Last Thursday, the Reading Clergy Association sponsored the annual Baccalaureate Service for the Class of 2016 at St. Agnes Church. This year’s service focused on “Coming Together in the Spirit of Peace, Acceptance, and Gratitude.” There were several student speeches, music by the RMHS Chorus, remarks and prayers from the Clergy Association, and remarks from Principal Adam Bakr and Superintendent of Schools John Doherty. Below are Dr. Doherty’s remarks.
RMHS Baccalaureate Speech-2016
Good evening, families and students of the Class of 2016 and thank you for attending this interfaith baccalaureate service. I would like to thank the Reading Clergy Association for planning this event and for St. Agnes for hosting this year’s celebration. Last, but certainly not least, I want to thank the students who are participating in today’s service, including our Reading Memorial High School Chorus and our many student speakers.
I always look forward to this evening because it allows each of us during this very busy time in our lives and a very hectic week of activities to stop, take a breath, and reflect on what is truly important. In a lot of ways, this is your last learning experience of your high school career.
I also want to congratulate you on a very successful four years. Your talents and leadership have shown brightly in the community, in the classroom, on stage, the court and the playing field. You have set a very positive tone for future classes to follow and we appreciate your efforts. I am especially proud and honored to have been your Superintendent during these last four years and to be speaking to you this evening wearing two hats; both as the Superintendent of Schools, and as a proud parent of a daughter who is graduating this year.
The theme of this year’s service is “Coming together in a Spirit of Peace, Acceptance, and Gratitude” and for those of you who have attended RMHS baccalaureates before, I like to use the power of a story to bring forward the message. Tonight, I would like to share with you a true story, called, Perfection at the Plate, written by Rabbi Paysach Krohn. The story is about a child named Shaya, who attended the Chush school for learning disabled children in Brooklyn, New York in the late 1990’s. Shaya’s father shared this story about his son at a fund raising dinner for the school and he began the story with a very simple question…”Where is the perfection in my son Shaya?” He explained that when a child enters this world, there is a purpose and a perfection. But, he stated, “my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. My child is learning disabled. Where is his perfection?”
The audience at the dinner was shocked by the question, pained by the father’s anguish, stilled by the piercing query.
“I believe,” the father answered, “that when God brings a child like this into the world, the perfection that he seeks is in the way people react to this child.”
He then told the following story about his son Shaya:
One afternoon Shaya and his father walked past a park where some boys Shaya knew were playing baseball.
Shaya asked, “Do you think they will let me play?”
Shaya’s father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Shaya’s father understood that if his son was chosen to play it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging.
Shaya’s father approached one of the boys in the field and asked if Shaya could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said “We are losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we’ll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning.”
Shaya’s father was ecstatic as Shaya smiled broadly. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shaya’s team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shaya’s team scored again and now with two outs and the bases loaded with the potential winning run on base, Shaya was scheduled to be up. Would the team actually let Shaya bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shaya was given the bat.
Everyone knew that it was all but impossible because Shaya didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it. However as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya should at least be able to make contact.
The first pitch came in and Shaya swung clumsily and missed. One of Shaya’s teammates came up to Shaya and together they held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Shaya. As the pitch came in, Shaya and his teammate swung at the bat and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher.
The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond reach of the first baseman.
Everyone started yelling, “Shaya, run to first. Run to first.” Never in his life had Shaya run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide-eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag out Shaya, who was still running. But the right fielder understood what the pitcher’s intentions were, so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman’s head. Everyone yelled, “Run to second, run to second.” Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. As Shaya reached second base, the opposing shortstop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, “Run to third.” As Shaya rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, “Shaya run home.”
Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero, as he had just hit a “grand slam” and won the game for his team.
“That day,” said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, “those 18 boys reached their level of God’s perfection.”
There are many take-aways from this story, but the one that I would like you to embrace is to accept people for who they are and the strengths that they can bring to this world. Treating them differently or with pity is not what the message of this story should be about. Too often our society tends to give honor to those who have more than us. But there are many people in society who have fewer friends, less money, are going through difficulty in their lives and have less prestige than others. Those people especially need our attention, our recognition, our empathy and most, importantly, our support. We should try to reach the same level of perfection in human relationships which the boys on the ball field achieved on that day.
How can we can reach that level of perfection? This can be done through practicing random acts of kindness such as providing community service or helping out a neighbor, a friend, or even a complete stranger. Think about what our world would be like, if each of us behaved this way. The world would clearly be a better place.
Teaching is a profession that focuses on helping others and you have most likely had many teachers in your life who have helped you along your journey. Sadly, this past year, three Reading Public School teachers who made a career of helping others in need, passed away. Coolidge teacher John McCarthy, Joshua Eaton Teacher Jody Carregal, and Birch Meadow teacher Irene Bourne had such a profound impact on children and never gave up on a struggling student. Their memories have inspired those who knew them to live our lives that way. These teachers are the true heroes.
Many of you regularly offer random acts of kindness through Community Service. Whether it is serving meals at Rosie’s Place, a homeless shelter for women and children in Boston, or My Brother’s Table, a soup kitchen in Lynn, or donating toys each Christmas to Toys for Tots, or providing water for families in Flint, Michigan, or volunteering at a local nursing home, you are seeing the perfection in everyone.
Soon, you will be leaving Reading Memorial High School and pursuing new dreams and exciting new opportunities. Many of you are pursuing college degrees that focus on service or helping others. In your new experiences, you will be able to practice those random acts of kindness and make this world a better place, one step at a time.
I would like to conclude with the words of writer and poet Maya Angelou:
“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
As we come together in the spirit of peace, acceptance, and gratitude, Class of 2016, good luck in the next leg of your journey. I look forward to celebrating your commencement day with you on Sunday. Thank you.