It is graduation month and political campaign season in my struggling State of Chuuk. I am mindful of the message I gave as the commencement speaker to the Class of 2008 at Xavier High School. In my address (see below), I challenged the future leaders of the Pacific region to consider this: our nations no longer need more teachers, politicians, lawyers, priests, wanporons, economists, and all the positions in our government and island communities. We have enough. What we need are more conscientious, compassionate, and competent LEADERS.
A Commencement Speech at Xavier High School
By Vidalino Staley Raatior
Delivered to Class of 2008
May 30, 2008, Sapuk, Chuuk State
Fr. Arthur, Fr. Hezel and members of the Board of Directors, parents, sponsors, friends, and especially…graduating class of 2008.
I congratulate these fine young men and women for surviving four years of Fr. Arthur’s tough love leadership. I’m sure they know full well how much he cares so much for their success in life.
I also want to congratulate Fr. Arthur on his graduation. As you may be aware, Fr. Arthur is moving on the next phase of his Jesuit calling. I know that the State of Chuuk particularly the Department of Education will miss his presence here in Chuuk. My wife Desha and I had the wonderful pleasure and privilege of serving as his assistant principal and director when he and these now graduates were all Fresh at Xavier. Four years later …look at them now all grown up…(invite boys to stand) the boys will no longer sit by the flag pole looking very sad as the girls get on their cars to go home…(invite Steve to stand) Steve Mwekto used to run around during the Friday night capture the flag rituals in Ivynn’s underwear, (invite Alson and Thane to stand) Alson passed his Chuukese language class by practicing his Chuukese poem to Thane (Alson) “Ennet upe reom?” (Thane) “Inamo, kinisou”…(invite Brady to stand) Michael is now officially retired from sneaking up to the faculty lounge to “Xavier Borrow” ice cream. (invite girls to stand) I have great respect for the female students for the extra work they have to put in at their homes while the male students have all the campus resources available to them…teachers, the study hall, the quiet study hours. (invite Fr. Arthur), please don’t warn the new director Fr. Rich that this is what happens to your hair after 4 years at Xavier.
On to a more serious note. You might be wondering what in the world has gotten into this graduating class to invite a Chuuk High School graduate to speak to them on their special day when there are far more qualified Xavier graduates to call on. There are presidents of nations, members of congress, church leaders, teachers, doctors, businessmen and women. What could I possibly be doing in a great school like Xavier…speaking to future presidents, future congresswomen, future educators, future parents, future sponsors, future fishermen, future ministers.
Trust me, I had the same question when I received the email invitation from the class president, Nov. In that invitation, he touched my heart with the reason the class wanted me to be their speaker. Simply put…to make the connections…connecting the dots. Since I had the privilege of sharing the first year of their lives as Freshmen, Novpanti wrote, they would like me to close out this chapter as they start up the next one. I am deeply humbled, honored and grateful for this opportunity to be here with them.
So, graduates, allow me, to somehow wrap up 4 years at Xavier into THREE (sign) three simple lessons as food for your journey in life. These are lessons that you’ve already learned from Fr. Arthur, the 6 C’s, from your teachers, from each other, and from the reality of our island nations …I simply want to re-capture them for you. Three lessons!
Lesson #1: Live a life of GRATITUDE because that is the Christian Spirit.
On the very first day at Xavier, we told you how blessed you were to be the Freshman class at Xavier. Over 400 8th graders across Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands…took the Xavier entrance test hoping to be one of the few that make it. # of you were accepted and started on this journey…a few dropped along the way…here you are…# strong. You were meant to be here this moment, this day, this place. Give thanks to God for blessing you with this journey.
Take a moment to remember the classmates who started the journey with you, but were unable to reach this day for whatever reason. Give yourself credit for working hard and making the right decisions. Honor the hundreds of young people who never had the chance to start the journey. Honor them by going on to college to help give their children a chance.
Take a moment to be thankful for your family and sponsors for making the sacrifices so you can make it to this your special day. We pause for a moment to remember those loved ones who are smiling down on you from heaven. Honor their sacrifices by continuing to work hard and making the right decisions day in and day out.
Take a moment to thank those teachers who have sacrificed much of their lives to teach you here…the Jesuit volunteers, the Australian volunteers, the Xavier alumni, the Jesuits. Your Freshmen moderator, Cheryl Frank and her husband and your former teacher Paul send their special love to you from Australia. Honor all your teachers by learning the joy of being compassionate women and men for others.
Live a life of gratitude for that is the Christian Spirit.
