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Grad at Grad Reflections

Excellence: Mr. Jacques Joseph

 

Esteemed Colleagues, dear parents and friends, beloved students and other members of the Loyola community,

 

When Mr. Lewis asked me if I would be willing to talk to you about the meaning of excellence, two questions came to my mind.  The first question was “Does Mr. Lewis know that I don’t really speak English?”  It was quite obvious that nobody had told him that I had been keeping up this charade for more than 10 years.  The second question was “What is the meaning of excellence?” 

Excellence is a word that we frequently use, but are not fully aware of its meaning.  This is especially true for me… as I do not really speak the English language.  Out of panic, I googled the definition of excellence.  I must tell you the definition was not helpful at all.  “The quality of being outstanding or extremely good” is a definition that feels generic and one dimensional to me.  I knew what that meant, but it did not resonate with me.  My question had to evolve from “What is the meaning of excellence?” to “What does excellence means to me?”

By the grace of God, I found my answer in the latin origins “excellere” (to surpass) and “excelsus” (beyond lofty).  Those are not only words that resonates with me on a personal level, but absolutely should be in line to our Ignatian beliefs on education.  Far greater men then me have been on this podium and spoke about the meaning of academic excellence (Mr. Donacik, Mr. Palladino, Mr. A).  All spoke about how excellence goes beyond averages, grades and scores.  Mr. P spoke about looking at yourself, Mr. Donacik spoke about passion and Mr. A spoke about inspiration from others.  We can all agree those qualities are important into achieving excellence. 

We are gathered today, as a community, to celebrate the academic achievements of members of the student body.  Although this is a fantastic reason to celebrate, we must understand that our mission as a community goes beyond academics.  For example, I always believed that if the only thing my students took from my classroom was the content, it meant that I had failed as an educator.  Excellence in Jesuit education has to surpass and go beyond a generic and bland concept of education.  

The next question is “If we need to reach beyond academics, what do you need to reach?”  “What are the other standards of excellence a student should reach by the time they graduate?”  I personally think the answer is not too complicated, as those standards of excellence are found in the Grad at Grad and other Jesuit principles. 

 

OPEN TO GROWTH: EXCELLENCE IN COURAGE    

 

It is great to try new things and activities while you are in school.  It will diversify your all around knowledge and skill for your future life.  It will also help you improve your college application.  However, Loyola wants you to do more than just different things.  Loyola wants you to learn and grow from those experiences. You want to go beyond that comfort place of “yeah, I’ll try that and see how it goes… looks good on my resume” or “nah, I’m good the way I am” to something like “I’m not sure about this, but I think I should try it… I could grow as a person”.  It is not only important to be open to change, but also to stay committed to it.

 Fr. Adolfo Nicolas talks about commitment as one of his four “C”s to achieve human excellence.  Commitment can either lead you to success, or to failure… and that is ok.  Failure is a part of life you should not be afraid to learn from.  Master Yoda gave a great quote this year “The greatest teacher, failure is”.  Loyola wants you to commit yourself to growth, even with the thought that it might not work out all the time.  Loyola wants you to be courageous.

 The school theme this year is companion in courage.  (If you think I am brown nosing Mr. Lewis at this moment… jokes on you, my nose has been brown since birth.) Being courageous is to challenge yourself and leave your comfort zone.  Being courageous is to walk the line between the pleasant and the unpleasant and constantly learning from it.    

Mr. Sullivan is a good example of excellence in courage.  I admire Mr. Sullivan as a friend, a mentor and a father figure.  He has graced Loyola School for more than 40 years and I sincerely hope for many more years.  He started teaching in this building on a chalkboard… and now he uses whiteboard, projectors and ipad.  He has gone through many technological breakthrough and has incorporated all of them in his teaching.  Even now, he is still looking forward, looking to the future, even if some of that technology drives him absolutely crazy.  He walks that line between the unpleasantness of learning new technology and the satisfaction of improving student learning.  He also has served the school in many functions:  Basketball coach, Cross Country Coach, Yearbook Moderator and many others.  Even at the twilight of his career, he has agreed to be our Dean of Students.  At his age, he still has the courage to surpass and go beyond his comfort zone and fear of failure to take on a new role. 

