Annually I make the journey to Michigan to give out The Gustafson Family Catholic Youth Leader Award. Every year I get up, give a speech, and announce the recipients. We decided to hold a luncheon afterwards to honor and catch up with all the past recipients because it was the tenth year of giving out the award. Below is a copy of the speech I gave before announcing the new members of the Kelleigh’s Cross community.
Thank you Principal Krusky, faculty, staff, STA students, parishioners, and visitors for giving me the opportunity to be here today to present this award. Before I start, I want to apologize for this outfit. I figured it’s May Crowning and if there’s a perfect time to wear a floral pantsuit, it’s today. Anyways, it’s an honor and a privilege to be here and its always great to be back home at STA. I graduated from STA in 2010 and just finished the first year of my masters program at Columbia University. As many of you may know, at age 4 while a preschooler at St Thomas Aquinas, I was diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening and inoperable disease called arteriovenous malformations. Basically, not all of my blood vessels connect properly.
Last year I talked about friendship. More specifically, our friendship with Jesus. I touched on how He is our lifelong friend and is willing to travel any road to find us. More importantly, I know that it isn’t just the presence of Jesus as a friend that guides us but the friendship He gives us through classmates, teachers, and family. This year, I want to expand on an important part of that friendship. Kindness.
There’s a quote I take with me when I join new groups, make new friends, and most recently when I moved to a New York City. It was said by a former First Lady of the United States and it goes,
“Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people – your family, friends, and coworkers, and even strangers you meet along the way.”
Your yardstick of success will be how you treat other people.
I always think back to that. I really resonate with it. Attending Columbia has taught me a lot about comparing myself to others. How do I treat others when they succeed? Am I kind? Am I jealous? I started to understand that I don’t always have to be an A+ student. Getting an A doesn’t matter if I ignored friends who needed my help studying. But man, does a solid B feel good when I took the time to help my friends who didn’t understand something.
It reminds me a lot of what I learned at STA. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Treat others how you want to be treated. If I was struggling with something, I would like my friend to help me out and I always knew I could count on my STA friends.
I try to follow the motto: “Treat People with Kindness” because I know what it’s like to be treated that way.
This is the tenth anniversary of me giving out this award, so I’ve been thinking about the number 10 a lot, especially with that 10 year challenge thingy that went viral earlier this year. When I was 10, I received a tracheostomy tube. Essentially, it’s a tube in my throat that helped me breath. I lived with it for six years but when I first got it, I hated it. I hated the idea of needing to go back to school with this thing in my neck and looking different. Yet, some of the parents in my 4th grade class went and spoke to my fellow students about what I was going through so that when I returned I would be welcomed back with no questions or weird stares. That’s kindness.
I can remember kindness even before that. Ever since being diagnosed, STA supported my family with love and prayers. That was kindness.
In first grade, when I had a very obvious change to my appearance to help promote new tissue growth on my scalp, STA didn’t treat me any differently. That was kindness.
In 2nd grade when a chemotherapy made me critically ill, I was given nothing but kindness from STA when making my First Communion and returning to school.
As a sophomore in high school I felt STAs kindness across states when I decided to remove my trach. I felt your kindness when I was 20 and suffered a stroke. I feel it every day when you keep me in your prayers. I feel it every year when you hold your dress down day for Kelleigh’s Cause. And most recently, I felt it this past Christmas when I received letters from Ms. Caruso’s class wishing me a Merry Christmas.
STA has shown me tremendous kindness throughout my entire life and I could only hope to give back as much as I have received.
So, your most important yardstick of success will be how you treat other people. Another way I like to phrase this, is your kindness is your credential. Credential kind of seems like an adult word so let’s say achievement, your kindness is your achievement. What an achievement to be known as kind.
It can be hard, sometimes we don’t always want to be kind because maybe someone wasn’t kind to us. I get that, I call my mom all the time to talk about it. We usually discuss what I know I should do but that it’s hard for me to just decide to do it. Usually it’s about whether or not I should watch my sisters cat. I know the kind thing to do would be to help her out. So I do.
For anyone who likes superheroes I usually think “What would Captain America do?” but more importantly “What would Jesus do?” Both of them would choose kindness… and watch the cat. Her names rhubarb by the way, just like the pie.
As I look around the church, I can see the kindness in all of you. You’re already being kind when you help your parents, when you make friends, when you ask someone how they are doing. I see it in your smiles, in your friendships, and the way you share your Catholic faith.
I feel this award embodies that kindness. At STA, I learned compassion, resilience, and what being a Catholic meant and it means being kind. I learned all this from my fellow students and the students couldn’t have done it without the support and kindness of the STA teachers, faculty, and staff. They showed through their actions what it meant to love someone and be their friend. What it meant to show someone kindness, just like Jesus.
This award is meant to celebrate young men and young women from the 5th grade, selected annually by the teachers and STA Administration who represent a quiet yet strong Catholic Leadership. They are walking besides their classmates, sharing their kindness with them, and walking a journey of Faith together. As they finish the 5th grade and move on to the middle school it is our hope that they will understand that this award was established with my family’s profound gratitude and love and that they will wear their Celtic Cross with pride, continuing the legacy of those who have done so before them. They will continue to embody the friendship Jesus has with us and spread kindness throughout the school.