On March 10, 2018, I had the pleasure and honor to serve as keynote speaker for a fundraising event for a college scholarship program created by my good friends, Bishop Nolan and Gloria McCants. The requested theme was, “On Your Own, But Not Alone.”
From that came this rumination on the definition and importance of “family” in the context of college — and, really, in all of life.
“ON YOUR OWN, BUT NOT ALONE”
Good afternoon! My name is Tom Hernandez and I am honored to deliver the keynote address today.
I promise, I won’t take but a few minutes of your time. I know you have other things to do today besides listening to me, blather on and on, like I’m delivering some kind of sermon or something…
But before I share a few thoughts on the topic du jour, I want to salute and congratulate my very good friend, Bishop Nolan McCants and his lovely, talented, much better half, Gloria, for creating the Nolan and Gloria McCants Scholarship last year to help a young person.
All scholarships are welcome and appreciated, because they help young people take an important “Next Step” in their lives, to attend college.
But not all scholarships are equal.
Many are based on academic achievement, some on athletic prowess, others on special activities or life goals.
But a very few rare ones, like the Nolan and Gloria McCants Scholarship, recognize and support young people for their values. For who they are as human beings. For what is meaningful to them and the Greater Good of the community.
This year’s scholarship, for example, requires a 500-word essay on the applicant’s “position on the importance of integrity.”
“Integrity!” Can you believe it? It’s been about two years now since I’ve heard the word even mentioned by a leader at any level — and here are two people willing to put their money where their mouths and minds and spirits are, to support the idea of integrity!
Now that takes some courage and conviction in 2018. And that’s why it is all the more important that all of us support this Scholarship with our words and hearts, certainly, but also with our wallets and checkbooks.
So, thank you, Nolan and Gloria for doing what you are doing today, and doing what you do every day. This world would be a whole lot nicer, and smarter, and more thoughtful, and kinder, and compassionate and sharper dressed, if more people followed your example. I am proud to call both of you friends!
Now, to the point – the winner of this scholarship will be headed to college. How many of you plan to attend college next year?
This is an exciting time in their lives. They’re experiencing so much change right now, so many big transitions, and for many of our young people, college will be a part of their future.
To all of you, congratulations and good luck. I know you’re looking forward to all that college will bring – new friends, new experiences, new social opportunities, perhaps the occasional class or two…
But most of all, many of you are thinking one thing: “FREEDOM!”
Well, I have news for you – many of your parents are thinking the same thing!
I mean, of course, they will miss you, but…
Now, seriously, please always remember that your main reason for going to college is not the football or basketball games or the new girlfriends or boyfriends or the dances or even to prepare you to get a job.
It is to enrich and expand your brain and your spirit and to become a more enlightened, and enlightening human being! So, on behalf of everyone who will help foot the bill for you, I say, please go to class and study!
Anyway, the point is, college is going to be a whole new world for you, in every sense.
It will change your life.
It will be thought-provoking.
It will be exciting.
It will be inspiring.
And amid all of that, it will also be hard.
And, sometimes, lonely.
There are many differences between high school and college. But the main one, in my experience through both of my daughters, is that in high school, people are paid to care about you and your success.
That is NOT the case in college. And frankly, that is less the case the bigger the school you go to. As long as your check clears for this semester’s tuition, many professors do not care about you. They don’t have to. They get paid whether you show up to class or not. Whether you do well, or not.
Now, I am not being cynical or critical, just stating a fact that many of our young people never think about, until they have to think about it, which is this: in the adult world, you are responsible for your happiness. You are responsible for your success.
And for many of you, college is your first step into the adult world.
And, sometimes, the adult world of college can be a little sad and dark.
Trust me when I say this, because I know it, I have lived it, and I have survived it:
You are going to find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the work.
Confused and anxious by the illogic of a large institutional system. “I am majoring in pre-law. Why do I have to take biology?!”
Physically and mentally and spiritually exhausted, as you study for your sixth final exam in two days, putting the finishing touches on a blue book essay, while squeezing in two part-time jobs and an internship (that was me my senior year at Lewis University!)
You’re going to see so many questions, that you cannot even contemplate the answer.
Yet, the answer is right in front of you.
And behind you.
And around you.
In this and all things, the answer is, family.
Yes, college is about many things – classrooms and football games, making new friends, finding a good-paying job so you can pay your parents back for 18 years of rent and utilities and food! – but it’s mainly about one thing: figuring out who you are, and who you want to be. Family is always an important part of both.
Now, you’re thinking, “But what good can my family do if I am hundreds of miles and several hours away from home?”
One of the greatest things about the world we live in, is that “family” can and does mean many different things.
“Family” obviously means those folks who raised us and with whom we were raised – our parents, grandparents, guardians, and yes, even our siblings, as awful as brothers and sisters can be!
But today, “family” can – and often does – mean more than those folks who share our blood and our name.
Family can be:
- Extended relatives.
- Old friends and new friends.
- Church members.
- People of like-minded interests.
- People who look like you and look nothing like you.
- People who speak your language, and whose language you can’t understand.
- People who hold your hand and your heart, who provide a shoulder and an ear, who profess to understand because they’ve been there, and pretend to understand even though they’ve never been there, but they love you enough to give you some of their time.
You see, “family” isn’t so much a blood relationship anymore.
Rather, it’s a collective connection, an intuitive investment in each other’s well-being.
Now, I don’t want to get all “Churchy” on you – Lord knows, no one likes that! – but, “family” is God’s grace in the form of communion and community.
So, as you move toward college – this first step into what can be a mean, indifferent, uncaring world – know that your family – however you define it – will care for you, and keep you, and raise you up.
Your family – whoever they may be – will help you to get back, and move ahead. To believe, and to revive and refresh, and to succeed.
Always know – in your brain and in your heart and in your soul, that you may be far from home, but you’re never alone. Because you are surrounded by your family.
We support you. We believe in you. We empower you. We trust you. We are proud of you.
And we love you.
Congratulations to all of you, and good luck!