Address to the Class of 2021 by Thomas Barone '21

The following remarks were delivered by Thomas Barone ’21 during this year’s Graduation Exercises at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Thank you Mr. DiNovi, Board of Trustees, Mr. Talbot, Fr. Andreassi, Ms. Lehn, Mr. Mariano, faculty, and staff. And thank you to the Class of 2021 for giving me the greatest honor of my life in choosing me to speak for us. I guess you didn’t mean it when you invited me in our JUG-day announcements to go on “permanent silent retreat.”

I have to say though: this is the second most important speech I’ve given this month.

Not a way to win the audience over, is it?

While I did want to see the shocked reactions of parents who’ve been wearing exclusively Regis shop couture for four years, that line has some truth: I delivered the other most important speech of my life recently to my middle school’s honors society.

Giving that speech, I had to ask myself for the first time what story I’d tell about my four years at Regis.

It’s a good practice to begin that story with those who made it possible.

At my recent speech, beaming alongside my stereotypically loud Italian family, were my mom and dad, who found Regis for me, wrangled with me to apply, hugged me before my interview, forced me—correctly—to attend, and are now sitting in the front row of St. Patrick’s Cathedral trying not to sob as I deliver this speech. Hug your parents after this, boys.

Imagine that we’re returning to our middle schools to speak. What story would we tell?

We would tell them first that Regis was special for its starburst collection of people, black, brown, and white, gay and straight, rich and poor, immigrant and native, from all corners of the tri-state area—even Staten Island—each writing part of our larger story. We have science kids like Marcus Schubert, who the Regis website tells me discovered a galaxy or something, taking classes with kids like me, who burnt down a lab.

While the headlines of our story are special, we’d tell our middle schools that we’re most grateful for those everyday miracles that don’t make headlines. For peers filling us in on a missed reading or teachers pulling us aside to see if we’re alright after a rough night. The impact of these actions isn’t visible, but they are what makes a challenge like Regis possible, the warmth that beats back the malaise of a difficult month and reminds us that being men for others doesn’t end with the big things.

In our stories, we’d recall how delighted we were freshman year that everyone cared about learning here. That our halls rang brightly with laughter, conversation, and debate that spilled out of classrooms, onto the Great Lawn, and disrupted the silence of a late-night 4-train. This spirit doesn’t persist on 84th street by divine favor; it’s the mosaic product of the incredible people we’re lucky to call our brothers.

While the stories we’d tell 8th graders are sweet, they are less meaningful without the stories we don’t tell; what is a beautiful experience, after all, without the backdrop of the ugly? We can only discern the stars because the night is dark.

Ask yourself: what story about these last four years would you not tell at your middle school?

I left out our challenges.

We all enter Regis dreaming rosily of perfection, filled with that wonder first felt walking into the glowing 84th street lobby.

Often, Regis comes close.

But reality cannot always live up to our dreams. We struggled sometimes. It is hard to tell 8th graders that our special school has occasionally seen hate, that the Regis bubble couldn’t always keep out the racism or homophobia of an angry world. Where we’d dreamed of utopia, we spent some time divided.

But while dreams cannot always be reality, they are our aspirations. We grasped tightly to the hopes of our freshman selves and worked steadfastly to make them our realities.

That process of further realizing the Regis we’d dreamed of began with honestly assessing how we’d fallen short. The fundamental flaw with our idealized view was the fallacy of the single story, the misbelief that what many of us experience—a loving, tolerant school—is all that there is. Dazzled by the light of Regis’ stars, we sometimes couldn’t see that there was darkness, couldn’t see when we caused hurt. So, rather than shying away from hard truths or hiding in ideology, we shared our experiences.

I’m reminded of the courage of one senior, who, after facing homophobic hate, chose to address the school about his experience, and of the daily courages of seniors—black and brown, especially—who told their stories to help us grow in compassion and understanding.

Then, we carved our dreams into reality. Our black and brown brothers led us in pushing for the Race at Regis initiative. Our Asian brothers led us in reflection and memoriam after violence against the AAPI community. Our especially faithful brothers worked with Campus Ministry to tend to the Regis flock as part of its first student leadership team. A wide-ranging group of our brothers established IDEALS, a committee working on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Regians of every background made the experiences of all Regians closer to our dreams.

These changes will echo beyond us: “It is clear,” one freshman shared with me during a discussion on inclusion, “how much Regis cares.” What a difference four years makes—what a difference we have made. We still dream, but more clearly now, without the hazy unrealities of a rose-colored lens. And we’ve written these more honest dreams into the stories of the classes that will follow us.

Four years later, we are imperfect, but we are strong. Where we were once a class divided, we now proudly enter into our record the image of a class bettered by struggle, understanding of one another because we’d once failed to understand, more faithful because we had to overcome a crisis of faith, more loving of one another because we felt the absence of love. We are the class that persisted, that survived a pandemic, that loved this school enough to change it. Against our own night sky, our dreams gave way to stars.

The point of this speech wasn’t to ask how you’ll talk to local 8th graders. I asked you to consider your story of these last four years because how we view our time at Regis inspires the actions that will one day answer the true question we must continue to ask ourselves: what stories will others tell about us?

We, the class of 2021, will each carry our own little stories of our particular string of moments at Regis. We’ll live the rest of our lives in the pages after they conclude, the pages that will flip open, blank and clean, when the doors of St. Patrick’s close behind us today.

As we fill those blank pages, we must not forget to dream, because we need to dream to envision better realities. Question those dreams. Do not let them lay complacent. Make them honest. But clutch to them tightly nonetheless, because, sheathed in our dreams and our blank pages, we can create the stars in our night skies, and because those stars are what is meant when we are told to go forth and set the world on fire.

Posted: 6/4/21