Better Man Blog
From becoming to being while at Vancouver College.
The purpose of this blog is to share inspirational stories that demonstrate how our students at Vancouver College are already exceeding our stated goal of ‘becoming better men’. In fact, as the narratives here illustrate, they are already well capable of being amazing people during their school years. This is not to say that they, like all of us, don’t occasionally fail to reach that ideal exemplified by Blessed Edmund Rice in their daily actions, but rather that they can already use their many talents for the betterment of society today. This is especially relevant in 2018, as society increasingly challenges old stereotypes of masculinity, and asks what young men in particular have to offer our troubled world as they mature into adulthood.
If you have a story you would like to share for the Better Man Blog, please email Mr. Daryl Weaver at firstname.lastname@example.org .
- The Power of Connection - December 2018
- It's a Journey - October 2018
- Opening Doors - September 2018
- The Graduation Edition - May 2018
- The Brownsville Edition - April 2018
- Starting Young - March 2018
- What Motivates You? - February 2018
- Christmas Stories - January 2018
‘What do you want for Christmas? How about a book?’
‘I just got a new one about Goldilocks - can I read it to you? Once...upon...a...time…'
So went the FaceTime interchange I witnessed between Brendan, a Grade 12 lad, and a Grade 2 student in the south Bronx, the poorest congressional district in the United States. This young reader attends St Ann’s school, and the oldest Christian Brothers’ school in North America, All Hallows, is nearby. In early March 2019, twenty-four of us will be lucky enough to visit both schools in person, but the groundwork and connections are already being made through technology. And it is ultimately the long-term relationships and mutual understanding created by such interactions that will make these connections most impactful.
Brendan & Jonathan FaceTime with Grade 2 students (while Darren does his math homework!)
This is all part of the next step in the evolution of our service and outreach program. Geographically, the program is expanding: our second visit to Peru also happens in March, we are planning to return to Brownsville next November, and the possibilities of a South African partnership are exciting. More substantially, though, we are providing the opportunities for our boys to go deeper. Many still hold the noble notion of outreach as simply a chance for us privileged folks to provide material or service to those less fortunate - and, of course, there is an imperative for us to do just that. However, at the heart of our Irish values is the Essential Element that calls us to ‘stand in solidarity with the marginalized’, those at the edges of our own local and global society. This demands us to go further, to walk in their shoes, to advocate on their behalf, and to actively campaign in the long-standing Catholic tradition of social justice, for equity for all.
This is indeed an ambitious goal, and realistically may be one we do not completely achieve in any of our lifetimes. However, the first step is for us to recognize the Christ in the other, to break down those walls between us, to realize how similar we are, to make those human connections.
Our entire staff and Senior School student body were blessed to be visited by Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, in late November. He is a Jesuit priest working in the roughest areas of inner city Los Angeles, and has been internationally recognized for his hugely successful gang rehabilitation programs. While here, he inspired our boys to go beyond the superficial charity sometimes inherent in collecting their thirty hours of annual service work. Speaking from decades of his own raw experiences with ‘homeboys’ and ‘homegirls’, he credited any success he has had (and his programs have helped re-integrate more gang member than any other organization worldwide!) to his insistence on meeting each of them as the person they are, gifts from God, fellow human beings with the same talents and foibles as any of us...but complicated by terrible burdens and backgrounds we don’t have. They have endured far more, and overcome obstacles we cannot imagine. As a result, they often teach us more than we can offer them. Father Greg related that he was interviewed on NPR recently and asked how many gang members he has brought to Christ: his response was: ‘None; instead, they have each brought Christ to me’.
Father Greg Boyle poses with Mr. Taggart, who sports a ‘Just Us’ Homeboy Industries t-shirt
So our boys are now being challenged to make those human connections in their daily lives, be it at the Door Is Open or Bumpin Bakery on the downtown eastside, or at our various Edmund Rice Christian Brother communities worldwide. The opportunity to start to comprehend the value of these relationships now will lead them to richer lives, fuller understandings of complex social issues, and ultimately a better world for all. With much thanks to Mr. Chris Seppelt for setting it up this year, the Bronx connection is just one of those many opportunities our current and future boys will have to understand one of the mottos of Homeboy Industries, ‘Not we and them - just us!’
