No, it wasn’t athletic achievements, or tough classes, or coronavirus, or stale clichés that this year’s student graduation speakers found inspiration in. Instead, from all the many topics they could have chosen, it was their parents’ parents—including those they had never even met—who provided a story worth sharing with the Saint Ignatius Class of 2021.
“I never met my dad’s dad, but his story has taught me the importance of our Jesuit education in practice,” said Valedictorian Brendan Oliss. “He was an orphan at age 8, and he was taken in and raised by the Jesuits at the University of Detroit High School. While he was in high school, he struggled to find a place to live.”
“A friend, a peer at UD, took my grandpa in when he found out that he needed a place to live. They allowed him to stay with them as they both attended UD for their senior year. Not only was my grandpa accepted and formed by the Jesuit community when he was young, poor, and vulnerable, but he was also taken into a stable family, a position that he’d never been in, by a family that understood what it meant to be there for others.”
Salutatorian Peter Turk shared a different but similarly impactful anecdote.
“Both of my grandparents were born and raised in Slovenia during World War II, and experienced early childhoods full of war, trauma, and extreme loss. After suffering collapses in their respective individual family’s structure, they decided to flee to the United States with just the money in their pockets. Here, they eventually met each other, fell in love, and dedicated the rest of their lives to their newfound family.”
“In essence, my grandparents experienced many dramatic changes in their lives. When remembering those times of hardship, or sharing a few words of wisdom, my grandmother says one statement that always sticks with me the most. She says, ‘Everything you own can be taken away from you. Your clothes, your home, your food. But nobody can take away your education.’”
Both Brendan and Peter, in reflecting on their four years at Saint Ignatius High School, found threads from their own family histories, tying new days to the old. It’s a remarkable testament to the families our young men come from—and the family that they form here.
“The world needs good men, and good men aren’t born, they’re formed in places like this, and we’re sending out 400 Ignatius men into the world to join the Ignatius alumni who came before us and hold the door for those who are coming after us,” Brendan said.
At Saint Ignatius, we know that formation begins at home, sometimes generations before the present. When a young man arrives as a freshman, that family expands. Teachers become trusted mentors. Classmates become like brothers. You share meals, language, memories, values, and a common sense of purpose.
“The paper you receive today isn’t just paper; it’s your education, your Saint Ignatius education,” says Peter. “And as my grandmother reminds us, ‘No one can take it away.’”
These graduates join 18,000 living alumni, a far-reaching community of those who have walked the halls at West 30th and Lorain. Some day, we hope, they will choose to send their own sons to Saint Ignatius. And then, someday perhaps, their grandsons will attend.
All of this is what “Ignatius Men Forever” really means: an education and a family, shaped deeply by the Jesuits, that covers the globe.
When you receive that diploma, it’s a statement that all this is yours to keep, and yours to share. Forever.