All-School Blog: Dr. Paul Barker's Graduation Address

Graduation address to Class of 2018 by President Dr. Paul Barker

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – May 24, 2018

Present with us today are members of the Class of 1968, our newest Golden Falcons, still bonded to Good Counsel fifty years after their graduation. Graduates, before you try to imagine being a Golden Falcon yourself in 2068, reflect a moment on the year these men graduated. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gunned down on the balcony of a Memphis motel. Days of riots in DC ensue, as close as two miles from here. Robert Kennedy shot in the kitchen of a Los Angeles hotel. Student protests about an unpopular war in Vietnam. Extraordinary times. Today, these men see you, in all your promise, and dream of five decades ago when they were just like you. Thank you, Class of '68. We are honored by your presence.

Back in November, I was visiting alumni in Tampa, Florida. Between appointments, I had a couple of hours to kill. I love second-hand bookstores and found one in a strip mall. It did not look promising, but I asked. Any New Zealand fiction? No. Any horse racing? No. Any South Polar exploration? Well, yes, we have a 1914 first edition of Scott's Final Expedition.

I know, I know, a bit of a nerd. So, who is Captain Scott? Only one of the bravest explorers of the 20th Century. In 1912, Scott and four companions sought to be the first men to reach the South Pole. They did so on foot, man-hauling everything they needed. They reached the Pole only to find their Norwegian rivals had beaten them by a few weeks. Then, on the return journey, Scott's team perished one by one. After a trek of more than 1,500 miles and only 11 miles from safety, marooned in their tent by a days-long blizzard, Scott was the last of his party to succumb. I read about this story when I was in middle school. I have been inspired ever since by its example of heroism, hardihood and endurance.

So, back to the book. I opened it and noticed it was inscribed: This work is presented to my son Julius F. Stone Jr. in the confident hope that he, if ever placed in the difficult and responsible position of leadership, will meet that requirement as nobly and as completely as did Captain Scott. Julius F. Stone. June 20th, 1914.

Go to Google. I learned that Julius Stone was an Ohio industrialist. The book was inscribed to his 13-year-old son. Stone wanted him to be inspired. We can relate. We look at you today filled with "confident hope" about who you are and what you can become and pray that you, too, with open hearts and minds, may be inspired.

Back to that book again. On its own, the inscription would have been a lovely touch, sweet, but otherwise unmemorable. But there was a second entry in the same cursive script, dated April 18th, 1933. Julius F. Stone wrote again, to his now 32-year-old son: After hugging this fond delusion for almost twenty years I here regretfully record the fact that he has made a complete failure of all his opportunities.

Whoa! What had Julius Jr. done to merit getting crushed like this 19 years after Dad's expression of "confident hope"? Go to Google. At 32, Julius Jr., this "complete failure," had earned a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Harvard. He had made a fortune in the stock market. In 1933, the country was still in the grips of the Great Depression. Julius had indeed been in the "difficult and responsible position of leadership" as federal relief administrator for Florida. He is credited with almost single-handedly turning Key West from a poverty-stricken outpost into the lively tourist magnet it is today. Oh, and four years later, he was back at Harvard completing a law degree. We'll never know why Julius judged Julius Jr. so harshly.

My takeaway is simple. We – your parents, your teachers – will always share what has inspired us, because we cherish the hope it will inspire you, too. It's what we do. We want you to be inspired. Experience tells us it is ultimately not ours to determine what is going to light your fire. Today, rather than dictate your inspiration, we look forward in the "confident hope" that your Good Counsel education has you well-prepared in the truest sense, as loving good persons, who, even alone, can make a difference. We believe you can be inspiring.

Your day to be inspiring to the world might be years away. I note from the yearbook that TJ and Keelin were voted Most Likely to Become President, and that could take a while. Some of you are inspiring today. We have just heard the extraordinary Rhiannan. We have just honored Frank who came from the other side of the world to excel, serve and love as a Falcon. We have seen how Kyle raised huge dollars for the fight against cancer. We have been shown by Caterina and Quincy how to mobilize on issues facing our society. And we have watched so many of you on the stage, the field, the court and just know there are 5th and 6th graders out there who want to be you. Be inspiring.

In what "difficult and responsible position of leadership" will you be placed? We have no idea. We end this Mass and Commencement four days after the feast of Pentecost – the commemoration of the divine moment that inspired the Church into existence – with a prayer that expresses our "confident hope": Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth.

Be inspired. Be inspiring. God speed, Class of 2018.