This year’s faculty speaker was Mrs. Kim Crawford, Kolbe Academy’s English and Literature Department Chair and one of the most beloved teachers by students, parents and faculty alike. Click “play” below to her her address.
As introduced, my name is Kim Crawford and today is my birthday. The confluence of your graduation and my birthday cannot be a coincidence and so as a gift for you, I’m going to share with you the 43 most important things I’ve learned in my 43 years of life.
Number One. Not really.
We’ll put my super-exciting birthday aside for now and get back to you. As Fr. Brian said in his homily, another word for graduation is commencement, which is the start of something, often the start of something big. For those of you who were in my class, you know that I like to talk about the big picture, the overarching theme. And one of those themes that kept coming up is man’s inhumanity to man. In today’s world, all you have to do is turn on the news to see we have a surfeit of that inhumanity. And we’re all horrified by it. Many of us turn to God. But in our modern society, which is arguably a post-Christian society, we find people recognizing that they need a savior, but not knowing how to go about getting one, and so mass media, the very ones delivering the terrible news, provides us one in the guise of the superhero. Superhero movies, as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, are extremely popular right now, and I will fully admit to enjoying them a great deal.
Another theme we touch on in class is the dignity of work, and stipulating that superhero is a line of work, that teaching is a line of work, that teachers are every now and then held up as heroic, and that it’s my birthday, Deagol, and I wants it, I’m going to share with you my origin story, my commencement, if you will, into how I became a teacher.
From eighth grade to late into high school, I wanted to be an actress, perhaps so I could go and make superhero movies. But, in spring of eleventh grade, we were working on American poets in English class, and we read the poem “Fiddler Jones” from Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. It reads:
The earth keeps some vibration going
There in your heart, and that is you.
And if the people find you can fiddle,
Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.
What do you see, a harvest of clover?
Or a meadow to walk through to the river?
The wind’s in the corn; you rub your hands
For beeves hereafter ready for market;
Or else you hear the rustle of skirts
Like the girls when dancing at Little Grove.
To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust
Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth;
They looked to me like Red-Head Sammy
Stepping it off, to “Toor-a-Loor.”
How could I till my forty acres
Not to speak of getting more,
With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos
Stirred in my brain by crows and robins
And the creak of a wind-mill–only these?
And I never started to plow in my life
That some one did not stop in the road
And take me away to a dance or picnic.
I ended up with forty acres;
I ended up with a broken fiddle–
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,
And not a single regret.
While going over this poem, I was doing the humanities bob, and my teacher noticed, and called upon me to deliver the theme of the poem. I looked at her, I looked around the class, looked back to her, saw her happiness with what she was doing in that moment, and said, “Find what you like, do it, and don’t look back.” And just like that, I knew I was going to be a high school English teacher.
And so, a few things from this story that I’d like to look into further:
First, Fiddler Jones does not have a very strong work ethic—he was always more than happy for some superhero to whisk him away to that dance or picnic. On the other end of the spectrum is Winston from 1984 about whom George Orwell tells us that “Winston’s greatest pleasure in life was his work.” We don’t want work to be our greatest pleasure because there are so many other rewarding things in life, chief among them God and family and books and Doctor Who, but it is true that we do spend a significant amount of our time at our jobs, both as a student and as an adult. We have to find that happy medium of maintaining a balance between doing what we must and doing what we feel like. We have to look for the moments when they coincide and doing what we must and what we actually want to are the same thing and that brings us to the concept of Flow.
Flow, which we encountered in Brideshead Revisited in a description of Charles beginning his career as a painter, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written an entire book on how to experience this phenomenon throughout all areas of life, but his words about making work into an optimal flow experience are particularly striking: “the more a job resembles a game—with variety, appropriate and flexible challenges, clear goals, and immediate feedback—the more enjoyable it will be…”
Contributing also to making work an enjoyable, meaningful experience is recognizing the inherent dignity of work. In his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens, Pope St. John Paul the Second specifically mentions the dignity of work 27 times. He speaks to work being one of the things that separates man from animal and, quote, “that by means of work man participates in the activity of God himself.” Part of the Dignity of Work philosophy includes the idea that all work is noble, regardless of whether it uses the body or mind, from the perceived lowly disposition of the ditch digger or cab driver to the exalted status of the surgeon or senator. We are all one in the body of work, just as First Corinthians explains that we are all one in the Body of Christ, that the ear and the eye and the hand are all integral to the operation of that Body. We need every ditch digger, every surgeon, every superhero. When I polled you in the Dignity of Work assignment during our time with Crime and Punishment, I was impressed with the many future occupations listed: writer, composer, teacher, baker, and mother are but some of the many listed. Neuropathologist was also mentioned, but it didn’t fit in with my list of -er suffixes, so I’m not even going to mention it. But even more than the varied jobs named, I was overcome with how many of you said you weren’t sure, but that you would do your best to be open to God’s plan for you. This willingness to trust God…you guys, it knocks me out and it makes me very hopeful for the future and the wonderful, meaningful work you will accomplish.
Which leads me to another point about Fiddler Jones. He never mentions God. Granted, the poem is only 26 lines, but we should all be living in such a way that a jury would convict us of following Christ on the most circumstantial of evidence. God is important. Work is important. One can reasonably conclude then that God must be present in your work. In that same Dignity of Work assignment, you had lots of suggestions for how to do that, including beginning work with a prayer, offering it up, and honoring Him with your best efforts. One student wrote: “You know how pleased your Grandmother is when you tell her how much you enjoy her cooking? That’s kind of how I envision God being after you enjoy your work. He gave it to you, and you enjoyed it.” So, heroically represent God in your work. Pray before you eat in the cafeteria. Post that picture of the Divine Mercy above your desk. Enjoy your work. Be the superhero of your workplace to show people how work is done. Happiness is contagious and if you preach the Gospel always, using words if necessary, you will make your workplace a happy, holy place.
But as important as work is, we need to keep our eyes on the ultimate prize of Heaven. As St. Therese reminds us, “The world’s thy ship and not thy home.” All this dignity of work, all this flow and enjoyment—work on parlaying that into eternal happiness for that is our true work on earth. It is our job to get to Heaven to be with Jesus forever.
I could really continue talking about different aspects of work for quite some time—we could further examine the connection between happiness and meaning by looking at Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of money or work-life balance or that sometimes you have to work on your birthday, but instead I will wrap us with an addendum to the theme of “Fiddler Jones” and let you know how that whole teaching thing has worked out: find what you like and do it so that you can be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy in the next. I hope you find work that makes you as happy as much as mine does me. Congratulations to you, superheroes of the Class of 2019.