Good evening, everyone. And thank you to Jerry, Lynn & Ellen for organising such a wonderful evening.
Tonight is a night about looking back but also looking forward. Looking back, we are here to honour one of the great ambassadors for this institution, Mrs. Ursula Pawlowski, who is sadly no longer with us. It is great to see her family here with us tonight and I hope they are at least half as proud as I am grateful for having had the pleasure to have known her. Looking forward, it is important that we will use this event and the ongoing capital campaign to rededicate ourselves to making sure that institutions such as Bishop Carroll have the resources necessary to fulfil their important mission for years to come. That is what Mrs. Pawlowski would have wanted.
Now, I don’t consider myself an old man, but I can’t help but observe that the last time I stood in this room, I had never heard of the internet. I had never made a call on a cell phone or received an email. I had never googled anything or downloaded an app. In fact, there was a pay phone in the lobby of the cafeteria (if you are under 30, you can ask your parents what that is later) and after a dance or basketball practice, I could call my mom collect, Mom could refuse the charges, but then know that it was time to pick me up. I must say that texting is a lot easier!
Along these lines, instead of dedicating a “library,” we are dedicating a “media center.” The wealth of information at the fingertips of our children is astonishing and gets more so every day. So much has changed since the days of encyclopaedias and microfiche…and we should embrace that change and teach our children how to use this vast information to their advantage before their brains are numbed by Instagram and Facebook. So much change…
But in my mind, what is most important is what hasn’t changed. The values that I learned at Bishop Carroll; the values that Mrs. Pawlowski drilled into us each day and by which she lived her life are not whimsical; they are not subject to fashion and technology has no bearing on their merit. After thirty years of reflection, my interpretation of these values can be summarised in these three simple statements:
First: Demonstrate integrity in everything you do. We have been put on this earth to make it a better place when we leave. Treating others with honesty and fairness is the only way to build trust and create a greater good. Having the manners and self-respect to make others comfortable and open in our presence is how we make ourselves better, because you are never too old or too smart to learn from someone else.
Second: Have compassion and thoughtfulness for others at all times. The world is full of selfish people. Being selfish is easy. It is also pathetic. Nobody succeeds in life alone. We all need help along the way and we are called to return that help for others whenever and wherever we can.
Third: Be curious; embrace difference; challenge yourself. This one is hard because it calls us to leave our comfort zone. But this is also the one Mrs. Pawlowski lived and taught the loudest. The world is an interesting place filled with people who in many cases think about things entirely differently than we do. That should not frighten us, that should intrigue us. It should make us ask “why”? And, we should have the self confidence to understand and accept the answers; about things both profound as well as mundane.
When Mrs. Pawlowski made crepes on Mardi Gras for French class in 1987, she probably didn’t think that something so simple could help inspire one of her students to decide to go to France for business school, there meet his Irish wife, and today live in the UK with three amazing children all of whom are as comfortable in Ethiopia as they are in Ebensburg…but thankfully it did.
Now is the point in these brief remarks where I’m going to make you all uncomfortable. And no, not by asking for money…that comes later and not from me. But I do think we need to face into the reality that 30 years ago, 20 years ago, hell, even 5 years ago, the values I have just discussed and the importance of those values to a Catholic institution of learning would have been taken for granted. We may not have lived by the Beatitudes every day, but we knew them and didn’t question their universal truth.
Today, we live in a world where “fake news” and “alternative facts” are things. For some of the role models our children see every day, it seems integrity is a relative concept and lying is OK as long as it’s a means to an end. Those with compassion, especially for people who look different to us, are somehow perceived as being played as fools. Bullying is celebrated and selfishness is admired. This is not the way to a glorious future and it is certainly not how we are going to make our planet a better place for our kids. We need institutions like Bishop Carroll to preach real values, every day and with the volume turned up to 11. And we need to make sure that the resources and infrastructure are in place to allow this to happen. This is why my family has contributed as it has to this effort. We hope and pray that together we can make sure that 30 years from now there are many others who have been as inspired by this place as I have been.