Thank you Mr. Labbat, Fr. Judge, Dr. Tocchet, the trustees, Fr. Gibbons. Thank you faculty and staff, family and friends, and the entire Regis class of 2015 for giving me the privilege of addressing you today.
When we first came to Regis, the literal and figurative heights of this place were frightening. I still remember the first morning of classes at Regis. I woke up that morning and wore a red polo because somehow I was under the impression that I had to wear school colors. I was nervously thinking about my new teachers and classmates on the packed Number Four Train ride to school. Who was this kid Phil I heard about? Why was David so loud? Why was Mr. Hannon so intimidating? I had a lot of things on my mind but as I emerged from the ground, the one image that most haunted me was that of those seniors we saw during our freshman orientation. Even though we had only seen the new seniors for a few brief moments, the memory of them terrified me as I walked along Park Avenue: they seemed like everything my new school wanted from me over the next four years, like the ideal Regians. When I entered the school, I laid my eyes on the enchanted chandelier, the gold ceiling, and the gold walls and was immediately pulled in by its grandeur. The pristine atmosphere furthered in my mind this image of the ideal place that Regis was, and the ideal students it created.
During orientation, we had seen the gargantuan seniors walk by us without acknowledging us. They appeared to have all the pride of knowing they had completed three years of an extremely difficult high school education and all the conviction of knowing they would attend an esteemed college the next fall. Intellectually proficient, they marched by us with the confidence and poise of being young scholars. Studying as much as physically possible in their strictly straight rows in the classrooms, they seemed to me to be practically robots in blazers and boat shoes that could withstand any and all stresses. When we walked by pictures of their amazing service trips in and out of the country, we saw their openness to the world and their commitment to justice. We walked by the prestigious award plaques in the foyer. These ideal seniors were somehow both amazing scholars and the distinct men for others Regis was lauded for fostering. They were the Foundress’ dream. And as I stepped further into the foyer, thinking of this image, I heard a voice call out to me. I raised my eyes to the gold ceiling as the divine calling came down upon me. And when the voice spoke to me it said, “Excuse me! What are you doing? You aren’t supposed to enter through this door. You go through the Tunnel. Thank you.” When I finally recovered and staggered back out into the street, I realized that Ms. Basile had seen me accidentally enter through the 85 Street Foyer. So on my very first day, I managed to literally take steps in the wrong direction and screw up one of the simplest rules of Regis. I felt so much shame and I knew if I couldn’t even correctly enter the building on the first day of classes, there was barely a chance I could become the ideal Regian. That image of the seniors seemed as lofty as the sky through the quad. It was as though there was a frame for all of us and I felt my face couldn’t quite fit the picture.
Over the past four years of trying to live up to that ideal, I can’t help but recognize all of my many shortcomings. Becoming that amazing scholar was a particular struggle for me. It’s been four years of classes and academic vigor and I know I’ve been asleep for most of it. I’ve slept in the front row of Mr. Connelly’s history class so often that by year’s end, he would actually invite me to rest my head every now and then just out of concern for my physical well-being. Mr. Conti once allowed me to sleep through a theology quiz because I quote looked so peaceful. Under the stress of the overwhelming workload, I have had to take, what a certain classmate of ours called “mental health days.” You know who you are. Like many of us, I was never good with deadlines. The word “extension” was the natural response after a teacher said “due date.” In all honesty, I tried to get an extension for this address but the administration was surprisingly unwilling to move the date of our graduation.
I know for many of us, living up to the Regis motto of being a man for others was also often a struggle. I was often so busy trying to be a better student and get better grades that I missed out on a lot of opportunities to do service. I felt like I didn’t do enough to call myself a man committed to justice when all these significant events around the world would take place and I wouldn’t even be aware or informed. While I worked to catch up on my American studies project, I was far behind America in understanding the Trayvon Martin shooting. Being a working-class Catholic black student here, I thought that I was going to use my unique perspective as a platform to better the school and the world around me—and often, I did. But on occasion, I felt I was too busy trying to be the ideal scholar to form an opinion and try to promote justice.
