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Joseph Consiglio

Mr. C's Commencement Address

The following commencement address was delivered by Mr. C. (Joe Consiglio), Class Advisor to the graduating seniors at Archmere Academy, Claymont, Delaware, on June 4, 2000.


You’ve made it. After all these years, our school has nothing left to teach you. But my mother once told me that any opportunity to speak is an opportunity to teach, so my first lesson today is that you should always listen to your mother. And I’ll ask you to bear with me while I attempt one final lesson.

My lesson today is simple: Love is a choice.

You’ve learned many things in four years, but if you haven’t learned anything about love listen now, because it is the only lesson that matters. And so I say again: Love is a choice.

The world will tell you that love is a feeling. Just watch the perfume commercials; just watch the movie previews. Love is an emotion that sweeps you away and transforms you, until, of course, you have to deal with somebody’s dirty socks.

I tell you today that love is a choice. It is a decision you make. It is not a feeling. It does not sweep you away most of the time. It does not grow spontaneously. It is something conscious.

At some point your parents made a choice to love you. Whether you were the answer to their prayers or a happy accident doesn’t matter; at some point your parents made a decision to love you and have continued to make that choice. You would think that parents, because they’re parents, don’t have a choice. They have to love their children. But we know better. There are many parents who abandon their children. There are many parents who choose themselves first,  who love when it’s convenient and leave to take care of their needs. But that is not love. Love is most real when it is most difficult to love.

And there have been many times in your life when you have been difficult to love. Some of those times have been in my office. Some of those times have been in the disciplinarian’s office. Many of those times have been in your own homes. If you would like to know all of the times in which you haven’t been very lovable I’m sure a parent or a sibling would be glad to provide you with a list.

But no matter how unlovable you’ve been at times, you have been loved, because it had nothing to do with how they felt about you and had everything to do with a commitment they had made to love you. They loved you because they chose to love you.

The same is true of all love. All true love is the result of a conscious choice and a sustained commitment. Four years ago the administration asked me to be the advisor for your class. My first response was, you’ve got the wrong guy. But I thought about it a great deal. I prayed about it, and after much reflection I made a decision to choose you. The truth is that you could have been anyone. At that point I knew none of you. I didn’t know you and you didn’t know me. We didn’t know about the losses so many of us would suffer and how they would bring us together. We didn’t know about all the daily triumphs. The truth is we didn’t know anything about each other, but it didn’t matter who we were. I made a decision to love you as my class, and you made a decision to be a part of this class, and the decision has made it real.

In “The Skin of Our Teeth” Mrs. Antrobus says to her husband, “I didn’t marry you because you were perfect. I didn’t even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine.” Today, you are more special to me than any group of students I have ever known, not because of who you are, but because we belong to each other; we’ve chosen each other.

You have a whole life ahead of you and many decisions to make. Today, my last day as your advisor, I give you this advice:

Choose to love.

Choose to love yourself. All love begins with self-love. My grandmother, from the time she was ten, was responsible for the family kitchen. For eighty-five years she cooked for an extended family of as many as forty people living in a three story row house. Despite what psychologists say, we Italians know that food is love. My grandmother knew it, but it was never easy. She worked hard. But every now and then she would sneak out the back kitchen door and down the alley to an ice cream parlor. She’d take a family nickel and treat herself. She went alone and returned quietly. No one ever knew about it till decades later when she told my mother. Once in a while, my grandmother enjoyed being served. She chose to love herself.

Choose to love each other. When you look back on your years here, choose to love them. Choose to love the school whose real mission is not to get you into the best college so you can get the best job so you can get the most stuff so you can die with the biggest cookie. Choose to love the school whose mission is to teach you how to love. Choose to love the classmates who have lived with you and grown with you. Choose to love your past. It’s the key to loving your future.

Choose to love the life you lead. When you choose a major in college, choose out of love. Do not let fear guide you. Choose what your mind and your heart tell you are most worthy of your love. When you choose a career do the same. Make love your only guide.

Choose to love your family. They are God’s greatest gift to you. And if someday you choose to have a family of your own, remember that your choice to love them is something that you must make each and every day. My Uncle Joe—you knew we couldn’t get through this without an Uncle Joe story—my Uncle Joe once told me that marriage, “if you're lucky is 60/40. That means you give 60 and get 40 and she gives 60 and she gets 40. The other 20 percent? I don’t know what the heck happens to that.” Uncle Joe knew something about love. He knew that it wasn’t about things being fair. It wasn’t about what you got in return.

And he knew that loving never gets easier—in fact quite the opposite is true. But he smiled when he said it. He knew that loving always gets better and brings you closer to each other, to your true self, and to your God.

Choose to love! If you choose to love you will know the meaning of miracles, and you will discover the greatest miracle of all, that when you choose to love you will be loved. It is here that grace enters the world, for when you choose to love you will discover that it was not you who did the choosing, but you who has been chosen.

God bless you, and may you always choose to love.

Mr. C.   

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