Poster in Mr. Seppelt’s classroom challenging us to pursue the power of connection.
‘Jesus loves us! Jesus loves us!’
We always cringe a little bit when we hear our boys use this or similar chants that are on the edge of being inappropriate at least, or exclusionary and irreverent at worst, but they seem to pop up every time we compete against our rivals at St. George’s in any event. This October, we are in the midst of another intense encounter with our secular friends across town, in the annual two-game soccer series. The combination of history, with its bitter legends and overblown stories, plus the current over-familiarity between individuals in a game that will decide who goes to the playoffs, can bring out the worst in our boys. As I talk to individual players (and even some adults) , I am troubled by how fixed they are on the ‘us versus them’ mentality. So it was after Game 1, that I was impressed by two real men who stepped up in the face of this trend. One was head coach, Ryan Shams, who immediately pulled the whole group together after the fairly heated and chippy game, and called them out on their own inappropriate language, at a time when I’m sure many of them were expecting praise for a sweet victory. The other was team captain, Kelly O’Brien, who reacted immediately to the final whistle by calling the team together to give three cheers to the Saints’ boys, thus preventing any victorious preening by our boys. As his coach commented, instinctive actions such as these are why Kelly is a natural leader in our community.
Yet Kelly is not atypical of his peers. It is becoming increasingly evident to me that our senior class this year has already evolved into Better Men. Two more examples of this happened this week. First, many of them voluntarily participated in the Thanksgiving meal organized cooperatively by Mr. Seppelt and Ms Redden at the Door Is Open past weekend. While the hours of preparation and the serving of a delicious meal to the local inhabitants of the downtown Eastside was significant, what was more impressive was how our boys took that next step, sitting, talking, and eating with the people they served.
Tyler connects with a local at the Bumpin Bakery/Door is Open Thanksgiving feast last weekend
These boys have deconstructed that notion of ‘us versus them’ by making themselves vulnerable, reaching out, and getting to know these people as individuals, each with their own stories, rather than viewing them as a perennially problemed, homogeneous community. Mr. Seppelt is guiding more of this sort of paradigm shift by connecting our boys through Skype with elementary children in the South Bronx. While they are a vulnerable population very prone to dropping out of school in their impoverished, crime-ridden neighbourhood, it is the power of human story that will open our boys’ eyes to true understanding and genuine empathy with this marginalized community.
Finally, I finished up my week on Encounter retreat with many Grade 12s. While I cannot reveal the stories and ceremonies that fall under the cloak of confidentiality at this transformational event, I was blown away by how many of the boys spoke of the word ‘love’ in the context of their relationships not just with their families, but with each other as well. It is so refreshing to see them break down the stereotypes of ‘bro culture’ and take off the masks society imposes on them.
So, in a week in which we celebrated the official opening of our new building by having a boy from each year from Kindergarten through Grade 12 represent their peers, I am left to reflect on the journey each boy undergoes as he goes through his time at Vancouver College. Certainly, there are bumps, and the path is rarely straight up. In the pressure of the moment or heat of competition, mistakes are made and wrongs are committed. But I also see an increasing number of inspirational occurrences that convince me that there is truly something special happening at our school. Our boys are showing that they can and will do the right thing, that they understand and empathize with the marginalized who they see as their brothers and sisters, and that they absorb and learn from all their experiences to truly become Better Men before they walk out our doors.
- Daryl Weaver, Assistant Principal, Senior School
‘Where are you boys from?’
‘How come you’re here today?’
‘We’re trying to help out...it’s just part of what we do.’
Like it is for a parent, nothing makes a principal or a teacher happier than hearing spontaneously from someone outside the community about the exemplary behaviour of our boys - not so much when they win a competition or excel in academics, though of course those victories have their own sweetness, but when they exhibit the goodness that we know is in their hearts.
