Good morning and thank you, Dr. Gomez, Holy Child board of trustees, distinguished members of the faculty, the alumnae of the class of 1967, special guests, family members, and friends who are gathered here today. Congratulations to the class of 2017. it is an honor to be here with you all.
I do know that in 1967 the graduation speaker was Robert Kennedy and, while I know I’m no Robert Kennedy, I will do my best today to impart some wisdom and dignity to this tremendous occasion.
Ladies, I have known and admired some of you since you were little sixth graders starting out at Holy Child. Some of you I have gotten to know only fairly recently. I have been impressed with all of you, with your knowledge of history, your ability to graph an equation, your fine Spanish accents, your equestrian expertise, your athletic prowess, and, of course, your unbelievable dance moves. Most importantly, though, I have been impressed with your love and care for one another. When one of you hurts, all of you hurt. When one of you celebrates, all of you are ready for a party.
For you, this is a day that is a little of both – a little bit celebration, a little bit sad. I get that.
You and I are in very similar positions today which is why, I imagine, I’ve been asked to speak to you. All of us are about to leave a place that has been like a home to us. A place where we have learned a lot, laughed a lot, eaten a lot, hugged a lot and even cried sometimes. For all of us this is place where we have felt comfortable and comforted. Here we’ve been surrounded by people who know us well and, while we may be excited to see what comes next on our journeys, we are also a little scared to move forward.
I must confess, however, that I’m sure I’m not as nervous as you are. In fact, I know something which I am confident you don’t understand quite yet. As your graduation speaker, I have been entrusted with the duty of teaching you something today. So here it is – the big lesson: You (and I) will not leave here alone. I promise we will take all the people who matter to us today with us on our journeys through the years to come. The friendships we have forged here will not go away. They will stay with us and remind us of the people we are right now, at this moment in time. These Holy Child friendships will give us the stability we need to lift off and soar beyond our wildest expectations.
I can be certain about this statement because 35 years ago I was sitting where you are right now, in my white dress with my red roses surrounded by my friends. I couldn’t imagine what the next month would be like, let alone the next 35 years, without my classmates. Who would support me and challenge me and make me laugh the way they had? I was pretty scared that day.
Fast forward to just this past weekend when I celebrated the wedding of one of those friends’ daughters. Out on the dance floor I was surrounded by those same friends who had sat with me at my graduation. We laughed, we jumped up and down, we sang badly at the top of our lungs, and, most importantly, we celebrated our years of acquaintance while supporting our friend at a very significant event in her life, the wedding of her daughter. The moment didn’t surprise me. We have never stopped celebrating and supporting one another, even when we’ve been miles apart.
I’ll admit it hasn’t always been easy to stay in touch. We’ve lived in different states, we’ve had busy jobs, we’ve gotten married, and had children, all of which have kept us distracted and focused on things other than our friendships. The great thing about true friendships, though, is this, a true friend understands when she is not your top priority. A true friend celebrates the times that can be carved out and savors those precious moments, even if they’re few and far between.
Take this incident, for example. Two years ago, my husband and I traveled to New York to have dinner with my high school friends and their husbands. We hadn’t all been together in quite some time. In the car, I was on directions’ duty, traffic was bad, and it was getting closer and closer to the time we were supposed to meet up. Tensions in the car were running high. I texted and said we wouldn’t be coming. The answer I got back: “No way. We’re waiting.” We got there finally – but we were more than an hour late. I was embarrassed, tired, and cranky. Immediately, my friends enveloped me in their warmth. Vicki cracked a joke. Mary gave me a big hug, and Nancy patted the seat beside her and said, “Come here, I want to hear all about how Maddy’s doing in college.” I remembered why I loved them and why I battled traffic to get to them. “I’m so sorry I’m late,” I said. “No worries,” said my friend Mary, “you’re here now.”
