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The text of the Junior Ceremony Reflection, delivered on November 19, 2017:

“Go around the room and say something about yourself”

How many of us have heard this more times that we can count? These famous words, usually said on the first day of school, are a source of discomfort to everyone. Nothing is more awkward than watching a room of quiet strangers struggle to come up with something exciting to say to the group. I have always envied the people who seem to know exactly what to say. If you’re anything like me, you know it’s coming and you prepare yourself. Only, when it becomes my turn, one of two things happen: I completely blank out and suddenly cannot remember anything besides my name, or the only fact about myself is a fault of mine. Of course, I don’t want to introduce myself as “Hi, my name is Brooke and I can’t dance to save my life”, but that’s usually the only thing that comes to mind. I want people to know who I am, my identity as a person, but I find myself struggling to communicate it with those around me, choosing to highlight my weaknesses instead of my strengths.

How often does this happen in high school? We become so wrapped up in our shortcomings and failures that they become the only things we can think of. How many times have you or I made myself sick over doing not as well as we would’ve liked on one test? It becomes the most important thing in our life and can define our day, week, or even year. We’ll even use these faults as a defense mechanism against compliments. I cannot even count how many times I have heard students, myself included, receive the compliment “you’re such a good student!” and then immediately shut it down with “no, I’m bad at math/science/Spanish/history”. It’s as if we completely forget all of the other parts of who we are: our talents, interests, hopes, dreams, and relationships. We fall into a trap of letting our imperfections become a part of who we are and discard every wonderful thing about ourselves because we are so caught up in the ways in which we are different.

In spite of it all, there is an essential truth to our identity. As we struggle to define ourselves because of the things we do and the way we act, we are missing the most important part of who we are: beloved daughters of God. In the first reading today, the author lists the qualities of an ideal wife, but also an ideal woman in general. She is described as someone who “brings good”, “works with loving hands”, and “extends her arms to the needy.” She is, by definition, an image of Christ to those around her. These may seem like lofty goals, but when we truly stop and think about it, are we not already shaping ourselves into these women today? We bring good to our loved ones daily through our loving friendships at school, our relationships with our parents, and our mentoring of younger girls, both in our school and our community. I would argue that of these three important requirements, the one we definitely are mastering this year is work. We work with loving hands when we are conscious and respectful students, recognizing how blessed we are to live the way we do, attend school, and use our knowledge as motivation to work for the betterment of others. We extend our arms out to the needy in every capacity of society, with our service to the poor, sick, hungry, lonely, and vulnerable through our school, church, and other organizations. In other words, we are, in theory, very close to becoming these ideal women.

So what is it then that is holding us back? We work to become these ideal women every day, yet there is a persistent doubt that nags at us and tells us we will never match the example set for us. Our self-made identity does not only affect our success in this school; it affects our success in the world. We spend our time creating a mold of what we think the successful, Godly woman is. But what happens when we don’t fit into this mold? We are, after all, only humans, tasked with a divine goal.

Our grade doesn’t fit a mold. This is the beautiful thing about the Mount juniors I am able to witness every day. I have never experienced the wonder of people so very unique yet so united more than I do when I am with my classmates. I love that I am able to sit in a class and have women of every interest, background, belief, and appearance surrounding me, inspiring me with their authenticity. This is at the root of becoming ideal daughters of Christ and living out our mission in this world. God wants you to be who He created you to be: tall or short, scholar or jokester, athlete or performer, quiet or outgoing. You were not created to be like the girl who sits in front of you in history class, your sister, or your best friend. God set you apart, not out of malice, but out of great love. He has great things planned that only you can bring about. You are essential to His mission.

St. Therese of Lisieux was a French Carmelite nun in the late 1800s. She lived amongst her religious order for most of her life, never left France, and died at age 24. She was, by her day’s standards, unremarkable. Today, she is honored as a Doctor of the Church, celebrated for her writing, and remains a favorite patron saint of Catholics. This is what she wrote about God’s creation of individuals.

“I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet, or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord’s living garden.”

Despite living a quiet life and never accomplishing many of our society’s markers of success, Therese was content with the life and attributes God had given her. She was, by her own and any observer’s perception, the “little flower” she speaks of. Her words are a call to us to be content with who we are and share our individual beauty with the world. If we were all identical, the world would be stagnant; there would be no vehicle of change and no reason for it. No one sitting here has the same gifts or is called to the same mission, just as a daisy does not occupy the same space in a garden as a rose or lily.  But in the grand landscape of God’s kingdom, that little flower, that soul created in the image and likeness of God, is called to greatness in a way which only they know.

Last fall, while on a retreat with other New Jersey parishes, I was talking to a girl my age. She has been attending her town’s public schools her whole life and asked me what my school was like. When I told her it was an all-girls school, her eyes widened. “I could never go to an all-girls school,” she told me. “Girls are too mean. There must be so much drama.” That really hurt me, not because of what this girl said, but because that’s exactly the way teenage girls are portrayed in society: catty, frivolous, and fiercely competitive. That has not been my experience with the women that sit before me, because I believe we are all conscious of the truth: there is room for all of us. We know that each girl has her her own place in this school, in the community, and in the world. We are able to celebrate our differences and use the ways they complement each others’ to become an unstoppable force, something that would never be as powerful if each of us shared the same niche.

God does not create us to be the same, or to do the same work. However, He creates us to spread the same truth: that we are His beloved children, saved by the sacrifice of Christ, and chosen to live as His messengers in this hurting world. St. Paul says in the second reading that we are “children of the light”. When we live as we are called to, giving of ourselves to bring about God’s kingdom on Earth, we radiate the light of Christ that saved us and extend this saving grace towards others. When we live as women of the Lord, loving, compassionate, hardworking, wise, and truthful, we realize our own purpose and impact the world in a way unique and necessary to the mission Christ left for us.

As we continue to journey through high school together, fast-approaching a college process that measures us by each other’s successes and our entrance into a world that works to pit us against each other, we must cling to this identity. Every woman that sits before me is strong, equipped, and purposefully shaped for the calling God has for her. Recognize this truth and it changes everything: the way we act, the way we determine our own self worth, the mission we make out of our lives. None of us will follow the same pathway, but we will always remain united from the experiences we have shared as a family, the love we have for each individual soul, and our shared calling to greatness. Together, we are remarkable examples of God’s beauty and mastery. To borrow an idea from St. Therese, we are a living and breathing force of goodness within the world, a garden of individuality and strength anchored in the soil of faith. We are no longer seeds in need of light; we are the light, united to shine upon the world that awaits us.

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Read Brooke Ramos’s Junior Ring Speech