Address to the Class of 2019 by Jacob Kaiserman '19
Jacob Kaiserman '19 spoke on behalf of his fellow graduates at Regis High School's 2019 Graduation Exercises. These are his remarks. 

Good morning, and thank you, Fr. Andreassi, Fr. Lahart, Mr. Labbat, and the Board of Trustees. I’d like to thank our faculty and staff, especially for saving Regis from rolly-chair-fueled chaos each day. And thank you to the parents and families who braved the commute to be here this morning. Lastly, I owe a special thanks to you all, the Class of 2019. It is an honor to speak on behalf of such an incredible class.

A few weeks ago, my mother sent a 2010 article from the New York Times to my brother and me. Her text said “Jacob, Ben. Please read this (period).” I don’t think she understood the urgency that a strong period lends a text, so I immediately opened the article, fearing the worst. Fortunately, the news wasn’t apocalyptic. The article’s title, “Pete Hamill’s Circuitous Route to a High School Diploma,” seemed intriguing, so I mindlessly skimmed it on the subway. Pete Hamill, I learned, was a Regis student and journalist whose articles span from the Vietnam War to Atlantic City politics. But Pete’s successful career wasn’t what struck me. If Mike Valverde could do the math — better yet, if Mike Valverde could build a computer that could do the math — you’d quickly notice that something about Pete’s timeline seems off. Pete entered Regis in 1949, dropped out two years later, and earned his honorary diploma in 2010. This meandering journey means that Pete is 83 years old, but he’s been out of high school for only 9 years. These number games were interesting, so I texted back an aloof “cool,” being sure to avoid using a period that sent me into such a panic.

And that was it. Besides my mother congratulating herself for finding such an old article, I forgot about Pete. But when Fr. Andreassi asked me to speak, I re-opened that same article and actually read Pete’s story. I’d like to share what he said: "Even now, as old as I am, I have this secret Jesuit [on] my shoulder. I think I’ve written a pretty good paragraph and he’s shaking his head: 'C'mon, pal. Better try that again.' In that sense, those two years at Regis shaped a lot of what I did later."

As I reflected on Pete’s remarks, I realized that, four years ago, I would have made little of having a “Jesuit on my shoulder.” I would’ve welcomed Yoda, but when I first walked through Regis’s doors, I certainly wouldn’t have wanted Fr. Bender perched on my shoulder.

But that was before I knew Mr. Quinn’s secret interpretation of “The Road Less Traveled,” and before I used Powerpoint better than an “amateur,” and before I realized that a good right-hand-rule contortion could solve any electrostatics problem. Now, as I opened Word, double-spaced the page, and unconsciously wrote my name and advisement for what would be the last time, I wondered if, over my four years at Regis, a mini-Jesuit like Pete’s had found a nest on my shoulder.

As I thought through this question, I came to understand Pete’s idea of the “Jesuit on [his] shoulder” to be a metaphor for our acute awareness of the values that we’ve gained over our last four years. At Regis, we learned how to be caring people just as we practiced iambic pentameter and graphed rose curves. Here, we grew personally while we grew academically. It is this unique community that nurtured both Pete and me, two students separated by over sixty years, as we matured from fledgling freshman with subway maps to confident graduates with “Jesuits on our shoulders.”

Regis is a community where we can embrace being wrong. On the Senior Retreat, I heard the same sentiment echoed again and again: “Regis shows you that there’s a Point A and a Point B, but you need to forge that path.” Sometimes, forging that path meant we took plenty of wrong turns. It meant fighting for ideas that just turned out to be wrong. We all forgot to add the “+C” after taking an integral. We wrestled with a single chapter of Judith Butler’s incomprehensible prose for an entire trimester. We received countless essays that were covered in Mr. Grunner’s squiggly underline and comments beginning with “yes, but…” Those wrong turns, however, made us stronger learners and more mindful people. Our mistakes made the “Jesuit on our shoulder” comfortable with taking risks.

Regis is a community where we lean on our friends for help. Camaraderie is integral here. It’s even documented in our pedagogy. Mr. Eickman’s “What to Do When You Can’t Do The Homework,” a flowchart for what to do when, indeed, you can’t do the homework, tells students to “ask a friend” before “asking a teacher.” We certainly did: I’m sure that we rushed to the SRC right before a physics test, but breathed a sigh of relief when a classmate who actually knew what magnetic flux was offered to help. And our collaboration wasn’t just academic. It shined on Quest, where we learned to accept each other’s vulnerabilities and to love unconditionally, and in the Upper Gym, where Mr. Donodeo’s contagious enthusiasm inspired us to work together and dominate the Tchouckball Court. We can all pinpoint a time when we couldn’t understand something and needed to ask a friend for help; we can all pinpoint a time when one of our friends asked us for help. In those moments, we listened to the “Jesuit on our shoulder” to not only know when to ask for help, but know how to respond when called on to help.

But most importantly: Regis is a community where we are taught to offer our gifts in service to others. For two years now, I’ve had the privilege to work with the REACH Program. With REACH, I turned teaching — something I had done naturally at Regis by making countless study guides and working with Peer Tutoring — into an impetus for powerful change. This transformation is something we’ve all achieved. We all have the knowledge we’ve accumulated, but the “Jesuit on our shoulder” always pushes us to do more with it. It acts in people like Andy Vittoria, who led a writing workshop last summer in an underserved community and invited all of his friends to help out. Or Dan Tully, who still volunteers his free time to paint a mural at his Senior Service Site. In these moments, the “Jesuits on our shoulders” inspire us to act meaningfully, to help someone else.

This mission — putting what we know into action — is at the heart of what makes Regis unique. The goal has become incarnate in what some may throw around as a casual reminder or even a joke: give your friend a Coke and you’ve become a “Man For Others.” Of course, being a “Man For Others” is no joke. All of Regis’s unique environment — from our openness, to our kinship, to our service — aims at transforming us into “Men For Others.”

But it’s easy to act like a “Man For Others” when the environment encourages it. Soon, we will move from the high school world of Bokenkotter and 5-paragraph essays to the college universe of tuition and packed dormitories. There, when our lives become so unclear and yet must march on, acting like a “Man For Others” will no longer be stressed as a priority.

So, how can we hold onto what we’ve learned? The answer lies in listening to the “Jesuit on your shoulder.” And maybe it’s not a Jesuit. Maybe your conscience articulates differently than mine. But I have no doubt that your conscience and mine have learned to speak the same language. One of charity, of justice, and of action. To continue daring despite dark skies, we must stay faithful to the people we’ve become here on 84th Street.

Graduation often comes with teary goodbyes. I urge you, however, to put the handkerchiefs away. This moment forms the crux of our maturation and just the commencement of our action. Going forwards, the “Jesuits on our shoulders” can go to work. I’m reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s apt observation: “True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.” I’m sure that if we listen to the “Jesuits on our shoulders” and strive to set the world on fire, our paths will surely cross again. We will surely become Vonnegut’s worst fear and Regis’s noblest hearts.

Thank you, and God bless you.

Posted: 6/1/19