A Message to Our Students
By Earl Madary ’88
Earl Madary gave the following address to faculty and staff at the annual Rose Awards ceremony in May. He is the 2005 Viterbo Teacher of the Year.
For me as an alumnus of this institution, there are voices that echo from these very bricks. Laurian, Celestine, Arita, Annarose, Rita, Antoinette, and Maureen. Some of you sitting here today, your voices are in this room, too. You teach me each day how to live in community, dare to be idealistic, practical, outrageous, kind, and filled with conviction.
When I was a student here I was taught many things. What I was taught then continues to be the heart of what I am convinced we must dare to teach now. I was taught the power of joy. I was taught to recognize my own voice in a chorus of voices and to blend and to cause deliberate dissonance! I was given the strength to recognize an artist’s heart within myself and others. I was taught to stand for peace. The Christianity that I was taught here had room at the table for everyone. Everyone.
My mother, an immigrant to this country and a child survivor of the Second World War, would look out our kitchen window each spring and say with genuine surprise, “There is green left in the world! It looks like we have another chance.” We teachers are believers, disciples, and holders of the second chance. At our best, teachers work for the “greening” of this world hoping that each generation that follows will do better.
As we place our hopes in our students I would like to offer an open letter to them on this day…so here it is…
Dear Students of Ours and Fellow Learners,
We must appear to be quite eccentric in our many ways to your eyes…our insistence on well-crafted sentences, good reasoning, deliberate kindness, historical accuracy, academic integrity, staying on pitch, good science, knowing your lines, service to your community, changing the world, and becoming a person worthy of the privilege of education. For as you know and have heard, you and we, your teachers, constitute a very small part of the world in our privilege. The privilege of education.
For you see, your teachers were captured by hope a long time ago…
A dream was born in us that a well-crafted sentence and reasoned argument could cause the mob to drop their stones…that songs must be sung in the dark to remember light…that great stories are told and danced to help us become human…that there is an ecstasy in the unfolding of life over billions of years…that we must be with those who suffer and journey with them wherever their pain may take them…that we could travel over the wastelands of despair and war and finally become the great city on the hill…that this republic will one day be worthy of the dreams that gave it form and being…that every human person is by some unimaginable grace the living image of an infinite love that is God and therefore no human is ever unnatural or disordered in very essence…that we might find in the end the power to forgive and more miraculously allow ourselves to be forgiven.
There are great challenges that lie at the heart of our society. Our self destructive obsession with power and control is rotting our church and government from the inside out. You are going to have to do a better job than we did. There is poverty and suffering at home. More people die each month from violent crime in this country than on 9/11. Wars of genocide rage in places not connected to our national oil reserve. The voices of the dead cry to us for justice. Please forgive us for the ways we have failed you and your future.
I wonder if you know how much we care about you and your learning. How our hearts break when you are lost and how much joy we feel for you at your success. We are humbled by how hard you work…by the sacrifices you as students and your families make so that you can be here. We learn so much from you each day. As we watch yet another generation of Americans come home in body bags from other countries we are filled with a sadness that only those older can feel…we worry for you and your future.
We don’t wish an easy life for you. We wish you iron. The iron of your convictions and ideas. Never forget, however, the iron of mercy. You will never regret the mercy you give while I promise you will always regret those you have judged. We demand that you be extraordinary. We insist that you use the privilege of education to build the common good. Please don’t fear failure. Learn, learn, learn, and then learn again. Find a worthy purpose and cause and crash yourself against it. Don’t be afraid to be broken. Be brave. For in the end we know that you are the green left in this world. May your life be a garden.