Early into this school year, I have already had a couple of opportunities to be the recipient of such tidings. One occurred on the second weekend of the school year, when I was lucky enough to accompany a group of fifteen of our lads to the Door Is Open, a non-profit on the Downtown Eastside that serves meals to those in need. While our own Brother Gattone has taken several groups of Grade 12s down there over the past years, this was the beginning of a new monthly initiative organized by a new-to-us-but-highly experienced teacher, Chris Seppelt. He admitted to me he was nervous beforehand, as although he has taken student groups down there for years, they were often female-dominated from his previous co-ed school. He wondered frankly if boys of a certain age would be ready and able to show empathy and openness at the same level. The morning consisted of a few hours of food preparation, a truly communal mass at Sacred Heart Church, and then the serving of lunch at the Door Is Open. We wrapped up in the early afternoon with a reflection session in which each participant shared their observations of the experience. Afterward, Mr. Seppelt told me he was blown away: not only did our boys openly reach out to the people they served, treating them with dignity and warmth, they were able to dig deeply into the underlying causes of such injustice in the debrief session. What encourages us most of all is that this is only the beginning of this venture: how much deeper and further can our boys go on this journey of social justice? I know many of them will return in October and each month to serve at the Door Is Open, while some are planning to travel to the Bronx next March as part of our international outreach program.
Later in September, I helped chaperone our Grade 10s as they volunteered at local Catholic elementary schools as part of their annual retreat, which comprises of a day of spiritual inspiration and reflection led by Mrs. Wicken, and a day of community service. I supervised a groups of boys at St. Patrick’s in Vancouver and St. Joseph the Worker in Richmond. ‘Supervise’ turned out to be somewhat strong of a term: as soon as our boys had the opportunity to interact with the younger elementary students, they rose to the occasion with aplomb.
Aidan B, Jedson H., & Marcus L. teach ukulele class to St Patrick’s Elementary students.Their task was to split up and act as teacher assistants in each of the elementary classrooms, and to show initiative in helping in any way necessary. Needless to say, the younger kids looked up to them with stars in their eyes, as several were alumni of the schools we visited. It was also awesome to see boys that do not always shine in our classrooms at VC rise to the occasion in helping out their youngers. But what impressed me most of all was the feedback from the teachers and principals at both locations. Again, they were blown away by the diligence, respectfulness, helpful nature, and over character of our boys. One related how they were just touched by their goodness, be it in including all students in an activity or simply holding the door open for another.
Duke W. & Oscar O. paint a bookshelf for Grade 1 at St. Joseph the Worker Elementary as part of Grade 10 Outreach 2018.So the school year begins, new doors open, and our boys will find even more opportunities to become the better men they were meant to be. I look forward to bearing witness to this process, a pursuit of true excellence of character, this year.
- Daryl Weaver, Assistant Principal, Senior School
Last Sunday before mass, I met a lady who asked me where I worked. When I said Vancouver College, she became very animated and told me both her sons had graduated from VC a decade ago and how much influence it had on their lives. ‘Grade twelve was such a special year for both them’ she said. ’It was when everything that had happened to them there really made sense.’
Reflecting on her words during this graduation season, I realized I had heard echoes of them several times over the last year, and though they are generally true, I feel that this year’s senior class have embodied this notion to a greater degree than many. During last week’s Graduation Celebration, I shared with their parents some of their special accomplishments. As usual, several already know they are off to play sports at the collegiate or university level in football, lacrosse, basketball or hockey, thanks to the accolades and scholarships they’ve earned while being supported by brilliant coaches and devoted parents for years. We are also in the midst of collecting information about the likely millions of dollars in academic scholarships these boys have garnered while heading off to engineering, business, art schools, fashion design, science and humanities programs at post-secondary schools of their choice. I have witnessed their artistic, dramatic, and musical talent this year at various concerts, Arts Week, during Romeo & Juliet, and even in Disneyland.
