and splash its color upon everything you see.

Thank you.

An introduction to the next two posts...

I am aware how long it has been since I posted and I'm sure that I am overdue for a description of Baccalaureate, the President's Gala, Commencement, my graduation party, saying adieu to Dallas, my trip to Houston, and my trip home. However, right now I just want to give a brief introduction to two speeches that I will be sharing that (in my mind) sum up a great deal of my UD experience.

One of my favorite professors (note, ONE of, not the only- I'm pretty sure I have at least ten favorite professors from UD, so if a professor who is not Roper is reading this, do not be insulted!) is my Literary Traditions professor from Rome (who I enjoyed enough to take again for Lit Trad IV back in Irving). When we were leaving Rome, he addressed our class on our last night in Rome. Then, at Convocation, he shared his wisdom again (as I noted in my last post).

Dr. Roper has two big questions that he always asks his class: "What is the nature of reality?" and "How should a life be lived?"

During the last two years, I have spent a lot of time thinking about these questions, and I think I will continue to do so. The understanding that reality must be a comedy and not a tragedy because of the Resurrection has stuck with me, and in some of the most difficult moments I have looked back on that and remembered that all really will be well (Julian of Norwich).

So, because I value his words and have enjoyed both of these, I thought I would share them with you. I will post them above, because I think the combined lengths would be too long for just one post.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A recap of the week...

So, the last week has been pretty crazy. As I said before, Thursday was convocation and senior TGIT. It is strange to think that I’ll never go to another TGIT, that I’m only a couple days from graduation. I’m excited, don’t get me wrong, but after this crazy week I’m a little exhausted.

I’ll do a quick recap of the week, more for my sake than because anyone might be interested in reading about it. There are pictures below in my last post.

Convocation has always been something that I enjoy, ever since my freshman year. It is fun, with the announcement of what all the students are doing and the convocation speaker. It was cool this year, because I knew almost everyone. Hearing what we all are doing made it more real to me that we’re really leaving. Dr. Roper’s Convocation speech (which I would love a copy of, by the way) was wonderful. It was a good reminder of the fact that one of the biggest things in life is learning how to die to ourselves so that we might serve others.

After Convocation, Molly, Rebecca, Amanda and I took pictures in our caps and gowns. It was fun, but surreal. Seeing myself in my cap and gown had not been anywhere near so shocking as seeing Amanda and Molly. It made me realize that we really are graduating.

Senior TGIT went by in a flash, but it was wonderful to sit there and enjoy my friends and classmates. Then, Friday, was my last Campus Ministry Student Worker dinner. I received a beautiful “Gratitude Journal” from Denise and Tameko, which Tameko had made for me herself. I enjoyed the company of my dear friends, who have practically been my family for these last four years. Saturday was the Dinner Dance, and boy, was it fun. I have the best students ever, and it was beautiful and emotional to spend one last evening together. We were exhausted by the end, but it was a great night.

Sunday was Mother’s Day and I went to Mass with the Ponikiewski/Parent family. It was my last Mass at HFN (for now, at least) and it was a little sad to say goodbye. We went to breakfast for Mother’s Day and then I had to come home and study.

Finals were crazy and hard, but I survived (I think so, anyways). And now, here we are, seemingly at the end of all things and yet at the beginning of so many others. I’m working in Campus Ministry right now, my last shift in my office and at my desk. It’s all so surreal, I know I used that word before, but it’s the only one I can think of to describe it all. My parents called a while ago from Joplin, they’re on their way. Tonight we’ll go out for girl’s night before my parents get here, then I’ll see my family and then… then, soon enough, it will all be over.

I’d like to ask prayers for the soul of my friend Karina and for her family. Also, please pray for me and for the Class of 2011. We’re all going out to our different corners of the world. I feel like we’re the Apostles, dividing up after Christ gave them their orders. It’s sad and hard to leave, but there are oh-so-many opportunities to come!


Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Quick Update and photo

I just got back from the dinner dance and I'm too tired to write. It's been a crazy couple days and there's so much to say. I just want to share some photos with you all and I'll tell you all about it later!

Me and the coolest people I know! (After the Dinner Dance)

This is my David and I at the student worker lunch for Campus Ministry. I can't believe it's my last one!!

Molly, Denise, and I after Convocation.

The kids gave me a big group hug at my last TYM night. See the post below.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The coolest people I know.

