Irish Ink


April 29, 2016
By George Valadie

          I can name so many of them - "Fire and Rain," "You've Got a Friend," "Carolina in my Mind," "Sweet Baby James," and on and on and on.

          James Taylor has always been one of our favorite singers / songwriters / guitarists for sure. We grew up with his albums, that became his eight-tracks, that became his cassettes, that became his CDs that became our playlists.

          He was my past, still is my now and if I have my way, his music will be prominent at whatever gathering my wife puts together when I'm gone.

          On a cold Saturday this past January, Nancy and I dug into our savings and spent the money to purchase two tickets to see him in a McKenzie Arena concert this past Saturday night. It was especially cold for those of us who actually stood in line that morning. (You’re welcome, honey!)

          But it was worth every penny. Heck, I'd have paid twice that price.

          And four times that much to kill the people who sat behind us.

          Not bothered by a warm-up band and lucky enough to have incredible seats, his first three songs had us right where we wanted to be. Reliving our youth of the 70s.

          And then they arrived.

          Two couples, the age of our own adult children, who WOULD NOT shut up. They talked about the songs, the singer and his band. They talked about their kids, their dinner and where they'd be going for summer vacation. The husbands talked to the wives, the wives talked to each other. They clapped too long for his songs and laughed too loud at his one-liners. I'm guessing they'd had too much, but I don't want to accuse them of that too.

          When my wife turned around and asked them to be quiet, they legitimately seemed caught off guard, surprised, with that taken-back look that said, "I had no idea we were bothering anyone." When they sheepishly whispered a small "Sorry!," we thought we were home free.

          And we were ... for the rest of that song.

          If I tried to sugar-coat their behavior, I'd still have to say they were rude. No awareness of where they were or the people around them and worse, no manners after she pointed it out.

          We're blessed at Notre Dame with so many families who still teach - and expect - that their youngsters be polite. That they have manners.

          But not all have learned it yet. Our kids are awesome with their "Yes, ma'ams," and "No, ma'ams." But I've heard a few get on the phone and ask a parent, "Will you come get me?"

          If I happen to walk by, I make them add, "Please." And then I tell those few, "if I were your dad, I'd tell you yes, and then leave you here."

          If you ask them to run an errand, they're glad to do it. Many hold the door for whoever's next but some have no sense that there is a next. The students do a super job at dumping their trash after lunch but through the years more than one has said, "What would the janitorial staff have to do if we didn't leave our trash?!"

          I'll take odds that over 90% will walk past a candy wrapper on the floor since they "didn't put it there."

          And just like all the patrons at the concert, some know when gabbing is appropriate but some have no idea. Be it in class, at Mass, at concerts, in my office.

          Let me say this with my wholehearted appreciation - THANK YOU to all who work so hard and demand so much. Some have suggested that we teach a class in manners and honestly, it's not like I haven't considered it. But for the most part, your dollars are better spent on Physics and Math, theorems and grammar.

          They're not all scholars and they're not all athletes ... They're not all musicians and none are adults.

          But all can be polite. It will carry them so very far.



April 13, 2016
By George Valadie

            It’s “prom season!”

            Ours is this Saturday, April 16th. The dresses have been bought, the tuxes rented (most of them) and if I know teenagers, the dinner plans are likely still in flux.

            For some, it will be a blast … for others, it might be forever remembered as one of the worst date nights of their high school career. We hope not, but I’ve been to enough to know how it goes.

            Nancy and I will be there attending what will officially be our 39th Junior-Senior Prom. Public kudos to one of our staff members, Cleo Gravitt, who has worked so hard to make it happen. And to our faculty members who will join her in chaperoning. They make it happen for the students.

            I told the kids today that officially my prom always concludes at noon the next day. If I can make it that far without receiving any bad news phone calls, then I finally get to exhale. I imagine the same is true for a lot of our parents who give permission for their own child to spend the night out.

            Worrying about the obvious, we invited a guest speaker for a morning assembly yesterday. Co-founder of the local 1-N-3 organization, she and one of her sons have set out to battle the horrible effects of drinking and driving.

            Her other son … he was killed by it.

            They named this organization – one that informs, motivates and encourages smart choices – because at that time one in every three persons was impacted by drunk driving. Today, that number is higher.