Of my many failures and missteps at Regis, one stands out most clearly to me. In the second trimester of sophomore year, I was determined to get an Honors card for the first time. I stayed up late night after night working on Chemistry labs, Theology exegeses, and reading about the Civil War. But after so much work, I found that as the trimester wore on, I simply didn’t have the energy or devotion to succeed in my English class. There would be many days where I was so tired in Dr. Tricamo’s class, that my participation became almost completely incoherent. One particular class, Dr. Tricamo decided to give me a small test to see what my level of mental capability was that morning. He said, “Jason, I’m going to give you a word, and I want you to tell me the first thought that comes into your head.” The word was “cookie,” and I remember that in that exact moment, all of the other words in the English language disappeared, and all I was capable of saying back, meekly, was “cookie.”
It is perhaps unsurprising that at the end of the trimester I received an Unsatisfactory grade in Dr. Tricamo’s class. Usually my mom would get upset at the sight of even a Merit. As I went to her room and showed her my report card, I slammed the paper down and actually challenged her to yell at me. She stopped me from talking and the room was silent for the longest time. In that instant, I thought of every possible reaction she might have. But when she finally spoke, she said simply that she wasn’t upset and that she was proud of me, and nothing more. I was completely shocked by her reaction, and it has taken me some time to understand what she meant.
Looking back, I can see now that we did not become the ideal Regians I thought I saw during our orientation. Instead, in the moments we weren’t looking or weren’t even trying, we found a way to take on the challenge of a Regis Education in our own way. From writing music reviews in Batspoon to creating poems, stories, and pictures in Images, we’ve shown that writing five star essays wasn’t the only way to be intellectually proficient. In fact, the most intellectually proficient thing I have probably ever done in my time at Regis was my chemistry rap, Elements in Paris. Coming together to hear Chris Kelly tell stories about his working on a farm is among the most spiritual and religious moments I’ve had in my time here. These moments when I have seen so many of you express your creativity and energy in spontaneous and atypical ways certainly didn’t fit the image that I held as a freshman when I arrived at Regis. But those moments in which I have diverged from that ideal image were in fact the moments when I felt most a part of Regis, most intellectual, and most academically successful. I think this is what my mother knew— that what mattered was not living up to the standard of the ideal Regian that I had created for myself, but in striving to do so as an individual. I have come to think of my many imperfections not as a burden, but as part of my Regis experience, and part of what made it unique and successful.
Those times when we didn’t match the image of being the perfect men for others, we made up for it by helping each other. Much of our service may not end up in a framed photograph or lead to an award, but when we did something as simple as sharing our lunch with a fellow student who couldn’t afford it or didn’t have time to get it, we fulfilled the school’s motto in our own way. I want to give a personal thanks to all of you for the many McNuggets I have received over the past four years. While they may not receive recognition in the announcements, some of the greatest moments of generosity and hospitality I have ever seen were in the support we gave each other after Sandy hit our homes, openly volunteering to allow each other to sleep in our houses. And while my freshman year self thought that service was something that required travelling to foreign lands, I saw true care for others when we supported our Regis brothers with dealing with family losses. I won’t ever forget hugging Billy Fox at his mother’s wake or seeing Tony’s happy face at seeing me at his grandmother’s wake or seeing the support shown to Chris Hillenbrand after his own loss. We pulled together as a family during those tough times and that’s made us successful.
Today, I am proud to say that we are here. We were never going to be those ideal Regis students because they don’t exist. We strive for that ideal image, but each of us falls short in our own way, so our success comes from the personalization of our experiences and in acknowledging our own imperfections. We didn’t descend down those staircases chanting the alma mater. We descended down those main staircases into that prestigious foyer screaming “Wu Tang Killa Bees” and saying “running through the six with our woes” (you already know how that goes) Those moments. Moments like those have made us successful. Our success isn’t in our college acceptances or our final report cards. When we move on from 55 E 84 Street, know that our greatest success was in understanding that our missteps were as big a part or at times an even bigger part in our success than the correct steps we have taken in being here today. I know that you know that you wouldn’t have chosen me to speak up here if I wasn’t proficient in taking missteps. I am eternally grateful for all the lessons you have taught me and all the love you have given me. It’s been a long journey and I know that we will fall flat on our faces again but I believe after finishing this Regis experience in being ourselves, we have the ability to rise back up, take on the world, and win.