Vantage Point

Advice From School, Updated

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September is upon us, the kids are heading back to school, and I’ve been thinking. It’s been a long time since I climbed onto a bike or a bus for the ride to class, but is there something I can learn from the traditional advice given to students? After all, with schools and activities starting up again after the summer hiatus, September is a great time for trying a new venture or taking a new approach. In that spirit, I offer my reflections:

Get your school supplies together. What do I need in order to do what needs doing? When I was a student, it meant buying things. Today, it often means discarding. I’m getting rid of what I don’t need and putting the rest—whether it’s books or papers or household items—in order. It’s not easy, but it sure feels good when I can find exactly what I need because it’s where it belongs. It cuts down on wasted time.

Sharpen your pencils. Does everything work? It’s time to mend what’s torn and fix or replace what’s broken, so that everything is ready when I need it.

Get your school clothes ready. I remember going shopping with my mother for an outfit—always something special—to wear on the first day of school, when we weren’t yet wearing our school uniforms. New clothes symbolized a new beginning. As I turn from my lightweight summer clothes to my fall sweaters and cords, I’ll think about letting go of summer and planning new projects. In a deeper sense, packing the summer things away and getting winter clothes ready is a reminder to let go of the past and put all my energy into the present.

Stay current with homework and studying, and you won’t have to worry about tests. If I keep up-to-date with tasks at home, like cleaning and bill-paying, I won’t be in a panic when I have to fit something unexpected into my schedule.

Get involved with extracurricular activities. I’m going to make time to help a neighbor, take a course or visit a town or historical site that I haven’t seen yet.

Believe that you can succeed. Negative thinking leads nowhere.

Don’t let mistakes get you down. They are inevitable. I’m going to learn what my mistakes teach me, and then let them go. I’m also going to pay more attention to what worked.

Take up a sport. I’ll do my best to stay faithful to my new exercise routine.

Keep your crayon box handy. Even as a kid, I loved color. No season is more colorful than fall, and it’s a good time to remember the importance of bringing creativity into our lives through painting, music, writing, dancing, crafts—whatever brings us joy and lets us express our ideas and feelings. It’s also good to make time for a concert, a play, a museum visit, or another activity that brings the arts into our lives.

There is another item, and it stands on its own: The importance of putting faith first in our lives. I was fortunate to attend Catholic schools from kindergarten through high school. My schoolmates and I were taught our faith. We learned about Jesus, Mary and the saints, about the sacraments and the importance of going to Mass and praying on our own. That instruction, and the Catholic identity that it fostered in me, was one of the greatest gifts I received throughout the years of my education.

Today most children and teens attend public schools. So many Catholic parents do a wonderful job of fostering the faith in their children, often battling secularizing influences in our culture that are anti-religious and hard to overcome. I admire those parents deeply. And I will add one item to my list:

Learn and live your Catholic faith. It is the rock on which you stand, and it will prepare your mind and heart for life in ways that no other subject will teach you.

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