Be Brave, Determined, and Fearless

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Column by Jonathan Nagy

The end of the 2023-2024 school year has arrived, and schools all over the region are celebrating commencement exercises. I want to begin by congratulating everyone who is graduating, especially those in our four Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. The commitment made by families to enroll their children in Catholic education is truly remarkable. On behalf of all Catholic educators, I thank you! Our vocation is to educate students with Christian ideals, and your entrustment of the most precious gifts in your lives to us every day is a privilege and an honor!

An honor and privilege bestowed on me every year as the Dean of Students at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School is to deliver an address to the senior class at their graduation. While the night is completely about these outstanding young adults, I take a few minutes to share my thoughts about them and provide them with some parting advice. Below is the speech that I gave this year. While this is directed at and speaks about the Bishop Carroll class of 2024, I believe others may find something that they can relate to in their lives, even those of us who long ago graduated from high school.

Graduates of the Class of 2024,

First and foremost, congratulations on reaching this important milestone in your lives. You have worked hard to get to this point. Take time to savor the moment, as well as to thank those who have helped you get here – your families, your friends, your teachers, and above all, God.

This may come as a shock to you, but until a few weeks ago, after spending the last four years with you and the final two teaching most of you, I did not have an idea about what I wanted to say to you this evening. Then, we went on the class trip to Cedar Point. While I enjoy roller coasters, and Mr. Howard was able to get me to ride some that were beyond my comfort level, there was one that I refused to ride. The thought of being launched over 300 feet in the air at 120 miles per hour, both forward and backward, was not something that I was willing to do. I then sat there and watched as many of you got in line, waited a very long time, and proudly rode the TT2. It was at that moment that I knew what I wanted to say to you and about you tonight.

That ride, and the willingness of many of you to get on it, symbolizes so much about the entire class of 2024. You are brave, determined, and fearless. You love a challenge, push yourselves to the limit, and appreciate the opportunities presented to you. You have been through so much and constantly seek to better yourselves in the classroom, in your vo-tech classes, on the field, court, stage, and in life.

The wait that some of you had for that ride was over two hours for something that lasted less than two minutes. That is very symbolic of how your years at Bishop Carroll have gone. I’m sure that at times, you felt like time itself had stood still, or the events that you anticipated took forever to arrive. Then looking backward, it seems as though things went by so quickly. Four years of your life culminates tonight as we celebrate you and wish you well into the future.

You all have experienced challenges and difficult situations, realizing where you struggle and where you need to improve. As one of your classmates said to me, “Mr. Nagy, if you are perfect, you don’t have fun.” You have learned that you are not perfect, but continuously work to become more perfect. Keep in mind though that you should work towards perfection for yourself and God, not anyone else. Don’t care as much about what other people think of you. Jesus was literally perfect and people still did not accept him. We must learn from Him how to live our lives.

I would like to impart on you a few last bits of advice for you as you leave Bishop Carroll and begin the next chapter of your lives. Above all, continue to be brave, determined, and fearless in your lives, but always remember to pray to and thank God, the one who gives you those qualities. As now soon-to-be Saint Carlo Acutis once said, “To always be close to Jesus is my life’s plan.” I encourage you to make that your plan as well – to stay close to Jesus.

In the first book of Peter, it is written, “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God is opposed to the proud, but he gives grace to the humble. Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, having cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares about you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.” Later in that same book, Peter wrote, “The God of all grace will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” God is always with you, and He will never fail you. The road map may be winding but it is simple. Follow the ways of Jesus Christ, for Jesus Christ will never let you down.

You have heard me say over and over again, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” as well as, “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Those two quotes describe the Bishop Carroll Class of 2024. You are changing the world by being you, by using your God-given talents to make this planet a better place. You know right from wrong, you love others unconditionally, and you are humble in your ways. These are qualities that you are innately born with, but our hope is that your time at Bishop Carroll has fostered their growth. Take those lessons with you moving forward.

You have also heard me say in class that my job as your history teacher is to teach you lessons, laws, and events to help you become the best possible citizen you can be. Bishop Carroll’s mission statements explains that our goal is to help you become the best possible members of your family, community, church, and world. No matter the path that you choose to follow in life, make it part of your mission to positively impact those around you. The world has plenty of darkness. Become a light to others in that darkness.

On behalf of all of your teachers and the staff of Bishop Carroll, I congratulate you on your graduation. Never forget the love God has for you and be Him to all others that you encounter.

Congratulations again to all graduates! I wish you well in your future endeavors and look forward to the impact that you will make on the world!

I encourage everyone who has experienced a Catholic education to spread the word to others. Catholic schools educate the whole student, in spirit, heart, mind, and body, all in the name of Jesus Christ. This is a complete education that is not provided elsewhere. I wholeheartedly believe in the mission of Bishop Carroll Catholic High School and I know that the other schools in the diocese share a similar mission. Open your arms and welcome in new families!

I also invite everyone who has school-aged children who are not enrolled in a Catholic school in our diocese to take some time this summer to pray, reflect, and investigate the possibilities that exist. The Altoona-Johnstown Diocese is blessed with many great Catholic schools, from pre-school through high school, and also has two outstanding Catholic colleges within its borders. Amazing financial and academic benefits exist for students who attend Bishop Carroll, Bishop McCort, Bishop Guilfoyle, and Saint Joseph’s who then move on to a Catholic university. Take a leap of faith and make a phone call today to your local Catholic school. Making the choice of Catholic education for your children is a decision you will never regret!

Jonathan Nagy, M.Ed., is the Dean of Students and Social Studies teacher at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Ebensburg. He is also the Music Director at the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel in Loretto.