As I gathered with many of you at our campus Mass this morning, I was struck by two phrases. First, Fr. John challenged me to be eloquent. Second, I was struck by the phrase “Lord, I am not worthy.” As I stand in front of all of, I feel unworthy. You are all so talented and committed, and I have been called to lead. I hope I do so with humility and respect for all of you.
My role as leader sometimes calls for me to comment on issues facing our society and how they effect our students and our campus family. Now is one of those times. I continue to be dismayed at the tone of public discourse. We must be better.
Some of you know that my daughter, Clare, worked in Afghanistan until last fall. She ran an education program for women and girls in Bamyan through Catholic Relief Services. As a father, I am happy she is not still there, but I know that she has grave concerns about the women and men with whom she worked who are still attempting to leave and the many Afghanis she served in her program. I do not bring this up because I want to engage in a conversation about very complex geo-politics, but rather I want to talk about HOW we talk about things such as these.
That horrible humanitarian situation has and will become yet another way for our national political leaders and pundits to draw lines in the sand across which vitriol will be spewed with reckless abandon. We have become a nation of UNcivil discourse. What has happened? We hear about a dramatic increase in unruly behavior on airplanes and the need to duct tape passengers to their seats. We hear about a school board meeting in Tennessee where vaccines and masks were being debated and members of the school board were confronted with threats of violence as they got into their cars to leave. I understand that we have been dealing with a great deal of stress as a nation, but does that give us the right to threaten someone?
It seems like we have become a nation of middle schoolers. In today’s politics we quickly move to irrational and uninformed positions. We have heard “lock her up,” “Trump for Prison” and, last week to our east I passed a compound of houses all displaying signs reading “Biden for Prison.” I am not trying to take political sides here. Think about the school yards of our youth and the highly intellectual back and forth that took place there. “You eat boogers.” “Oh yeah, you eat boogers.” “You eat bigger boogers.”
What has happened to well-informed debate? What has happened to intellectual inquiry? What has happened to the philosophical and scientific search for truth?
This is the world in which our young people, our students, are living, and it is the world into which we will send them. We say that we stand for something as an institution founded on and rooted in mission. How are we going to help our students see a better path? First, we have to be the best versions of ourselves. I have tried to be transparent and honest with all of you as I and we have had to deal with a very difficult set of circumstances. Far from perfect, I try my best and bring my best effort to NDC every day. I have grown in my respect for you as I have gotten to know you. I greatly admire how committed you all are to our students and to this place.
I often say to our students how learning takes place both in and outside of the classroom, and I know you all embrace that as well. Now is the time to teach what it means to be a person of respect and integrity.
- Model the behavior we hope to see.
- Help our students find a better path in their dialogue.
- Give them the tools they need to seek truth, find answers, and make informed decisions.
- Seek peace.
I want people to know that NDC makes a difference in the lives of our students and, by extension, their communities, and our world. Help this generation become better versions of themselves. That’s all I ask! I will do my best to do the same. Have a great semester.