That moment, when I was welcomed by people who had been waiting just for me exactly the way I was (tired, cranky, disheveled) was one of the most affirming moments of my life. My friends wanted me to be with them and they were willing to wait for me to get to them. They didn’t care what I looked like or what it took for me to get there. They were just glad I made it.
Because of their support and friendship throughout the years, I have had the confidence to travel away from home and live in states where I didn’t know anyone. I’ve tried out for sports teams and auditioned for plays. I’ve taken on jobs which I didn’t think I could do. I went to graduate school. I’ve gotten married, raised children, and lost a parent. Throughout it all, every time I’ve wanted to take the easy path, they’ve reminded me of who I wanted to be when I was 18, how I wanted to live my life. Their support has kept me moving forward and challenging myself to be the best I can be. My friends have helped me become the person you see standing before you today.
Let me tell you about my favorite movie, some of you may have seen it. It’s called It’s A Wonderful Life. It stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. As the movie begins, George Bailey is having a terrible day. It gets so bad and George feels so guilty about his actions that he runs away from the people who love him most and finds himself alone at night on the railing of a bridge wishing he had never been born. What happens? His guardian angel Clarence appears and grants his wish. George is allowed to see what life would have been like had he never been born. What he is shown is a completely different world from the one he has known. His hometown even has a different name What is most amazing to him, though, are the changes in the people he knew. Without him, his wife has never married and has become quiet and sad, without him his neighbors are angry and greedy, without him his boss has gone to jail. George realizes that, even with all its bumps and difficulties, his life has been worthwhile because of all the lives he’s touched. As Clarence, the guardian angel reminds him, “No man is a failure who has friends.”
The lesson of It’s a Wonderful Life is clear: each one of us makes an impact on the lives of those surrounding us. Think of those people you have here, sitting beside you in white dresses or sitting in the audience supporting and celebrating you. Imagine your life if one of them had never existed. Completely different, no? The same is true of each one of you. Without you, Holy Child would have been a different place. Without you, your classmates would have been different people.
So friendships are so much more than just people to celebrate with. They are people who help you become the person you were meant to be while you help them become their best selves as well. That’s so much more important than a good party or even a snapchat streak.
What did Jesus do before He left His home in Nazareth? Before He ventured out from the place He was known and comfortable? What did He do to make sure His journey would be successful? He collected a group of friends and brought them along to support and challenge him. In fact, His first miracle happened at a wedding surrounded by His friends. He tells them, “I no longer call you servants. Instead, I have called you friends.”
C.S. Lewis, a wonderful writer who you probably know as the author of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, says, “In friendship...we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”
Look around you, these are the friends God has chosen for you. And you have been chosen for them. Know that as you go forward into your lives, God will continue to put the right people in your lives to be friends for you. Listen to His advice. Remember what you have learned here about true friendship and take care of the people you have been given to travel with you. Make their friendship a priority and you will be rewarded in immeasurable ways.
I too have learned about friendship at Holy Child from the most wonderful group of people, the students, faculty, staff, board members, and parents here. I want to take a moment to thank you all of you for your friendship, for sending encouraging emails, for making me laugh, for asking me pointed questions which require me to think, for supporting my dreams of colorful furniture on wheels. Thank you for all you have given me. Here at Holy Child I have grown both professionally and spiritually. Here at Holy Child I have become a better me.
Throughout my life It is my friendships that have sustained me. I have worked to keep the people I love close because they are the ones who have consistently called me back to my best self.
What I’m going to ask you graduates to do as you leave Holy Child this afternoon and in the years going forward is to keep in touch with one another - and not just through Facebook. Be honest with one another. Ask for help when you need it. Give support when it’s asked for. Celebrate each other’s successes, but also be there for the disappointments. Understand that life happens and that you may not always be one another’s top priority at every moment. Forgive one another. Savor the moments you have together even if they’re less often than you would like.
Today I also make a commitment to you – that I will keep in touch will all of you who have been so important to me during my years at Holy Child. I will remember you. I call you my friends.