Every Monday morning for the past four months, I’ve checked my work email in search of the Saints Weekly Bulletin; a preview of the week to come at Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, sent by our school principal. Initially, I eagerly anticipated this weekly message because I recognize that I thrive off organization and structure, it certainly isn’t because thumbing through emails each morning is particularly exciting to me. Now, though, I recognize that I pour over this weekly message with such zeal because it contains two thought-provoking quotations; one from St. John Baptist de La Salle, and one from a great, usually deceased, world leader.
“Take care not to let yourself be carried away by impatience in class,” read this weeks’ piece of wisdom from La Salle, a noble idea that pertains to anyone who has ever taught anything (and is easier said than done).
Although that message is applicable to me, I was particularly drawn to a recent quote that our principal included from President Theodore Roosevelt:
“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spires who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows no victory or defeat.”
I realized through this incredible experience as a first-year Lasallian Volunteer that I was afraid to fail. I was mortified at the thought of cooking a well-balanced meal for my four other community members once a week, when my only prior experience in the kitchen was making ramen or scrambled eggs, because surely with all the variables involved in cooking a meal, something would go wrong! I thought that I didn’t know how to lead community prayer once a week because my relationship with Christ is different than that of my community members. I was afraid that I wouldn’t know the answer to a calculus question brought before me by a student at the end of their rope during my tutoring sessions in the library each morning. I was worried that I was telling the student-athletes on the Lady Saints varsity soccer team that I coached to pass when they should shoot and shoot when the situation called for a pass. I was concerned about every aspect of being a physical education teacher, from “Should I call their first and last names when taking attendance?” to “What if I can’t even demonstrate how to properly cradle a lacrosse stick!?” Then, when our vice principal for academics informed me that I would be teaching two sections of sophomore theology next semester, I thought, “Where do I even begin?”
By reflecting upon President Roosevelt’s quote I could not be more proud of how far I’ve come.
With a little help from the Betty Crocker Cookbook gifted to me by my parents, and a LOT of help slicing and dicing by my community members, I cook (a tasty meal, just ask my community!) each week and now only rarely forget to use cooking spray when baking salmon, or leave the steamed broccoli boiling for too long. By embracing my unique relationship with Christ I’m proud to share a video of Stewart Scott’s iconic ESPY Awards speech at community prayer and connect it to our God-given desire to live, struggle, and care for others. By being honest with students and attacking calculus problems as a team I’m no longer afraid of tackling even the most daunting linear expressions. By trusting in the advice my soccer coaches gave me, I am confident in the tools I helped instill in the 2014 division-champion Lady Saints. Lastly, by believing in myself, asking questions of the teachers that I work with here and those in my family, and sometimes blind luck, I transform into “Mr. O” each day and am slowly but surely earning the trust and respect of 380 high school students.
I recognize that four months ago I was (and to a degree still am) afraid to fail. However, being a Lasallian Volunteer has taught me, among many, many valuable things, including that it is OK to make mistakes. It has taught me that although I make mistakes every single day as an amateur chef, in my relationship with God and my community members, as a tutor, coach, and teacher, that by challenging myself to improve the way in which I interact with my community, I have found more happiness and fulfillment than ever before.
I have experienced “glorious triumphs” this year and even though they have been, in the words of President Roosevelt, “checkered by failure,” I am no longer afraid to “dare mighty things.”
Dan O’Connell is a 1st year LV serving at Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and is a 2014 graduate of The Catholic University of America.