            It’s heart-wrenching to hear a mom re-tell the painful memories of that night. The injuries incurred, the organs donated and worst of all – the decisions that must follow anytime the final details must be finally made.

            As her story continued, she got to the miraculous part, at least in my mind. She often shares the stage with another mom -  the one who killed her son while driving drunk. A normally responsible woman, she had fun at a party and a little too much, climbed in her jeep and forever impacted the world around her.

            But today, that same mom is out of prison because another mom forgave her. And then asked the parole board to please send her home. I’m not sure if I could have done that. Basically bound to her house for the next several years, and probation for long after that, she’s not free by any means, but she’s not inside some hellhole either.

            She’s allowed to get outside though when she speaks publicly. More often than not, these two women – both mothers - stand on the same stage and tell the same story from two drastically different points of view. One lost a son, one took him. One has forgiven the other; one can’t forgive herself.

            Who among us could do either?

            I looked out over our auditorium of 400+ teenagers and wondered how many were hearing her message. Oh believe me, they were all listening. You could have heard a pin drop. But how many were hearing.

            We know it happens. How many will choose to drive the same way? How many will choose to ride with a friend who does? How many will speak up? How many might someday have to tell the same sort of story?

            There they were - an auditorium full of undeveloped pre-frontal cortexes being reminded that choices do have consequences.

            We’ll keep trying. 

Looking Back With Clarity

March 10, 2016
By George Valadie

          We had just one to go. One child left at home. One college left to hear from.

          It was exactly this time of year and Sarah, our youngest, was playing the waiting game, just like so many of our seniors here are now doing. I remember it like it was yesterday.

          She had applied to five colleges. She’d heard from four and was anxiously waiting on the fifth. The last envelope – be it thick or thin - was due to hit our mailbox and she asked about it every day. 

          Though the first four had all been good news and any of them would have provided her an incredible education, it was the last that held her heart.

          And I was fearful it was this last one that might break it.

          As the big day got ever closer, we’d been dabbling in little bits and pieces of parent-child conversation. “Are you excited? Will you go if they say yes? (Can we afford it if they say yes?) And the hard ones – how will you feel if they say no? Are you prepared for that?”

          She said all the right things. Yes, she’d be disappointed, but no, it wouldn’t kill her.

          And Mom and Dad tried to say all the right things too. “You’ve got to believe that all things work out for the best.”

          Isn’t that what we parents are supposed to say? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to instill and maybe even actually believe?

          But it was some ten years before that, when I had been waiting to hear from my own special place.

          I had already worked at that school for some fifteen years. I had been a teacher, a club sponsor, an alumni director and an assistant principal. I really wanted to be its principal.

          As circumstances developed, I became one of three finalists. And her “waiting game” was mine.

          The news finally arrived – no letter in the mail though, it was a Sunday night phone call instead.

          The then Bishop called me at our home on a Sunday night to tell me the bad news himself. He was really polite. But he was really direct. And it really hurt.

          And though my face and voice said otherwise, I was trying to convince my wife and my children that everything would work out for the best.

          I’m not sure I believed it, but I was saying it.

          Lucky for me, he made the decision that he did. Years removed from all of that, I’ve long been able to look back with clarity. And the man really did make the right decision. All things considered, I probably wouldn’t have hired me either.

          From there, we moved out of state where Nancy and I made some of the best friends we’ll ever have. And our daughters, though we don’t live there anymore, met their best and dearest friends too.

          And things really did work out for the best. In every way. A circuitous route for sure, not the one I would have preferred, but one I’ve come to love. 

          But does it always happen that way? Really? Is it true that one college or one job is indeed as good as another? Will they love college no matter what or where? Will things work out for the best like we were telling her they would?

          I think so now. I thought so then.

          But these are the sorts of things when I truly don’t know if God is at work. Or if he really cares where kids go to school. Or which jobs we get. Or is it that He simply says, “No, not this time.”

          I don’t like it when teams pray for victory and I don’t think it’s right when students pray for good grades. These are human issues with human solutions.

          I want to believe that my God is working on peace and health and the people who lack the wherewithal to take care of themselves.

          Sarah really wanted it. We wanted it for her. And we want it for these kids too. And though her dream did not come through, good things have indeed happened for her. And similarly, good things have happened to us.