Senior concert band performs at the Canadian Anaheim Music Festival in Disneyland
Most impressively, however, they have embraced the challenge we’ve given them to make a difference in the world now, while at Vancouver College. Some of these efforts have been minor, even mundane, whilst others have been more obvious and flamboyant. In the latter category, the Class of 2018 will be remembered as the boys who ‘brought back the dance’, as they presented a sophisticated proposal for hosting a school ‘spring fling’ for the Grade 12s and their dates. I was pleased but not surprised to see that they followed through on promises of classy behaviour and top-notch style! This will also be the graduating class forever known for the resurrection of VC Hockey, staging an electric two-game series with rival St. George’s. While the energy of the fans and the classiness of our players stood out, my favourite moment was when both teams spontaneously embraced in the spirit of sportsmanship.
VC-Saints Hockey Series ends in brotherly embrace despite bitter scoreboard result
Finally, the intellectual highlight of the year was the first-ever TEDx Vancouver College, beautifully student-run and organized by Timothy Nguyen and his team. An opportunity to be inspired by so many innovators and entertainers inside and outside our community.
‘Endeavour’ was the inspirational theme for TEDxVC
But these grandiose gestures are not stand-alone; every day, I witness acts of kindness, generosity, or character that are simply typical of what being a better man is all about...and it can be harder to follow through in these minor ways on a consistent basis! One incident last week that stands out occured when I was touring the halls and found several of the seniors out of class. Somewhat suspicious, I challenged them on what they were up to, only to find out that they were headed to the primary classrooms to read stories to boys as young as kindergarten. No simple entertainment, here, though; these lads were using the power of narrative to convey one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to their junior audiences, and were reinforcing the stories with small group discussions about how these gifts can come alive in everyday life.
Ethan, Ryan, Cam, Ruben, & Matthew share their stories & life lessons with their Elementary brothers
Perhaps more than any other achievement it is this legacy that the Class of 2018 will leave behind: creating positive role models for their younger counterparts here, impressions that I know will linger far after the cheers have gone quiet and awards have gathered dust. We will miss this group of gentlemen, but look forward to future years of excellence in all things, but most especially, in character.
- Daryl Weaver, Assistant Principal, Senior School
The US border agent frowned.
‘Brownsville? Are you sure? You really don’t wanna go there…’
But we did: fourteen of us representing the VC community on our annual spring break outreach trip, connecting for the first time with Guadalupe Regional Middle School, an Edmund Rice Christian Brothers school located on the very tip of Texas. What we faced, though - and what the customs official was referring to - was the hot-button issue of immigration, as Brownsville sits on the Rio Grande, right across from Matamoros, a much larger city with a high crime rate. The Brownsville border itself is a conduit for refugees seeking asylum in the US from mainly Central American countries.
Over the next eight days, while their peers slept in, lay on beaches, or generally relaxed, our boys painted and cleaned out storage sheds, tended community gardens, cooked and served meals, and distributed clothing, all in aid of refugees and other ‘undocumented’ immigrants. However, although there was a plethora of physical tasks, the most impactful experiences for our boys occurred when they interacted directly with these marginalized people. The two most intense opportunities for these were at Sacred Shelter in McAllen, Texas, and at La Posada Providencia in nearby San Benito. At Sacred Heart, our boys welcomed asylum seekers arriving from several harrowing weeks or months of living in fear and harassment on the road. They fed, clothed, and provided showers for folks from newborn to middle age, but most importantly, treated these beaten down people with dignity, playing with the children and sharing a welcoming smile or simple Spanish phrase with the older ones. At La Posada, the boys spent the day teaching English on a one-on-one basis. Here, again, the simple task of practicing the alphabet quickly turned into witnessing astounding personal stories of hardship for these longer-term refugees from as diverse cultures as the Congo, Cuba, and the Ukraine.