Here’s Lesson #2: Be CRITICAL of power for that is the Micronesian Spirit.
An English historian and moralist once wrote…”Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If you’ve learned anything from your four years of religion and civic classes at Xavier, it is that Christ was critical of the tax collectors and the Pharisees…those who had the privilege and the power who were looking out for their own good, who cheated the poor. Christ spoke up against the government, against those who put the people down.
What lesson can we, can you take with you from your education here. Ask yourself…what is the power that is corrupt? Who are the Pharisees and the tax collectors today in our islands? Who is cheating the children out of an education? Who is abusing the trust of the public? What is keeping our people from advancing in life?
In our island cultures, we are taught that elders hold the bank of wisdom and that young people draw from that bank. I am here to challenge you to be critical of that bank. Don’t withdraw money from that bank of wisdom if it’s giving you fake money. Here at Xavier You’ve learned that speaking your mind in class is a quality. You’ve asked questions. You’ve questioned issues. You’ve questioned teachers. You’ve questioned each other. You’ve questioned the administration. Keep on asking questions for the sake of those who cannot speak up. That is the very core of getting an education…to open your mind to understand the right from wrong. And the very core of your Jesuit education is to speak up against injustice.
It is ironic that here in this great State of Chuuk, Xavier stands as a lighthouse of hope for these great island nations. Yet, in the very midst of this great hope are some of the worst examples of hopelessness caused by selfish leaders. There are those who have built the Nation for our future and others who have destroyed our future to build up their own personal nations. There are leaders who have sacrificed themselves for our sake and others who have sacrificed our sake for themselves. Which one will you be when it’s your time to exercise power? Will you become the bearer of hope or cause of hopelessness for our people?
Be very critical! Be respectful, but be critical of the power for that is the Micronesian Spirit.
Last lesson #3: Expect more of yourself for that is the Xavier Spirit.
I don’t need to remind you that you are joining a short list of Xavier graduates with a long list of accomplishments that most of us non-Xavierites can only envy. By making it this far, you are automatically inducted into an elite group of proven educators, nation-builders, healers, change makers, activists, spiritual guides, public servants, environmentalists…you name the profession, chances are you’ll find a Xavierite in leadership from the Republic of Palau to the Republic of the Marshall Islands, from the FSM to CNMI, from Guam to Kiribati. I congratulate the Jesuits for the great work they have done in these islands to form such successful leaders. To the graduates, I want to say to you that the mere title of “Xavier graduate” alone is no longer enough.
Today, as you prepare to walk off this Mabuchi Hill like all of your predecessors, I am sorry to break the news to you that our world and our island nations don’t need more teachers, more doctors, more lawyers, more politicians, more businessmen, more priests, more nuns, more ministers, more wanporons, more sounpetak. We have enough.
What our world and our island nations need more than ever from you Xavier graduates are more COMPETENT leaders, EXCELLENT doctors, more HONEST politicians, more CONSCIENTIOUS lawyers, more DEDICATED teachers; we need more CARING business leaders, more FAITH-FILLED church leaders, more OPEN-MINDED parents, more LOVING husbands and wives, and more importantly more ACTIVELY ENGAGED citizens. Just being a member in this elite club of Xavierites also carries with it the responsibility if you are to build our island nations to claim our rightful place in the global community.
Don’t fall to the temptation of mediocrity by hiding within the name of Xavier graduate…exceed those expectations by working harder at becoming a better person. Understand that because you are Xavier graduates, people will expect more of you. On the same token, expecting more out of yourself does not necessarily mean looking for a big way to help others. Use your God-given gifts…whatever those may be to contribute positively to society. We are all ambassadors of our island nations around the world…treat yourself and others with respect. As Mahatma Gandhi, the famous Indian political and spiritual leader once says, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Expect more of yourself and do the little things that help our people…wherever you are in the world.
So, finally to summarize…the three lessons that I challenge you to remember as you walk off this stage… 1) Be grateful for that is the Christian Spirit, 2) Be respectfully critical of the power for that is the Micronesian Spirit, 3) Expect more of yourself for that is the Xavier Spirit. If you can remember these three lessons, then I believe you will have captured the essence of your education.
And if you forget these three lessons, I hope you at least remember the very foundation of our lives…something that we don’t express enough to each other in our island cultures and I say to you on behalf of Desha and I…in the international sign language…from the depth of my heart…I LOVE YOU.
God bless you.
Photo: Class of 2012. Photo by Kalio Edwin.