At this time of year, school gyms, concert halls, and ballrooms across the country are abuzz with festivities leading up to a momentous event in many young lives: high school graduation. While attempting to keep pen on paper in the final few days of exams, adolescent minds are undoubtedly drifting away from equations, essays, and Scantron sheets, and into excited anticipation of such celebrated traditions as the senior prom. For some students, such occasions will cap off years that they will look back upon with only fondness.
For many others, the narrative may not be as nostalgic. These same years may also have been filled with intense experiences of loneliness, of struggle to be accepted, of academic hardship, of strained relationships. The crossing of the finish line may not necessarily be the triumphal conclusion of a victory lap; it could occasion a gasp of relief that it was reached at all. Amidst the many students who receive awards and accolades, there are many more who had quietly tread water for four years without making noteworthy splashes or ripples.
There are many virtues that are often praised at the occasion of graduation: scholastic achievement, athletic prowess, selfless service to the community. Francis de Sales would emphasize that in addition to virtues that are often the most noticeable and laudable, there are also many “little virtues” that may garner less fanfare but are no less valuable. One of these such virtues is that of tenacity. While often associated with assertiveness or aggressiveness, at its heart, tenacity stems from a rather simple action: taking hold. Indeed, this action of taking hold is emblazoned on the Oblate shield in the motto, Tenui Nec Dimittam, “I have taken hold and will not let go.”
Especially in the often tumultuous teenage years, taking hold often begins with a tentative grasp, as students seek to find hold of their identity, the values that they will choose to live by, of the relationships that will nurture their growth. It is difficult however, to grasp something one finds difficult to see. As Fr. Brisson liked to emphasize that even the most troubled students have the presence of God within them; the task of the educator is to help the students see it in themselves. If they can see this, then maybe the grasp can become a firm steadfastness to an inner conviction that may be bent and tried by circumstance, but never broken.
When our students take hold of their diplomas, and celebrate through dancing, hat-tossing, and singing of their alma mater, we hope that their celebration is rooted in having found something, throughout or even because of challenges or difficulties, that they can truly take hold of for the rest of their lives: They are sons and daughters of God, and God will never let go of them.