What impressed me most of all on this trip was not how hard our boys worked or how open their hearts were to these downtrodden (though both of these were highly impressive as well!), but how they struggled deeply with the shocking realities they were facing. The long and intense work days inevitably turned into deep and involved discussions that often lasted until midnight. I watched as our boys grappled with the complex issues of immigration after having witnessed the personal and tragic stories of the victims caught in an unjust system exacerbated by political gamesmanship. Their global outlook went from ignorance to oversimplification to genuine empathy and outright rage over the course of a few days of action and reflection. They found it difficult to accept that they could not solve the problems they encountered, but were ultimately empowered in understanding their mission to witness and advocate, truly be the voice for these voiceless as they return to our lives of privilege.
I encourage you to read more about one young man’s experiences in Brownsville and his story of advocacy here. In my mind, these kinds of transformative experiences in the service of others are the true capstones on a VC education. Encourage your sons to get involved early with our relationships with Brownsville and Peru, and look forward to more of these experiences as we connect further with our global Edmund Rice network in the years ahead. The ultimate expression of our Better Man aspirations lies in these opportunities as we equip our boys with the awareness, skills, and faith, to truly make a difference in our world.
The Brownsville 2018 team outside long-term asylum seeker facility La Posada Providencia in San Benito, Texas. The many people we worked with there could not be pictured for fear of identification as their immigration cases are still in limbo.
As I read over the comments our Grade 12 students are submitting to accompany their graduation photos in their final yearbook, I am struck by how many of them reflect on their earlier days here, and how, though they didn’t realize it at the time, it was those experiences that ultimately made them into ‘better men’.
Then I became aware that some of our youngest boys are already doing extraordinary actions that are shaping their character in profound ways. Two young brothers, Blake in Grade 3 and Felix in Grade 1, learned of our Bumpin’ Bakery student-led initiative, which involves preparing baked goods during the school week and delivering them into the hands of the hungry on the Downtown Eastside each Sunday morning. The boys helped with some sandwich preparation, and, accompanied (as required!) by their parents, joined our senior boys on a Sunday delivery in January.
I’ll let their mom and dad describe the boys’ reactions to this initial encounter with our city’s disadvantaged:
The boys were sad - especially Blake. He was sad to see what homelessness looked like. He noticed the dirty hands, and how they were eating with them regardless. It was very humbling. Felix was nervous (at first)....however, he was faithfully helping from the sidelines carrying bags, buying the groceries…
Eventually, after three weeks, Felix grew more comfortable and is now handing out food along with his brother Blake (who you can see in action below!). One of their more powerful experiences was an encounter with a young man around twenty who came up to Blake and Felix and said, "Look after your brother. You guys are best friends, so you have to protect each other." The boys and their parents had a good discussion about what this meant and why the man might have said it.
The power of this experience is not that it occurred in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada. The depth of learning and character formation that we are witnessing here happens because of the potent combination of experiential learning with support and reflection from family and school, all motivated by our Essential Elements that push us to stand in solidarity with the marginalized and the oppressed. As these two lads grow older and eventually leave VC, they will no doubt go out into a world that needs them to do just that...and I won’t be surprised to read about their readiness for that task in their own graduation write-ups for their yearbook!
- Daryl Weaver, Assistant Principal, Senior School
‘Mr. Weaver? Can I make an appointment with you? There’s something really bothering me…’
I consider myself blessed to hear this request dozens of times a week, because it means I might have the opportunity to help one of our fine young men navigate a tricky situation and learn from the experience. However, recently I’ve noticed that a fair proportion of these requests actually have less to do with the self and more to do with others and the greater good.
