Some of my answers surprise me. I have liked New York far more than I thought I would. I enjoy nature and wide-open spaces, so I didn’t know what living in the city would be like. And I certainly couldn’t imagine not having a car! I don’t miss a car at all, and there are plenty of opportunities to get out of the city and breath in fresh air. But more than that, the city does provide an energy and pulse that is unlike anything I’ve ever known. It is a surprisingly small place (that can take long times to navigate), and I love how I find myself walking far more than I would have thought.
The setting of the city is central to who Regis is. We wouldn’t be Regis if we were in some leafy suburb with a sprawling campus. Our students develop a sense of “grit” as they travel to our building from all over the metropolitan area. This past year I was living at Xavier on 16th Street while the 83rd Street Jesuit Community was renovated, so I experienced the daily commute on the subway and developed a great respect for our students (and alumni) who dealt with commutes much longer than mine. It certainly creates an esprit de corps among our students.
It also creates challenges for us as we try building community among our families. The student who lives in Staten Island isn’t bringing his buddies home after school to hang out, so it is challenging for parents to meet their sons’ friends, and next to impossible to meet their sons’ friends’ parents. As long as the students’ commutes are, a parent’s commute to school for meetings, programs or parties is equally as long, and generally more inconvenient. We have created some opportunities for parental socializing, and we plan to do more of that. The experience of Regis is really an experience for the whole family, not just for the student. Gone are the days when Father would greet parents at Freshman Orientation and say, “I look forward to seeing you again at graduation.”
While Jesuit high schools generally enjoy strong support from their alumni, the Regis alumni are truly remarkable. In part, I think, because of the dedication that is required to succeed at Regis—because of that “grit”—our students develop deep bonds with each other and with the school. As alumni those bonds mature and deepen over the years. Their love of the school, and for their classmates, was evident to me in every conversation I had with alumni at each one of the reunions that we hosted this year.
It is not easy to graduate from Regis. It begins, of course, with the difficulty of admissions. It continues with the challenges of the commute, the heavy academic load and high expectations for success. And while our graduation rate for those who matriculate today is about 95%, there were those dark years when it was closer to 50% to 60%. The sacrifices that students make to come to Regis understandably translate into a powerful sense of ownership among our alumni. Based in gratitude for the gift of a Regis education which changes young men’s lives, our alumni support their alma mater at record levels, making what we do possible for another generation of students.
The challenges are real but not overwhelming. This year our alumni, parents, and friends illustrated that our business model can work, but we can’t become complacent if we want continue our mission. Our building is a century old and in need of some work, but we are blessed by those who built it soundly and those who have cared for it so well over the years. As Catholic feeder schools continue to close, we must modify our recruitment and marketing approach, but we know that fewer Catholic schools does not mean fewer qualified Catholic young men. Our challenges allow us to succeed with purpose and passion.
A year under my belt at Regis has taught me a lot about this special place and those associated with it. As spoken so eloquently by Henry Deteskey ’17 in his remarks at graduation,
We are all bound by a common gift—Regis High School—and it is to Regis whom we are indebted. It is Regis that taught us how to be generous. It is Regis that has taught us that the knowledge and passion that we hold in our hearts are there to make the world a better place. And it is Regis that turned 132 random kids into 132 members of one family. Our time as students has come to an end, but the memories, friends, and lessons learned will never leave us.
Thank you for your generous support of our mission which has allowed us to do remarkable things year after year for our first 100 graduating classes. We begin work on the next 100 in September. Be assured of my prayers for you and your families.