A New Start for VHS Grads

A New Start for VHS Grads
USD Professor Mike Roche pulled a blazing red T-shirt from beneath the podium as he gave the commencement address for the Vermillion High School Class of 2007 Sunday afternoon in Slagle Auditorium.

The shirt, it turns out, wasn�t anything mysterious. It was worn by scores of Tanager fans at the State A Girls Basketball Tournament this spring who watched the Vermillion girls, after their third trip to the state tourney in as many years, finally clinch the championship.

The message on the T-shirt was clear: The third time is the charm.


�Probably the most commonly accepted meaning for ?third time is the charm� is try, try again,� Roche said. �But that of course begs the question, ?try, try, try again at what?� �

One of the best answers to that question, he said, comes from Tobias Wolfe, who wrote, �We are made to persist. That�s how we find out who we are.�

We all have to keep trying and trying again, Roche told the students moments before their graduation, if we are to keep discovering who we are.

�The sad truth is that this is a very difficult puzzle to solve, and most folks don�t do it very well,� he said. �In fact, for many, it gets so hard, they just quit trying.�

Roche said Benjamin Disraeli had it right when he said, �Most people will go to their graves with their songs still in them.�

But a Vermillion Tanager, he said, is a rare bird with a unique song. He learned that fact firsthand while attending the Girls� State A Basketball Tournament earlier this year.

Several people came up to Roche and asked, �What�s a Tanager?�

He admitted that, at the time, he wasn�t really crazy with the notion of a small, red songbird being the team�s mascot.

�Many people from Vermillion were amused at how many at the tournament didn�t know what a Tanager was,� Roche said. �And I wasn�t too impressed with the mascot, either. It seemed sort of ridiculous.

�What was it going to do? Peck the opposition to death? Or sing it into submission?� he asked. �But lately, I�ve changed my tune on Tanagers. �

Roche brought forth a small basket, bursting with small, red cloth facsimiles of the mascot, enough for every member of the Class of 2007, sewn my Roche�s wife, Laura.

�What I would like you to do is to think of the Tanager not only as a rare bird with a unique song flying about in the world,� he told the class. �Additionally, I want you to accept the truth that there is also a rare Tanager with a unique song within each of you. I�m speaking of your own unique gifts within.�

Roche said that some people say that unique song is the vibration of God within each one of us, trying to get out into the world.

�But usually, that vibration is pretty deep inside of us, and it faces a lot of inner and outer resistance in trying to get out,� he said. �So often times, we�re like those people we bumped into at the state tournament who didn�t know what a Tanager is, only in this case, it�s we ourselves who weren�t acquainted with our own rare Tanager, our own rare gifts within.�

Roche said he knows that many members of the Class of 2007 have worked hard to reach scholastic milestones while in high school. And he�s watched them work hard in

athletics and a range of extra-curricular activities.

�You have a lot of help from a great deal of people,� he said. �I�ve watched you grow in many realms. And, in some cases, I�ve done more than watch you. I�ve clapped for you, cheered for you, or even yelled at you. Sorry about that.�

With all that growth and new discovery over the past four years, it may be easy for the graduating seniors to assume they have the world well under control.

�But will you listen to me when I tell you from my own personal experience that you�re just getting started,� Roche said. Last summer, the USD professor attended the 40-year reunion of his high school class.

�And I�m still trying to figure out who I am, what my gifts are, and how to best use them in this world,� he said. �Looking back, I can see how stupid and blind I�ve sometimes been – the times I�ve been the farthest away from that music within me, that vibration within me, by ignoring it or misusing it, some of those times, I�ve been pretty close to evil.�

But there have times when he�s honored his inner song. �Some of those times, I�ve been almost holy, and it will be the same for you,� he told the graduating class members.

Roche provided the class some quick tips for finding and nurturing their inner Tanager.

�Expect resistance,� he said, �from both inside and outside.� One�s individual inner song is usually buried quite deeply under layers of fear, ego and lack of experience.

�Very seldom does it just come bursting out naturally and say, ?here�s your song,� without you doing some pretty significant inner work. And from the outside, you can expect resistance as well. Your parents and your teachers might have all sorts of expectations about who you should become.

�Get ready for that kind of resistance. It takes real courage to grow up and become who you are supposed to be. But if you don�t define yourself for yourself, you�ll be crunched into other people�s fantasies of you, and eaten alive.�

He encouraged students to �keep the faith� regarding the discovery of the music within each of them. Roche, who has taught for more than three decades at USD, and at such places as the state penitentiary, can honestly say that�s he never encountered a student who he has gotten to know well who he has then concluded has no gifts whatsoever.

�The key here is you may have to expand your notion of what you mean by gifted,� Roche said. �Every one of you has a talent. What is rare is the courage to nurture that talent, and follow it to the places where it leads.�

He also told the graduates to remember their rare music within is called a gift for a reason.

�If you use your gifts only for yourself, I swear to you that the music within you will become so loud and deafening that you won�t be able to hear any body else�s song, or their needs, and pretty soon people will start moving away from you,� Roche said. �You won�t be anything like the vibration of God at that point. All you will be giving off then is the shrill sound of your own ego, and you�ll become more desperate and alone.�

He told the graduating class that choosing to use their personal gifts for the good of others will save them.

�On the other hand, if you do not bring forth what is within you, or if you bring it forth but use it in the wrong way, like just for yourself or even to harm others, in that case, I promise you, it will destroy you,� Roche said. �I�m not going to tell you that you can be whatever you want to be. I will say, however, if you listen to that music within you, you will become what you should be and what the world needs you to be.�

Roche told the seniors to always remember they are loved and are loveable.

�If you don�t know and feel that love, you will never be able to bring forth that unique Tanager within you,� he said. �You do know you are loved, don�t you? There are people in this room who love you with every fierce ounce of energy they have within them. They could not love you more.

�That you are loved and loveable is for absolutely certain a more important lesson for you to understand than what ever else you�ve learned in any class in school,� Roche said.

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