Two recent examples come to mind. One concerns Michael, a Grade 12 student, who has always been motivated to make a difference through his own efforts. Last year, that drive was for resurrecting the tradition of hockey at VC, a longtime dream that is close to realization this spring with a St. George’s-VC hockey series in the works. But this year, Michael’s motivation went a little deeper. Perhaps originally pushed by the student requirement for service hours, he has long served in the migrant outreach ministry for mainly Latin American farm workers in Ladner, serving meals for them through our Sacred Heart Parish. He realized, however, that he wanted to do more, and met me last fall about trying to organize a warm clothing drive through VC. With all of our many outreach partnerships, it was difficult to see how we could sustainably add another. However, Mrs. Vernier, our Outreach Coordinator, saw a connection between Michael’s stand in solidarity with the marginalized migrants here and our planned service trip to immigrants between the U.S. and Mexico in Brownsville, Texas, in March 2018. She invited Michael to share his story with the Brownsville team, and work with them to plan a shared fundraiser. Ultimately, Michael was successful in collecting funds to buy new (not used) clothing for the farm workers. And he has repurposed his hockey series idea so that it is now a fundraiser for our partner Christian Brothers school in Brownsville.
A second instance occurred this week. Two senior students met with me about a former member of our support staff that they had learned had been going through some difficult times, including family illness that was putting a financial strain on his family. They weren’t sure what to do, but they felt strongly that they wanted to do something. At the moment, they are working through how to do so meaningfully, being sure to meet his real needs in a sustainable way rather than simply doing a one-off event that may just make them feel better but accomplish little long-term. Regardless of how this works out, I am inspired again by their motivation; they are looking outwards instead of inwards, and deeply exploring what it means when we say that we ‘stand in solidarity with those marginalized by poverty and injustice’.
I look forward to more conversations that reflect this deeper, selfless motivation. Be sure to share your own stories of how our boys continue to be Better Men.
‘Snow day! Snow day!’
While an afternoon off classes may have been a highlight for some of the boys during our last week of school in 2017, many others inspired me by getting being the superficial feel-good moments of the impending holidays and realizing the deeper meaning of sharing gifts at Christmas:
- The Giving Tree - The Pro-Life Club, the Edmundians, and the Student Council all worked together to make our annual Giving Tree more effective and meaningful this year, part of a school-wide plan to help the whole community shift to the countercultural concept of giving versus receiving. We worried that the community might be in ‘donor fatigue’ with all of the focus on the new building fund, especially the recently completed Walkathon drive. Our fears proved unfounded as each elementary class, middle school homeroom, and senior school advisory chose an item to collect for either our upcoming service-learning trip to Brownsville or the Missionary Sisters of Charity who work on the downtown eastside.
I was fortunate enough to be able to deliver the clothing and supplies to the latter on one of the last days of school, and witnessed the gratitude and humour of these sisters as they received our donations. Looking forward to seeing our boys do the same when they embark on their mission trip to Brownsville and our brother school, Guadalupe Middle School, in mid-March.
- Thinking of Their Brother - With classes going into late December, staff and students alike were certainly ready for the Break and looking forward to spending time at home with their families. But one of our Grade 11 students did not get to spend his Christmas at home, as he is still undergoing treatment at BC Children’s Hospital. Teachers, support staff, and students have been keeping this brave lad in their prayers, but some of his VC brothers wanted to ensure that he knew they were thinking of him. Mrs. Redden helped the boys create a giant card, and Mr. Vass, his advisor, shared it with his classmates in the High Performance Centre. It was heartwarming to see the boy’s face light up when he received the card, but more impressive to me is the empathy our boys showed in wanting to reach out to him and respect his privacy at the same time.
- A Bumpin’ Christmas Eve - Further proof of the depths of their empathy came my way via Twitter on Christmas Eve. While most of us were starting to feast, a contingent of students, alumni, and staff spent their Christmas Eve morning serving coffee and nourishment on the downtown eastside.
Bumpin’ Bakery continues to blow me away, not just because these dedicated young people have never missed a Sunday (regardless of whether it’s summer, spring break, or Christmas), but because this is a student-driven initiative. The presence of alumni in particular shows that these young men understand the power of going beyond charity and connecting personally with the marginalized in our society.
Clearly, our young men at Vancouver College truly understand the power of the real spirit of Christmas. Please share these stories of their character, and, even better, send me any examples you encounter of the proof that they are already becoming Better Men.
- Daryl Weaver, Assistant Principal, Senior School