A sign welcomes students on the first day of school at Catholic Central School in Latham on Sept. 8. (Cindy Schultz photo for The Evangelist)
A sign welcomes students on the first day of school at Catholic Central School in Latham on Sept. 8. (Cindy Schultz photo for The Evangelist)

September — far more than January — has always seemed like the proper time to celebrate the new year. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been a lifelong educator as well as a lifelong learner, but I don’t think I’m alone. There’s something about a stack of crisp new notebooks that reminds us in a concrete way that new beginnings are just around the corner. No matter what our age or background or circumstances, we always have the chance to begin again, to turn back the cover and write a new chapter.

As we embark on the school year ahead, I’m imagining that blank notebook filled with all the good things we remember from our Catholic schools, but without the consternation brought on by the pandemic. This plot is light on drama and heavy on community and togetherness, learning and laughter. Written between the lines are the tremendous lessons we’ve learned over the past two years and the wisdom that saw us through challenges we never imagined. As I wrote at the end of the last school year, our students were the heroes of the most recent chapter of our Catholic school story, showing all of us how to roll with the changes undaunted, to carry on with determination, joy and kindness.

Of course, our students didn’t learn compassion and kindness entirely on their own. It came from the examples of their dedicated teachers and staff, devoted parents and caretakers, and committed parish communities that continually put the Gospel first, not only in our school settings but at home and in our neighborhoods. What we do in our Catholic schools would not be possible without the support of the everyday heroes and models of our faith who show our young people how to navigate our increasingly combative and contentious world with grace and generosity.

But, the lifelong learner in me always strives to do better. Our challenge as we head into this new year and write this next chapter is how to create a compassionate and just world for the young people in our care, how to ensure that the future we leave to them — and the present we witness with them — is one that is guided and formed by the best of what we have learned over the course of our own history.

Quite the tall order, right? Or is it? Not if we embrace our central theme for the 2022-23 academic year: Seize Each Day. Over time, through our deliberate and intentional actions, the gentle ebb and flow of our daily interactions, behaviors and activities will reshape our land. I know it can feel overwhelming, but if we take it day by day, step by step, person by person, it is possible to bring about positive change not only for our own children but for those who come after them.

In his contemporary classic, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” author Robert Fulghum talks about the ways we are able to influence someone’s life through our works, our actions, our generosity of heart.

“Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives. It’s that way with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage, the family doctor, teachers, neighbors, coworkers. Good people who are always there, who can be relied upon in small, important ways. People who teach us, bless us, encourage us, support us, uplift us in the dailiness of life,” he writes. “… You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think. There are always those who couldn’t do without you. The rub is that you don’t always know who.”

Powerful words to live by. In other words, the only way to be sure we are present for and available to those who need us — maybe without our even realizing it — is to be kind to everyone we meet and receive each person as Christ. We all know this love-your-neighbor attitude is in short supply in our world today, so it is truly up to each one of us to Seize Each Day to do our part to restore it.

And yet we live in a society where what were once forums for healthy discourse have become battlegrounds for rapidly accelerating anger. More and more people have a short fuse, it seems, and very little empathy for an opposing or contrasting view. I wonder, what kind of world we are passing on to our children? We must give witness to another way and value open and informed dialogue, critical thinking, hospitality to all, including differing ideas, cultures and customs.

Back when I was a teacher, every September as I decorated my classroom to welcome a new group of students, I always prominently displayed the Golden Rule poster: “Do unto others ...” It seems the world needs that poster more than ever, a reminder to treat others the way we wish to be treated.

The good news is that we have people like you in our world, leading by example and showing our children through your daily actions what the Golden Rule looks like when it’s put into practice. I am so grateful to all of you for the values and kindness you bring to our communion of schools and every individual student. As Fulghum said, “You are more important than you think.”

Giovanni Virgiglio, Ed.D., is the superintendent of schools for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.

 

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