Our son, Aaron, recently graduated from Antonian College Preparatory, a Catholic high school here in San Antonio, and we were fortunate the commencement festivities took place as scheduled. In fact, the steady rain and intense lightning caused more modifications to the ceremony than the pandemic.
The principal, Mr. Petersen, delivered an excellent address to the students. As a professor, I’ve attended many graduations and heard many speeches, but this one, from the longtime principal, had a big impact on me and on the young students who were about to embark on the journey of their adult lives.
Mr. Petersen ended his talk by reminding the students that “Doing well includes doing good.” At first, my mind centered only around the doing well part, but I quickly realized that trying to do well without doing good is not enough to have a productive and meaningful life.
As I reflect on my high school graduation back in 1986, my thinking was that I needed to earn a college degree quickly so I could start making money. In other words, work was only a means to an end.
In fact, I remember the many jobs I accepted solely for the purpose of increasing the balance in my checking account. Of course, the money did not last long because it was important for me to show I was doing well by buying many material things. This meant I had a plan for every dollar that landed in my account.
As I increased my earnings, often by taking on multiple jobs, I kept looking for ways to spend. There were even times I spent money which I had not earned yet. This is called living on credit.
My mindset was that I was doing well, and it was important for me to prove this by living a life defined by material things.
In 2014, I began volunteering as an usher at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, and I met many people who were doing well, but also doing good. For example, they volunteered to prepare food for the hungry, and one group formed a ministry to help married couples strengthen their marriages.
What? This type of thinking was foreign to me! Why would these smart people waste time on activities that generated zero money? In fact, some of them were making donations to these causes. This was even more foreign to me!
After a year or so hanging around this crowd, their intentions started to make sense to me. For them, the success formula included doing good. To have a complete life, it was important to also engage in activities that lifted others in need.
That’s it! It’s about lifting … about helping … about caring … about love.
I’m glad our son and the other students heard Mr. Petersen’s message at such a young age. For some of them, they will immediately apply the advice, and for others, it will take longer to learn the value of what they heard.
From my perspective, I can start where I am today. While it’s true I wasted many years focused only on what mattered to me, it’s also true that I know better today.
When things are going well in any facet of life, I will remind myself that there is another piece to a fulfilling life.
In fact, the lesson I am learning here is that without doing good I cannot do or be well.