This is what Loyola wants from you… to surpass and go beyond your comfort zone and your own sense of fear to grow… and seek excellence in courage.  Be courageous!

 

COMMITTED TO DOING JUSTICE:  EXCELLENCE IN COMPASSION

 

It is great that Loyola School offer a Christian Service program.  You learn about social justice in class and then you are placed at different locations where you serve for an amount of hours to complete your requirements.  You are now exposed to injustice and you have given some of your time to help, fantastic!

Let me be frank, if that’s all you want from this program… you are probably at the wrong school.  Loyola wants more from you on that point.  Loyola wants you to surpass and go beyond the “cute”, the minimal requirements, the awareness that we live in an unjust world.  Loyola wants you to become a woman or man of compassion.  Mr. Palladino told us last year that you will not change the world, but you need to let the world change you… change you into a compassionate person. 

The second “C” from Fr. Nicolas to help us achieve human excellence is “compassionate”.  He writes “compassionate, because they are able to open their hearts in solidarity with and assume the suffering of others.  The compassionate person is capable of evolving from feelings of charity and compassion towards a sense of justice and solidarity”.  This is exactly what Loyola wants from you, to be helpful out of your own will and not because of requirements.  To freely embrace justice out of empathy and goodwill.  Loyola also wants you to be compassionate beyond the Christian Service program.  You cannot advocate for Amnesty International and laugh at racial jokes in the Commons.  You cannot deride a fellow classmate who lives in a middle class neighborhood while you are a member of RESPECT.  You must apply compassion to all aspects of your life and it has to be genuine, not generated by your own needs.

Ms. Morano is a good example of excellence in compassion.  Ms. Morano graduated from Loyola and was very active in the Christian Service program.  She was not doing it for the hours nor the requirements.  Ms. Morano was moved by the teaching of James Neely, director of Christian Service at the time.  She knew she would not change the world, but with the help of Mr. Neely, she let the world change her.  The irony is that she is now in a position where she can help the world change you.  She is using Mr. Neely’s teaching to help you be a woman and man of compassion and not of necessity. (In a much cleaner office, I might add).

 This is what Loyola wants from you… to surpass and go beyond your own needs and sense of charity… and to seek excellence in compassion.  This is not an easy task… once again you need to be courageous. 

 

RELIGIOUS: EXCELLENCE IN CONSCIENCE

 

You are in a catholic school.  It is part of Loyola’s mission to have a catholic curriculum.  Loyola fully understand that every student is on a different level of faith and spirituality.  Some of you even have different beliefs or simply do not believe in God.    

Loyola does not want you to simply take in the words and blindly believe.  The theology program’s purpose is not to reinforce catechism and tell you this is what you need to believe.  Loyola wants you to surpass and go beyond precepts and questions learned in theology.  They want you develop a better conscience based on those principles.

The third “C” from Father Nicolas is “conscience”.  He describes conscience as “an individual’s intrinsic ability to discern the rightness and goodness of their own actions.  Only then you will feel called to look at the world with the eyes of God.”  He also states that conscience must be educated by profound work on your spirituality.  This work, which means seeing God in all things, needs to include rediscovery, questioning and dealing with your uncertainties and pains.  It is not easy work, even for the most faithful.

It is not easy for me.  I consider myself a good Catholic.  I was raised Catholic and I would like to believe that I live a life of faith.  I go to Church, respect the Sacraments and even recite my rosary every day.  You would think my faith and spiritual life is pretty good, but I struggle with it, especially since October 26th 2015.

