The pandemic has caused many folks to refrain from the once familiar family gathering. The carefree atmosphere and simple joys of these occasions may become a thing of the past if we are not mindful of their importance in our lives. As people made in the image of God, we are created to live in community with one another – our human flourishing depends on it. Being isolated and alone – having no one to laugh with or celebrate with is not something any of us want to become the norm. My family gratefully cheered the development and mass roll out of a vaccine to combat the deadly COVID virus – folks can once again stand shoulder to shoulder in relative safety. This is good news for individuals in our society as we can finally get out from behind our personal computers and interact with real people in larger groups. We were eager to take advantage of this incredible reality and renew our commitment to one other, so on an early summer weekend in June my family gathered to celebrate two milestone occasions in the lives of two special people.
The day dawned bright and warm for family members traveling near and far to our New England home. We were excited to welcome everyone together for a celebration of my Dad’s birthday and my daughter Emma’s graduation from Loyola University. It had been quite a challenging year for many in our resilient family thus the gift of being together was not lost on any one of us. As the celebrations began, Dad was quick to point out that all attention should be given to the graduate over himself. While we appreciated his humility in the matter, this was one instance when we could not “honor thy father’s wishes.” We toasted a wonderful man who has overcome recent obstacles while staying true to his love of family. After birthday songs and gifts for our beloved dad, we turned our gaze to the young woman of the hour – our dear Emma Rose.
Many, including myself, have described Emma as a bright light who has shined in some of the darkest moments of recent life. It was fitting then, that we were able to appropriately celebrate her achievements over the past four years in our very first family gathering after the pandemic. Her Loyola graduation a few weeks ago was COVID strict and sadly did not include many of the beautiful elements of a university celebration. It was our intent then to make this family get-together a personal celebration of accomplishment and honor for a person who devoted herself to achieving something more in college and in life.
The following words are from a toast I gave to Emma on the day of our family party.
I recall Emma moving home in March of her junior year when the pandemic hit. Instead of being angry, she was thoughtful and understanding, thinking more of those dying from this horrific disease than of her own inconvenience and disappointment about having her junior year cut short. This type of attitude describes well how Emma approaches challenges in life. She has always been an empathetic, curious young person, hungry for wisdom – with a desire to understand and really know. I think this is why she began her college career as a Biology major and ended it as a double major in Political Science and English with an unofficial minor in French (which she’ll use in her new job at a BioTech company in Boston, whose headquarters are in Paris!) Graduating cum laude from the Honors Program, Emma has always sought greatness, pushing herself to new heights of achievement. She’s been inspired to excel by the heroic lives of her grandparents, Joe and Joan Powers and Bob and Sue Schiller who always set a beautiful example of holiness and happiness for her to follow. Joan and Bob watch over her lovingly from heaven now and we are blessed to still have Joe and Sue as constant mentors in her every day life.
What is most important though, is the person that Emma has become. Folks can have all the honor and accolades in the world, but without love, we have nothing. Emma knows this truth and lives it every day of her life. She was known as one of the kindest kids on her college campus. Nominated by her peers (in a class of 900) for the Cura Personalis Award, which is granted to the Loyola Senior who embodies the Jesuit value of Care for the entire human person in all their relationships, Emma has always shown kindness to every person she meets. During her four years at Loyola, she tutored young children in the city of Baltimore as part of the CCSJ (Center for Community & Justice), mentored underclassmen who were seeking clarity on their major as the President of Pathfinders, and raised money to support impoverished kids in Haiti through a non-profit led by her French teacher. The unrest in Haiti kept her group from traveling to the country for service but Emma remained committed to the cause regardless. These outreach efforts are the things which Peter and I are most proud of above anything else. Kindness and love trump worldly honors and accomplishments any day and Emma lives these important virtues with ease.
Finally, Peter and I wish only happiness and success for our dear Emma Rose as she embarks on the next chapter in her journey of life. In the gospel reading from her Baccalaureate Mass, from Matthew chapter 5, Jesus said “You are the light of the world, A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” Fr. Linnane, SJ, President of Loyola University, encouraged the 2021 graduates, “A Loyola University education is about gaining knowledge and character to make a difference in your life and in the lives of others in the world. Go bring your light to the world.”
Go Emma Rose! We can’t wait to see how bright you shine!”