          And I save God for when we might really need Him. And we have and we will.


February 09, 2016
By George Valadie

          Some days, I’m popular … some days, not so much!

          I love the creativity of some of our kids as this tweet made its way around the internet this morning. I told her how much I loved it. Another student swore he’d come to our house and get whatever milk or bread we needed from the store if I’d call school off. A third offered me a $10 bill to pull the plug as we stared out the window at the blowing flurries. I joked with him that I wasn’t above being bribed but if I was going to lose my job over something, I’d need a lot more than $10.

          What a morning! No one loves a snow day more than I do – no one! When my 5:00 alarm called, I was hoping (praying might be a better word) that I’d see several inches in my yard and on my street. But that’s not what happened.

          And then begins the decision-making that no principal likes. Is anybody closed? Why are they closed? Is it applicable to us? What’s the forecast? Short term? Long term?

          As you know we opted for a two-hour delay which I already know before I do something like that it will be a real pain for some families. That’s never fun. And once we announce that, what’s going to happen during those two hours? Will it get better? Or what if it gets worse? I can’t even imagine the frustration of the parent who just drops their child off and then has to turn around.

          But weather happens and it changes and I’m not any good at predicting either.

          Life isn’t the same as when I was growing up. No one ever called off school the night before. And no one ever called off school because of the ‘threat’ of bad weather. I don’t recall but I don’t think television had the technology to run an ever-changing ticker across the bottom of the screen. So many more moms worked in the home then so it didn’t really matter to them either way. And a lot more families lived near grandparents who could pitch in if needed.

          Also, not as many families enjoyed the luxury of an extra car for their teen to drive. And there weren’t nearly as many drivers on the road that made us worry. And people didn’t sue people as much.

          No, life is definitely not the same.  And that’s all before you throw in a parking lot full of undeveloped pre-frontal cortexes.

          For our parents, knowing tomorrow’s schedule the night before would really come in handy and no one understands that more than I. But then the “night before” proves to be just like last night – nothing.

          Which makes our decisions that much more critical as we try to balance safety and school without the benefit of any Solomon-type wisdom!

          Once we got here, I spoke with six different schools to gather their wisdom – and the only thing we have in common is a fear of making the sort of wrong decision that scares us to our souls.

          I appreciate your patience. If God hears prayers about our weather, please do ask for whatever side of the coin you’re on …. just ask that He answer quickly.



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May 06, 2014
By George Valadie

Senior Transition Day – 2014!

            We hosted that now traditional occasion last Friday for our outgoing seniors. For the “huh?-what-is-that?” among our readers, it is a day (half of a day really) without any academic classes when they arrive adorned in t-shirts and sweatshirts (and overalls) of the college of their choice. (Or the college that chose them.)

          Our hope is always to provide a variety of activities  that allow us to talk / preach / teach / coach / inspire / forewarn / pump up / you-name-it. With the hopes of  helping each of them reflect backward before they go and look forward to when they do.

            Technology advancing as it does, we even incorporated some of that, too. Rather than burying a “time capsule,” we recorded them on video and will keep it private and well-cared for until they return for the world premiere at their 10-year reunion – in whatever format or shape it may look like by then.

            Back in the day – way, way back in the day – we didn’t have such an event for our class. It was more like what you probably remember when teachers just threatened us with, “You just wait and see, college is going to be so different and so much harder and so much more … ” Somedays they said that to help us, and somedays they said it with a demonic smile on their face. Now that I do what they did, I understand both.

            Regardless, most all of us (and all of these kids too) walked out the door both excited but with a touch of trepidation as we headed off to what we could not possibly know. I just recall wondering if I had what it took to cut it at the next level.

            But I’ll be honest, if it weren’t for graduations and the accompanying ceremonies, I’d have quit this job a long time ago. It’s on those days when you get to see change, growth, maturity, appreciation and a glimpse of the person they will become.

            Don’t get me wrong, not all will have acquired those traits in equal doses, some should actually stay and cook for another year. And a few could have left us a year or so ago.

            These many years later, life and experience have taught us how to tackle the “new” that occasionally comes our way. But these kids have little of either, so join us as we pray for all of them and all that awaits.

            Congratulations to the Class of 2014!

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