I will share something with you; a week does not pass for me without thinking about Thomas’s passing.  I often ask God why did I start Thomas on that day versus UNIS.  Mr. Howell and I had agreed that he was in a bad run of form and maybe we should play Arthur by himself up top.  Later in the Commons, Thomas told me he would give his all and convinced me to start him.  He was right… he gave his all until the very end.  God, why did I change my mind?  If I had stuck with my original decision, maybe Thomas would be with us, sitting, probably dozing to this dreadful speech, as we speak.  I know very well I cannot think like that, but it is difficult not to.  I have questions, I have doubts and I have uncertainties and discontents about God.  I have this terrible feeling of guilt and culpability that refuses to go away and I keep asking God for guidance, then I get upset because God does not give me the answer I want to hear.  This is a real struggle.  Does that make me less religious and faithful?  I would like to say no because I keep trying my best to see God in all things and to look at the world through His eyes.  When I achieve that, I see Thomas, a handsome and endearing young man who changed Loyola’s life forever and for the best.  His love and enthusiasm for Loyola was a gift, a gift from God and I am thankful for the short time spent with this gift.  I am trying to discern the goodness of my actions.  I was able to let Thomas do what he loved, which was playing soccer.

This is what Loyola wants from you… to go beyond and surpass your own uncertainties and struggles with your beliefs, so you can be a person of conscience, using faith and spirituality to discern right from wrong.  You need courage to do so. 

LOVING: EXCELLENCE IN EMBRACE

A just society urges every member to be women and men of tolerance and acceptance.  We are living in trying times when biases, hate and strife is permeating through all pores of the many communities we live in.  The least we can do is to accept and be tolerant of the world around us.  Tolerate and accept our brothers and sisters who are different, but yet so similar to us.  Is this enough?

Loyola wants more from you.  Loyola wants you to embrace, not simply tolerate.  Loyola wants you to surpass and go beyond simple tolerance and acceptance.  Loyola wants you to support willingly and enthusiastically.  Loyola wants you to love. 

First, you need to love yourself, embrace everything about yourself, no matter how difficult and impossible it might be at times.  Only then you will be able to embrace and love your loved ones and your friends.  Only then you will be able to see over your own insecurities and biases to not only accept, but embrace your friends.  Do not let biases and feelings get in the way of seeking new friendships and improving on your current ones.

One of my most favorite friendship at Loyola is with Mr. Johnson.  It is pretty clear that we came from quite different backgrounds.  He is a retired cop from Upstate New York and I have a Haitian-Canadian brown nose.  He will be the first to admit that he grew up in an environment where there were racial prejudices and I can safely say my father told me to never trust white people. (No worries, I got over that quickly and I love you all).  We disagree on pretty much everything, but we are always willing to listen to each other.  We help each other in understanding where the other comes from.  We appreciate each other and support each other willingly and enthusiastically.    

This is what Loyola wants from you… to surpass and go beyond your own biases and insecurities to be a loving person, ready to embrace and support others.  You need courage, once again, to do that. 

 

LEADERSHIP: EXCELLENCE IN COMPETENCE

 

This is the most important standard of excellence.  Loyola’s main mission is to transform you into leaders.  We want you to be the ones who influence others.  Leaders… but what kind of leaders do we want you to be?

Jesuit leadership is based on one’s ability to serve; service in the term of being of help to others and the ability to empower others. 

The term “leading from behind” is a term often derided in society, especially in politics.  I have learned since I’ve been living in America that often leadership is seen as being in the forefront and make the tough and “heroic” decisions.  Not that I disagree (my green card expires soon so…), but I believe that Saint Ignatius had a better idea about leadership.  How do you become Jesuit leaders?  How do you serve and empower others?

You do it by identity and actions.  We are all leaders and we are leading all the time.  You act by following the standards of excellence previously discussed:  Excellence in courage (open to growth), Excellence in compassion (justice), Excellence is conscience (religious), Excellence in embrace (loving) and Excellence in competence (leadership)

The last “C” from Father Nicolas is competence.  A competent person is someone who is “capable of creating and understanding knowledge and skills to transform”.  You would ask “Transform what?”  I would answer “transform others”. 

Mr. Lewis is a good example of excellence in competence (brown nose alert).  In the short time he has been in our community, he has demonstrated, by identity and actions, all the skills to transform us into better leaders.  His compassionate nature, great humor and humble personality pushes us to be better.  He sits with you in the Commons and at assembly, converse with you at all times in a frank and honest manner, he wants to know and learn about you and he always demands and pushes you to improve and be better.  He empowers you into becoming this leader of tomorrow that society sorely needs.

