Column by Jonathan Nagy
Graduation season is upon us in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. In all thirteen elementary schools and four high schools, students from kindergarten through twelfth grade walked proudly across altars and stages, receiving accolades on their achievements. I speak on behalf of all educators in our diocese that we feel confident in our abilities to prepare students for the next steps in their lives, and proud of what our students have done for themselves. Many tears are shed at graduations, and not just by parents and students. We, the educators who have dedicated our lives to these students, also become emotional. Our tears are a mix of sadness in seeing these students move on and pride in knowing their accomplishments. We look forward to them spreading their wings as they move on to the next stages in their journey.
I decided to include for my column this month my speech that I gave to the graduates of Bishop Carroll Catholic High School. While a few things are particular to them, I believe that the overall message is one that not only applies to all graduates, but the general public as well. One never walks alone that walks with Jesus Christ!
Dear graduates of the Bishop Carroll class of 2023,
You have arrived at the moment you have been preparing for over the last four years at Bishop Carroll, and probably even longer than that. Some of you just recently joined us this year from places far away, but have walked a similar but slightly longer path. Looking back, you have accomplished much, and you should be proud of what you have done, for everyone else in this church is beaming with pride for and of you. Your collective and individual accomplishments are impressive lists, which you will undoubtedly add to over your lifetime.
Speaking to many of you over the last few weeks, you have expressed fear of the future. Yes, the unknown can be frightening on the surface, but know that God is already there and has great plans for each of you. He has created a path that is unique to each of you, complete with challenges and fulfillment, with no two paths alike. He has mapped out each one carefully and lovingly with you on His mind.
Thomas Merton was a man whose life was surrounded with challenges and uncertainty as well. His mother died while he was young and his father was largely absent during his life. He constantly moved between family members and boarding schools, never having a real home. His loneliness and emptiness led him down a path of self-destruction, filled with problems of every kind. In what could only be described as a recreation of the story of the Prodigal Son, Merton metaphorically found his way home, and waiting there for him was Jesus Christ. He encountered faith in college and decided to convert to Catholicism, knowing that this was the correct path for his life. Merton committed himself to Jesus, becoming a monk. He composed a very powerful prayer about his journey that I would like to share with you now. He prayed…
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.”
Striving to do the will of God is in fact actually living and doing the will of God. I speak on behalf of my colleagues in saying that while the academic lessons we have taught you in our classrooms have been important, we pray that the most impactful lesson has been how much Jesus Christ loves and cares for you. Throughout your years at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, the goal has been to show you that your individual path of life is not one that you walk alone. You have family, friends, teachers, coaches, and others to walk with you along the way, but the one who is always with you is Jesus Christ. Keep him close to you and look for him in those you encounter on your path. You will be amazed at how your life will change when you recognize God in others, remembering that we are all made in His image and likeness.
Even knowing that God is with you on your path, it is only human nature to fear uncertainty. I stand witness to your amazing abilities that you have demonstrated as students. Over the last four years, you have faced many challenges, including virtual learning, constant directives and policy changes, evolving academic expectations, and societal pressures, and yet, you have met and faced each trial admirably. In the Lord of the Rings, while discussing the journey they were on, Frodo the Hobbit said to Gandalf the Wizard, “I wish none of this had happened.” Gandalf replied, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” You have made the best of the time you have had and have risen to each challenge presented to you. You are dedicated, caring, determined, creative, talented, and faith-filled individuals with so much potential to positively impact others. You have already shown everyone in this church what you are capable of doing, and now it is time to demonstrate that to the world.
We send you out from this school with the confidence in knowing that you will find success in your endeavors, and we pray that your experience at Bishop Carroll has assisted in preparing you for the future. Again, I speak on behalf of all teachers and staff members when I say how incredibly proud we are of all of you. You have completed this part of your journey, but just like in class, when you think that you have completed all tests, projects, and assignments, I have one more task for each of you.
Go and make a difference. Be the person you are and positively change the world. Allow God to be your guide, for by placing your trust in Him, you have nothing to fear. What does God expect of each of you in return? To quote my favorite Bible verse, Micah 6:8, “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”
Congratulations on your graduation from Bishop Carroll Catholic High School. As a fellow alumnus of this institution, I am proud to have you represent the school that we all love so much. I wish you well on your continued path in life. No one walks alone that walks with Jesus Christ!
Congratulations to all who have graduated. You should be proud of what you have accomplished. Take the tools that you have been given to not only create a better future for yourself, but those around you!
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.