Last night was one of those nights I’ve been dreading for a while-- one of those endings that should be happy, but it’s really bittersweet. It was my last night at TYM.

The realization that I was going to be leaving for real hit me when we were at Mass. As we processed over to the statue of Mary, I found myself praying that Mary would not only accept the flowers we were bringing, but that she would accept the love I had given these wonderful young people and that she would continue to watch over them, loving them as much as I do. I found myself fighting tears all through Mass and feeling overwhelmed by the knowledge of my impending goodbye.
After Mass, we went into the gym for free time and I got caught up in talking with my friends (teens and adults). Alex installed some app on my phone, Jenny wanted to show me engagement photos… normal stuff. At the end, when Jason had the kids get into a circle, I almost didn’t realize it was about me. And then, I found myself in the middle of that circle, surrounded by some of the people that I love most (and will miss most) in Irving. The kids put their hands on me and prayed over me, one by one. Each one had kind words to say. Gil and Justin, as well as so many others, offered such kind words and sweet prayers…. Then, I had to smile when Davis asked if I really had to leave. I was touched and humbled by their words of praise and thanksgiving, by prayers for me that came from their hearts. After, one of the Core Team said to me that I had touched them, that I had changed them. The truth of the matter is, they changed me.

This weekend, we had a retreat (which is a great way to say goodbye). When we were on the bus on the way to the retreat, I started thinking about when I first got to Holy Family. I remember walking into Jason’s office (after having trouble finding the parish office), and wondering who the heck this guy was. He seemed crazy (nothing’s changed). And I remembered the first time I met the Core team, walking into the meeting late and automatically drifting to Jenny just because I already knew her. Then there was this nice lady named Patty who sat with me at the restaurant and her son was my age an on the team… I had no idea that they would become my family, that their house would become like a home to me and that I would be spending Easter with them. I had no idea that Brenda, who at first was a little intimidating, would become like another mom. I had no idea that Cassie, Josh, Aaron and Allison, as well as Jason himself, would become such dear, dear friends. Frankly, I had no idea.
That first TYM night (almost 2 years ago, now) was overwhelming to say the least. I was introduced to so many kids that night that there was no way I could remember all their names. Meeri adopted me and took me around to introduce me to everyone, and I think her name was the only one I remembered at the end of it all. Her and Trevor, who was late and came in at the very end after work (there’s something to be said for being the last person introduced to me an me remembering his name). That night I was nervous, I don’t like being in front of people I don’t know. I guess I figured that I would eventually get to know them. And I did. I just didn’t bargain for loving them all.

There are so many wonderful memories from these last two years that I hope will stick with me forever. I remember the first time I went over to Patty’s house for Halloween. I remember the choose your own adventure day, when we discussed decision-making. I remember filling the Gonzales room with plants as we mimicked some tv show and talked about idols. I remember the living rosary out on the basketball court, where we couldn’t keep the candles lit. I remember masses and youth nights and talks. I remember talking about the Incarnation and actually making them excited about it (well, it is pretty exciting!). I remember lots of emails and phone calls. I remember so many hours spent in the office, just being amazed at Jason’s excitement about different things, his energy. I remember walking into the office to get some work done on a Sunday and finding Alli and Jason, and Allison showing me her ring. I remember staying up late with Jenny and then the next day, a phone call saying he just proposed. I remember talking with Aaron on the bus the whole way back from the Confirmation retreat, and feeling so blessed to have him as a friend. I remember multiple times (too many to count) when I told someone that these teens are the coolest people I know. I remember…

A few months ago, we were sad when Sarah had to leave. I watched her say goodbye to everyone and I remember thinking, I don’t want to have to do that… I don’t want to go. I still don’t, but I know that I have to. Sometimes I think the students are more excited about me going to Notre Dame than I am. I can’t let them down! (Although last night, they did recommend about 15 different colleges in the area and asked why I couldn’t go there—I didn’t bother to point out that none of those colleges have theology.)

Today, I’m going to pick up my cap and gown. This afternoon, I’m going to convocation. Tonight we have Senior TGIT. There are a lot of goodbyes coming up. Then, in June, I will arrive at ND and there will be a lot of hellos. In August, I will go to Indiana and meet my new parish. I can only hope and pray (sometimes against hope) that this new place will be as awesome as Holy Family, that the new core team will be as close friends. I am excited and nervous, emotional and overwhelmed. But all in all, I know that I have a pretty awesome fan club that is cheering me on.

I love you guys.