October 17, 2019

Graduation and Success

For all those families and graduates who participated in this year’s graduation season, congratulations on the achievement! Like most things, my family did not do this occasion the easy way. We had a high school graduation and a college graduation scheduled on the same day and only two hours apart. The problem was, however, that the distance between the schools is a 3+ hour drive barring construction. After living with these children for all their lives I don’t know why it shocked me when one of them asked “how are you going to be at both?”  My first thought was along the lines of “Scotty, man the transporter…” but I knew that reference would be lost on them. (Sadly, I seem to be at an age where most of my references are lost on people.)

So, we explained to my graduates that mom would handle one graduation and dad the other. We are a partnership – where one goes the other is there too. Being that my wife is the famous “T-Web” at the high school, I got the three-hour drive for the college graduation. It didn’t bother me much as I like road trips.

The marvels of today’s communication age actually enabled my wife and me to “attend” the other ceremonies via smart phones. I was able to listen to my high school’s daughter’s graduation while driving back home from the college graduation. By that time, I had my fill of graduation speeches but listened intently to the words spoken by a teacher chosen by the senior class to speak at the ceremony. His talk was on “success.”

It seems this teacher has a brother who is famous among high school kids. The teacher told a story how one of his students asked him what it was like knowing he had a very successful brother – implying that he, the teacher, was less successful. The teacher went on to tell us that he felt he was successful because he loved teaching and that “he was achieving his goals.” Listening to the speech I thought it was a good message, especially in light of the speaker after him who listed all the CEOs and famous rich people who had attended small high schools like ours. While well intended, this later speech came off as defining success by wealth and power.

Reflecting on the first speech, it occurred to me how dangerous it is to define success as simply “meeting one’s goals.” While on the surface this seems a noble idea I soon realized how desensitized we have become by relativism. Going to the extreme, Hitler met many of his goals and few would agree he made the world a better place. Salespeople who meet their quotas by any means possible appear successful, but are they really?

This led me to wonder how we should define “success” for our children. I would define success in having a relationship with Jesus Christ. I would define success in a prayer life that is thankful when times are good and seeks understanding in times of challenge. Success is not obtaining wealth but sharing it with others. The love of money is not a path to success.

Like most people, I have spent too much of my life chasing titles and salaries. Few would have looked at the younger me and seen the Gospel being preached by my words and actions. I was moderately successful by the world’s standards but, not by the standards that were masked inside me. Fortunately, God is persistent and patient. After a few layoffs, a minor illness and lost focus, I got my act together again. I took my soul back, got on a better path and was happy for the first time in a while. I rebuilt a relationship with Christ that, until that point in my life, I hadn’t even realized I was neglecting. I had been attending Church and raising my kids in the faith while letting the secular world define me.

Surrounding myself with the right people and paying attention to my faith/actions has helped me come back to who I want to be. The Gospel must lead us to joy and mercy, not simply rules and doctrine. If one’s faith in Christ does not bring true joy, we are doing it wrong. Ignatius reminds us to see God in everything. The challenge is actually looking for him. Jesus leads us to true freedom. It is sad how few of us realize that in our lives. At our judgement, I doubt we will be asked if we met our goals, but whether we met the goals that God had for us.

Of course, in 2018, viewing success has to be focused in light of the gospel spoken without words. This was not a limitation for St. Francis nor should it be for us. We can look for success in our parents who fought to give us the best home they could. I doubt dealing with an ungrateful kid like me was on their list of life goals. We can look for success in mothers who walk away from a career to be a full-time mom. I doubt that objective was ever on their resume. We can look for success in parents who work multiple jobs help their kids. I doubt giving up sleep was one of their goals in life.

Perhaps after Memorial Day, we should look at success in the veterans who gave their lives so that future generations would prosper. I doubt storming a beach in Normandy, fighting in Korea or being drafted for Vietnam was a goal for most young men.

How do we teach our millennial’s that success is found in sacrifice? Success is helping others reach their goals. Success wants for the poor and strangers everything we hope our own children have the opportunity to achieve. Success is being the creation God intended us to be.

I wish “success” for all our graduates. There is a great list of ten goals for you to have. They were written in stone and given to Moses. Live those goals and you’ll be on the right path. Live remembering the sacrifice of others who came before you and never forget the sacrifice of a Savior who died on the cross. In this you will achieve a true success that brings you, and the world, joy.

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster

REVEREND DR. GREGORY WEBSTER is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate by Francis Cardinal George in May 2014 and is assigned to St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Old Mill Creek, Illinois. Deacon Greg holds a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Northern Illinois University, M.A. in Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary and an M.A. in Bioethics and Health Policy from Loyola University of Chicago. Deacon Greg and his wife have been married more than twenty-five years and are blessed with three beautiful daughters and two pretty cool terriers.

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Written by Deacon Gregory Webster
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