This is what Loyola wants from you… to surpass and go beyond this highly accepted concept of leadership and be a Jesuit leader; one that will serve, help and empower.  This one needs the most amount of courage.    

 

Mr. Lewis asked me to tell you why excellence is so important to me.  I thought about it for a while, then it hit me. It is important to me because it is important to you.  It is important to my daughters.  We live in a frightening world and sometimes I fear that I am inadequate to raise my daughters properly.  I am afraid.  My daughter Emilie is already developing self-esteem issues.  I worry about her future.  I worry about your future.  Your failures become mine.  If you fail, I feel like I failed even more.  We just cannot let this happen, not in this world.  We simply cannot fail each other. 

How do we avoid this collective failure?  By being humanly excellent.  Follow the four “C”s from Father Nicolas: competence, compassion, conscience and commitment.  I would add a fifth “C”: Courage.  Be courageous and do not be afraid to let the world change you.  You will then influence one person, then this person will influence the next.  We will achieve a ripple effect and a unison of compassion, love and leadership… of human excellence.  Let’s go beyond and surpass our own individualism and let’s achieve human excellence… let’s be humanly excellent together.  Let’s be companions in courage. 

 

Loving: Ryan Miller '18     

A Loyola student is becoming more loving, and in the process is also learning to trust friends, family, and adults in the school and wider communities. During my 4 years at Loyola I have learned to do that with my family, my friends and my team.

I learned to trust my mom because she learned to really trust me as she became more relaxed and let me make my own mistakes. I have screwed up plenty of times but she has always forgiven me no matter what I did. In freshman and sophomore years, my grades weren’t too great.  My mom didn’t hold that against me because she knew I was still learning and had to find my own way.  I learned to trust my dad in my Junior year of high school.  I play on a travel hockey team, and I had a big tournament in Philadelphia. My mom was unable to attend so my dad, who lives in Michigan, drove ten hours just to see me play only two games. That's because I got thrown out of the second game and suspended for the remaining two games. In that situation, I learned to trust my teammates, two of whom are Ikki and James, because when I missed those two games they brought us to the championship game where I would join them to win it all the following weekend.

As for my friends, I've learned to trust them all but I don't think I trust them the same way I do with my friend Yash. I learned to trust him as a fellow member of Loyola’s relay team.  Mr. Donacik always tells us not to look back when we receive the baton, to have faith that the person behind you will put it in your hand.  At the track meets when would run the relay event for the first time that year, along with the other two members of the team, Travers and Chris, we decided Yash would be our 4th man, our anchor. We all put our trust and faith into his being able to finish the race and win it for us; he did just that. But the relay team as a whole has to trust one another throughout the race in order for the anchor to be successful.

Not only should a Loyola student learn to trust our friends and families, but a Loyola student should learn to appreciate deeper personal friendships, while also learning that not all relationships are profound and long lasting. During my time at Loyola I have developed and learned to appreciate strong friendships I have created.  At the same time I've had learn that not all of these relationships will be long lasting.

I learned this lesson a few times and I wish I knew the relationships were going to change or end, but I had never thought about that; nobody does at our age.  I used to have two Golden Retriever dogs; when one of them was diagnosed with cancer we decided not to put him through any chemotherapy and let him live happily.  Three months later he passed away in his sleep. That's when I first felt what it was like to lose a friend. Around that same time, our community felt the loss of a friend when Thomas passed. It's sad how fast parts of our life can just be stripped and taken from us. We all had to deal with the pain, but we got through it together. This was when I realized our relationships may not be forever, and that some relationships can end abruptly, while some endings are simply in the foreseeable future.

I know that many of my friendships in high school while continue past our graduation, but I also know some of those friendships and relationships while end once June comes. Although it's sad, it's the sad reality we have to accept; we can still make the best of these relationships and keep them in our memories.  I learned this firsthand when a friend of mine recently decided to attend boarding school.  Our relationship changed with the distance but that doesn’t change what we really experienced together and the ways that relationship helped make me who I am today. 

 

There is no limit to the number of friendships we can create in our lives or the amount of love we can share. That's why I think we should just all live in the moment, and if our friendships or relationships end, just keep those great memories with us.  Thank you.