The following remarks were delivered by Benjamin Kaiserman ’22 during this year’s Graduation Exercises at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola.
Good morning, and thank you, Mr. DiNovi, Mr. Talbot, Father Andreassi, Regis faculty and staff, and the parents and families with us this morning. Of course, I owe a special thank you to the Class of 2022. Being chosen to speak on your behalf has meant more to me than any other recognition I’ve ever received, and I am honored to stand before such an impressive group of students. Thank you.
I have a confession to make. The last time I spoke in front of a crowd was during my Quest homecoming celebration in March of 2020. Seeing as it’s been so long since I was in a position like this, I wanted to say two things: 1) I hope I don’t disappoint, and 2) what better way to begin than by revisiting my words from sophomore year?
Two years ago, through nervous breath and sweaty palms, I spoke about a passage from the Gospel According to Matthew, and I’d like to read it to you now: “When the disciples saw [Jesus] walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’”
If there’s a Gospel story to epitomize the Regis experience, this is it. On September 4th, 2018, we entered 84th Street unaware of a world beyond our middle schools, unaware of a world where we weren’t the brightest in the room. Back then, it felt like we were walking on water, but we had yet to grasp the reality of the next four years.
And so, it came as a surprise when we began to sink. We all sank in different ways, but I’d be hard-pressed to find a Regian who wasn’t gasping for air at one time or another. I certainly struggled when my grades began to slip in Spanish, and my lack of success in this class quickly became all I could think about. For others, the battle to stay afloat came as a result of their social lives or their physical and mental health. Whatever the case, old assumptions about our relationships, our abilities, and the identities we thought we knew suddenly came into question. As we contended with this new reality, we often found ourselves catastrophizing—and Regians being Regians, it was often about academics: we thought that an unsatisfactory grade would lead to poor GPAs, and poor GPAs surely meant that no college would accept us. Hindsight’s generally 2020, and I think it’s safe to say that we now understand the shallowness of these earlier attitudes, at least in the sense that we are more than just numbers or letters and that no one test or project could sum up the rest of our lives. Nonetheless, the sinking felt real, and, like St. Peter, we doubted endlessly. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the extent to which the pandemic amplified our doubts and exacerbated our struggles. But the question remains as to how we made it through.
Who pulled us up from those cold and murky waters?
One of the many gifts of Regis is that if you cry out, then a hand will be there to grab you. In many cases, these are the hands of our teachers and counselors who dedicate their lives every day to mold one generation of Regians after the next. And these hands have been there for us until the very end.
To offer an example: I found myself drowning, once again, earlier this year. The fall of 2018 was repeating itself, but this time it wasn’t Spanish class. Instead, I was doubting my abilities in the face of college applications, future careers, and personal statements. Straining my eyes against the current, I looked beyond the surface of the water and reached out my hand. Sure enough, my fingers clasped onto something, or rather someone, that pulled me out of the ocean without hesitation. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I saw that my rescuer's hand was attached to an arm unlike any I’d seen before: emblazoned in black ink was a tattoo that read “love others.” If you didn’t know, this tattoo belongs to Mr. DeBonis, our theology teacher. I invite you to think for a moment about the type of person one must be to live their lives according to such a message. Imagine the goodness he tries to bring to our world, inspired by the humblest of maxims: “love others.” This is the hand that saves you on 84th Street.
Mom, don’t worry, I’m not getting a tattoo. At least not yet.
Note that Mr. DeBonis is not alone in reaching out his hand. Although our other teachers and counselors may not bear his tattoo, they’ve all done the same work. “Loving others” is woven into their essence. I will always be grateful for Dr. Tyndall, Ms. Reisig, Ms. Huergo, Dr. Toomb Estevez, Dr. Carew, Ms. Cesarz, Mr. Grunner, Mr. Eickman, and so many others who have swept me (and numerous classmates) out of that dreaded water, seeking nothing more than to “love others.”
This spirit has spread to all of us over the years, and today, I watch my classmates offering the same support to each other that our teachers and counselors once did. I’m certain that every one of us can think of a time when the hand that saved you was that of another Regian. Maybe you found a group to study with every night before a big physics test—I’m looking at you, Advisement 3D—or perhaps you made an unforgettable connection on the second night of your Quest retreat—over to you, Advisement 2B. Or maybe it was the mere presence of those you love that kept you grounded after a groggy, early-morning commute.
These hands have fostered an environment where being wrong and making mistakes is okay. In fact, we are called to embrace it: taking risks, stumbling, and failing are all good things at Regis. This same support is also why we’ve grown to appreciate each other’s vulnerabilities and differences, and “loving others” has made Regis our home.
But perhaps we’re still sinking, which is fine; we’ve learned that this struggle leads to growth. The crux of the matter is that we’ve had an opportunity to spend four years of our lives in a community where someone reaches out their hand when we cry for help. I urge you to remember this, because as we move forward, we will encounter new realities, many of which may be far more complex and unfeeling than the one we’ve left behind. If there's anything we've learned from these past few years, and especially from these past few weeks, it's that the world is messy and often far too harsh. That said, it will be our responsibility to offer our hands. Wherever you find yourself, seek out the troubled waters. Keep your hands ready, and your fingers primed. Use what you have been given to extinguish the doubts of the world, the doubts we had felt not so long ago.
Let us be the hand.
Let us love others.
And may God bless our Noble Hearts.