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Aquinas Academy graduation speech: ‘The biggest challenge we have experienced’ — Harrison Fisher

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Change is something that we should expect as seniors. From the very first day of senior year, we are entrusted with much greater responsibility for leading the school community, especially at a school as small as Aquinas. Throughout the year, we prepare ourselves for the next stage in our lives; for some that is college, for others trade school, the military, or something else. Regardless, whatever happens after graduation is likely going to be the biggest change we will have ever experienced in our eighteen years of life. Such changes cannot be properly handled if we aren’t taught how to deal with them. Luckily for us, we have been taught. We go into senior year with three years of high school experience, twelve years of school experience in general, and around eighteen years of experiencing the love and care of our parents, family, and friends.

First, of course, I extend my deepest gratitude to God. The God that at times I have been close to and other times not so much, but who has always wanted to stay close to me, and who has – without fail. Next, of course, my family. I don’t understand how, when I was a younger, crazier child, they managed to keep me alive. I don’t understand how they have managed to put up with my stubbornness for a whole eighteen years. One thing I do know however, is the manner in which they did. That is with a stunning display of charity, selflessness, patience, and innumerable other virtues.  To the incredible staff and teachers of Aquinas Academy, past and present. When I finally retire, I don’t think I’ll remember very much of what I learned regarding science, math, history, etc. I will, however, remember the life lessons you have taught me that have been and will continue to be invaluable assets in getting to where I (hopefully) will be. Further, when I’m about to die, I don’t think I’ll remember very much of anything at all. However, I believe that thanks to all of your guidance, direction, and love, I will be well-prepared for eternal life. Thanks to my classmates, for being the most unlikely and yet the best of friends.

Now, it’s clear by the way I spoke of these people that I both admire and appreciate each of them greatly.  When I reflect on all of those unique individuals, there are two common denominators that connect all of them. Two things, without which, none of these people would have had any influence over me, or at least not any positive influence. Those two things are virtue, and suffering. “Okay,” you might say, “virtue makes sense, but suffering? Really, that’s part of why you admire them?” Let me clarify. It is not so much that they suffered (because everyone does to some degree or another everyday), but that when they encountered their sufferings, they did so with virtue. So, you see, the two go hand in hand, virtue and suffering. Suffering is unavoidable, so it’s how someone chooses to deal with it that shows us what kind of a person they are. When people whine and complain about problems, time and grace are wasted and the problems still exist. On the other hand, when someone has a problem and sets out to fix it, generally the problem gets solved, the person is happier, they often learn something in the process, and they become a better person. Even if the difference is infinitesimal, it is a difference — and a good one.

Sometimes, my dear fellow graduates, the problem isn’t one we can fix. In those cases, the best thing to do is, “suck it up and be a man”. The truth is, as a certain Maria Henrie (Cahill) once told the boys of my ninth-grade theology class, “The world is full of boys running around in men’s bodies”.  She went on to explain how the difference between children and adults isn’t measured by age, but by one’s ability to deal with suffering, and to do so with virtue. You become the best person you can be when you face the inevitable pain life throws at you with the idea that you can deal with it and, through the grace of God, make so much more good come out of it, than there ever was before. That is an ideal that I know each and every one of those people has tried to live up to. It is an ideal that, inspired by the good those men and women have done for me, I have tried to live up to. I have most certainly not come close to perfecting it, and for that, maybe I’m not the most qualified to lecture you all on it. But, it’s too late for that. As such, I urge each of you to strive for such an ideal as well.

So what did this have to do with the concept of change that I talked about at the beginning of this speech? My fellow graduates, you and I have experienced a lot of change, and we are going to continue to experience change as we step toward the future. As we go out into the real world, we will discover, more profoundly than ever, that there truly is a thing for everything. Everything we do will have some kind of consequence. Everything we do will lead to some new and unexpected thing that we could never have seen coming. Everything we do will change us, for better or for worse. And of course, things will change in our lives that are beyond our control. We will experience unexpected loss. We might think we’re doing everything right, but what we thought would happen just doesn’t end up working out. Sometimes, it’ll be our fault, yes. Sometimes though, it will be others who cause us to suffer. Sometimes, we won’t understand how the pain fits into God’s plan for us. But as long as we are ready to face our sufferings as men and women, as long as we strive to bear our crosses as our savior and his disciples did, and as long as we do it with virtue, then suffering, pain, loss, and change are nothing for us to be afraid of.

God bless you all

(Harrison Fisher is a 2020 graduate of Aquinas Academy in Bear).