The Final Lesson: A 2020 Graduation Speech by Ryan Tierney ’20

Ryan Tierney ’20

May 25, 2020 

On Thursday, March 12th, at 2:45, Regis Jesuit’s bell rang. Like any other day, it dismissed us students and signaled the end of classes. But, on that particular day, things were different. Coronavirus took the United States by storm, the NBA suspended its season, CHSAA suspended all sports and activities, and multiple school districts across the Denver metro area declared cancelations. During my AP Macroeconomics class, Mr. Tricco emailed the school and announced that we would not be returning that Friday. As the clock ticked down during the second half of class, everyone stood, watching the news from their iPads or phones. No one in that class, or throughout the school, was paying attention to their “final lesson.” The moment was surreal.

In hindsight, I suppose that last bell signaled a lot more than the end of the day. It signaled the end of four years for our senior class, the end of walks down the hall with our friends, the end of sports and activities, and the jeopardization of a normal conclusion to our senior experience. The final lesson, which marked the end of our time in high school, passed by without fanfare. For me, it was demoralizing, as it signified the abrupt conclusion to morning swim practices, Saturday team breakfasts, and all the other parts of my final high school swim season. We at Regis are not alone. All across the country, hundreds of thousands of high school and college students have had the “pomp and circumstance” of their senior year robbed by COVID-19.

Of course, this is a disappointing conclusion to our time in high school. For four years, our senior class has grown immensely under the care and teaching of Regis Jesuit. Like at other high schools, we have grown in intellect. But a Regis education is rooted in care for the whole person, so we have also developed in our faith, in our commitment to the wellbeing of others, and in our capacity to love. The “victory lap” for seniors, with prom, the senior book drop, yearbook signing, and graduation is a way for us to present that growth to the world. With this taken away, it can be easy to fall into despair and lamentation. It can be easy, on some level, to resent the scientists telling us that it is not safe to convene in public. It can be easy to grow irritated at public officials ordering us to stay home and away from school. It can even be easy to minimize the incredible risk that the virus poses to the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, and the general populace. Sadly, many high schools and students have fallen into this trap in recent days, especially with the gradual reduction of lockdown protocols across the country.

But what makes Regis special, and what, I believe, has allowed our school to avoid this trap, is that, at its core, it teaches one value: self-sacrificial love. This love is demonstrated most in the dedication and care of the Regis Jesuit teachers, many of whom, over four years, have earned our utmost respect. However, in addition to them, the retreat program, service projects, theology curriculum, and general world philosophy that guides all Regis activities is rooted in this idea: that “if our brothers are oppressed, then we are oppressed” (Roosevelt), that “if they hunger, we hunger” (Roosevelt), and that if Jesus Christ could give his life on the cross for us, we can extend that love to our fellow man.

It is this love to which we are all called. Of course, it can manifest itself in countless ways, from making yourself vulnerable to a loving spouse to serving the poor. No matter what form it takes, this love must be given wholeheartedly. Right now, over 100,000 people have died across the United States in the past three months. While much of this may be out of our control, through the sacrifice of our “senior sunset” (which pales in comparison to the immense self-sacrifice of the healthcare workers in this country), we have been empowered to show love for our fellow man and to prevent future casualties, even though we may never be aware of their existence.

So while I wish that we could have had a normal end to this school year, one rich with celebration and closure, Regis has prepared us to be able to let that all go, have empathy for our fellow man, and be happy… skills that are desperately in need in our world today.
This was our final lesson.