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Five Core Principles I Learned at St. Mary’s High School in Berkeley California.

[Originally written in September of 2020 and published as a Facebook Note]

When I think back to my time in high school, I feel especially lucky to have been in a Lasallian school. In this life we benefit or suffer as a result of the influence of others. St Mary’s College High School provided a great education and an even better moral compass with which to approach life in general.

Many of you know me to be an atheist, so it might surprise you to discover that a Lasallian school’s first core principle is to nurture an awareness of the living presence of God in our world. It invites all to a deeper awareness of their saving relationship with a caring and loving God. It seeks that all should see the world through the “eyes of faith.” Though I remain an atheist, I found this perspective requires of me (and others) that I (we) acknowledge that there is more than just myself to consider as I roam the days of my life.

The next principle that was constatnly reinforced, was a concern for the poor and the importance of social justice. Lasallian education calls its members to a solidarity with the poor and victims of injustice. It called me to a life-long commitment. A commitment to respond to their needs through community service, advocacy, and justice education. Not a day goes by where I do not see those “invisible” members of our society (homeless, poor) and try to improve their conditions in some small way.

The teachers at St. Mary’s College High School indeed gave me a quality education (the third core principle). St. Mary’s provided me an education that prepared me not only to contribute to society but to have the courage to attempt to transform it. All of us were constantly invited to use our knowledge and talents to critically examine and engage the world in light of the message of the Gospel. To me the most important and seminal message of the Gospel was best summed up by the writer Douglas Adams in Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “wouldn’t it be nice to be nice to each other for a change.”

St. Mary’s also reinforced my mother’s view that we should have respect for all persons. The Lasallian approach to education engages its members in a concerted effort to respect the dignity of all persons. It calls all to respect-filled relationships as the heart of Lasallian education and a key expression of their identity as children of God. I feel confident in my imperfect pursuit of this goal, as it has been a rare situation where I have failed to treat someone else with respect.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly in 2020, the fifth core principle is ensuring an inclusive community. St. Mary’s gave to all of it’s students the gift of a united community where diversity is respected; and, no one was left out or left behind. It called all of us to recognize and embrace each other’s unique stories and qualities as unique and sacred features of the Body of Christ on earth. Though I might not fully agree with that last part, it is true that humanity does so much better when we embrace each life as sacred and special.

This foundation of five core principles serves as a reminder to us all of how a healthy democracy is intended to work. We must return to seeing The United States of America as an inclusive community. A community that has respect for all of it’s citizens. A community that shows concern for the poor and oppressed among us. A community where education of the citizenry in their obligations to each other plays a significant role. Lastly, a community that feels the living presence of something greater than ourselves in everything it does.

In this election year we have a choice between two candidates. In my mind the choice is clear. There is a candidate who seeks to divide and is absorbed with only what’s in it for him. If you are choosing this path, and you were educated in a Lasallian school, I urge you to reconsider.

On the other side, is a candidate that I know deeply shares my values (even if we don’t share the same faith). By way of example, consider in a 2016 meeting with Pope Francis, speaking over images of the smiling nuns, Joe Biden commented that Catholicism calls on believers to be “our brother’s keeper.” He went on, “Being raised Catholic and being educated by the nuns — that’s what those lovely women I’m talking to symbolize to me.”

Joe Biden is the candidate for all in America who are tired of division and fractured partisanship.

I come to the end of this essay and hear in my mind the closing of our formal gatherings at St. Mary’s:

Leader: Saint John Baptist de La Salle
Group: Pray for us!
Leader: Live, Jesus, in our hearts.
Group: Forever

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