High Flight

High Flight

High Flight

"To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to."

This part of the "immortal soliloquy lists mercilessly all the fears generated by the anxieties of existence in this life. Shakespeare probes the fearful issues in " the sea of troubles:" by reminding us of the problems of the human condition, wrestled with sages since the beginning of human thought 200,000 years ago. Hamlet reminds us that poor health, the "Thousand natural shocks," can lead to fear, anxiety depression and despair. We are all touched by this essentially metaphysical quagmire, sooner or later.

Then we come face to face with how to respond to daunting spiritual, physical, emotional and psychological challenges. Our spiritual resolve, tested, must save us, we pray, from too gloomy thoughts and stress instead, the hopeful resolve nurtured in Christian education, the treasure of which is so carefully tended at De La Salle.

Ah! To find such uplift, such light, in the uncertainties of a precarious existence. How happy it is then that we find so close at hand, emanating from the live of our DEL grads, an inspiration to do "good works" within their chosen professions. This is instructive. The number of grads who have so chosen and so declared, in their own words is far above any statistical average, especially in the age of materialism, narcissism and greed. ( Historically such an age is not destined for health and prosperity- hence the value of those who would turn the tide). Nourished at DEL, the emphasis on character, the injunction "leave to serve" and the stress placed on the spiritual dimension of our being, forces one to conclude that the devotion to helping others is no accident. It is the fruit of years of tending to the spirit in the classroom, the chapel, in liturgies throughout the year and in prayer.

If only a few were so inclined it would be gratifying, but to have a "serving" message adopted by our students again and again is truly magnificent. The "good news" of "good works" has been internalized in their character, a blessing to them and to all of us who benefit from their ameliorating work and example. If society is to be saved from the jackals, it will be saved by such citizens. Make no mistake- all schools are not like De La Salle. Most "elite" schools send their grads out to conquer the world, not to serve it. Their recruitment ads are very clear, having no doubt about this. They are not even aware of the issue and consider their ads exactly what the public will respond to.

Our position is different, best illustrated in our students' own words, gleaned from their own summaries of their educational journey. These reports are to be cherished and nourished. The first example is by Alexandra Domingues DEL '13.

"Since graduating from DEL in 2013, I found myself at University of Toronto Mississauga studying Life Science trying to find my passion for my future career. Throughout my 4 years in Mississauga, I continued my love of sports by playing soccer and my passion for community outreach through volunteering with first-year students with some form of disability. It was during my 2nd and 3rd year that I realized becoming a pharmacist was my goal. After volunteering at Mt Sinai in the inpatient and outpatient pharmacies, I realized quickly I wanted to help others by educating them on their prescriptions and hopefully making their ailments a little more tolerable. My continued resolve to travel opened my eyes to the global needs of others and wanting to pursue an advocacy role for my future patients. I am currently completing my first year at UofT in the faculty of Pharmacy with some familiar La Sallian faces surrounding me. I am working towards hopefully becoming a clinical pharmacist and taking on a role for advocating for the less privileged in our health system."

How humane, thoughtful, Christian for Alexandra to declare she intends to "make their ailments a little more tolerable." Imagine if all were of this mind, But all are not.

A second example is Christian Webb DEL '01. He wrote this summary of his education for us. Note again the humanitarian quality in his helpful and hopeful work.

After graduating from Del in 2001, Christian intended to major in philosophy at McGill University. However, his studies of existential philosophy introduced him to existential psychology, in particular the work of Dr. Viktor Frankl. Inspired by Frankl's writings, he spent his first year at McGill working with terminal cancer patients in Palliative Care. He was initially drawn to Palliative Care through learning that its core philosophical underpinnings were in part rooted in Frankl's emphasis on the importance of finding meaning and preserving human dignity in the midst of suffering. Over the next year, he had the privilege of working alongside an interdisciplinary team dedicated to managing the physical, psychosocial and spiritual needs of terminally ill patients and their families. In addition to being inspired by his interactions with the clinical psychologists on the unit, he became fascinated with the diverse ways the patients, as well as their loved ones, coped with end-of-life issues and the dying process. Ultimately, this experience triggered a profound interest in understanding psychological resilience and vulnerability to negative mental health outcomes, in particular depression.

Over the next 4 years, Christian immersed himself in research focused on the causes and prevention of depression in several psychology labs at McGill. He completed his B.A. at McGill in psychology and philosophy, followed by a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Pennsylvania where his research focused on clarifying the underlying causes of depression and improving our treatments for depression. He then completed a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and subsequently accepted a position at Harvard Medical School, where he is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry.

Christian has amassed 35 publications and received 23 awards and fellowships for his work, including early career awards from the American Psychological Association, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation and NIMH. He currently lives in Boston with his wife and son, but continues to support Toronto and Montreal sports teams."

Dr. Victor Frankl's emphasis on the "importance of finding meaning and preserving human dignity in the midst of suffering" can be useful in many local corners of life. We must make something of the life that is in us, while, that life is still in us our DEL graduates are saying, and moreover that our spiritual mettle may be probed along the untrodden path between here and the hereafter. They have declared a noble dedication to an ideal we may all admire.

Obviously, these two examples of shining altruism ( and the are more to come, in good time) illustrate the depth of character formation that De La Salle nourishes, deliberately, as we strive to instill this caring spirit that must enrich society when our graduates go forth. DEL is "punching" above its weight" as it brings out the best in so many. Our success is impressive for so small a school. For the safety and sanity of us all, may it continue.

Stay Tuned.

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