Dear Parents and Guardians,
I'd wager you couldn't guess what British readers of The Guardian selected as the weirdest song lyric of all times. It's not a line from a punk rock song of the '80s, something a hip-hop artist dreamed up, or even a likely choice from any verse of The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus." No, it's a question posed in The Killers' 2008 dance anthem "Human": "Are we human, or are we dancer?" As if being a Mormon stadium rock band attempting a stylistic tribute to New Wave music of a quarter century earlier weren't weird enough already, the lyric they placed central to that song's refrain has puzzled listeners for a decade now. "Denser?" Some thought it referred to the nature of the matter from which we're created and what that destines us for. No, the word is dancer. "Dancers?" Grammatically correct, but not the word that's sung.
So, what contrast are The Killers intending by asking "Are we human or are we dancer?" My own answer is found by reverting to a 1992 Australian film I suspect only a few of you have seen but which I highly recommend, Strictly Ballroom, one of now-famed director Baz Luhrmann's first cinematic ventures. It tells the story of Scott Hastings, an aspiring ballroom dancer whose road to the Pan Pacific Grand Prix championship is inhibited by one fatal flaw, an inclination to innovate, to dance his own steps. To the horror of his mother, a past champion forced to dine on the cold leftovers of former glory, and to the opprobrium of the Federation's chief judge Barry Fife, Scott insists on breaking out of the rigidly prescribed menu of steps acceptable in competition in the name of artistic self-expression. Disdained by all suitable accomplished partners, Scott turns to Fran, a plain but passionate immigrant who's willing to dance his steps. The far more attractive Scott gradually falls for her, and, despite the obstacles the dancing establishment places in their way, they both endure and prevail (It's a romantic comedy exploiting the Ugly Duckling trope, after all).
Both the film and the song appear to make the same point: becoming fully human involves being more than the kind of dancer who's focused on mastering the moves, perpetually counting off the steps in his or her head. It involves being original, spontaneous, organic, creative—even at times unconventional.
In a week, 268 young men of the Class of 2018 will become graduates of La Salle College High School. They'll look pretty much alike: blue academic robes, some with gold NHS stoles, a few with honorific medallions. Blue or white shirts beneath. Mothers' influence will have banished outré hairstyles and scruffy teenaged facial hair as well. They'll uniformly parade up, take a diploma, and shake hands. Indeed, it will seem that they're all following the prescribed steps, making all the right moves.
But that's only on the surface. Circumstances this year allowed me to make three Kairos retreats, sharing the experience with half the Class of 2018. These encounters with your senior sons allowed me to glimpse one very clear reality. These young men aren't "dancer." They're human, and richly so. Their prior experiences, aspirations, and views on life and what is of value in it are rich and varied. I have no doubt their future trajectories will follow suit. From their first days at La Salle, they have experienced a rich array of opinion, taste, and talent alike among their classmates. From that experience follows openness. The reflective opportunities of weekly outreach, summer service, and a serious senior retreat have provided the graced opportunity for such openness to become compassion, the chief among moral virtues and a trait our civil society appears to need so critically now.
In some ways The Killers' "Human" makes a uniquely apt anthem at graduation time, though I imagine its chances of becoming a post-Communion meditation at some Baccalaureate Liturgy are slight. Just consider these lyrics:
And sometimes I get nervous when I see an open door.
Close your eyes, clear your heart... And cut the cord....
Pay my respects to grace and virtue, send my condolences to good.
Give my regards to soul and romance, they always did the best they could.
And so long to devotion you taught me everything I know.
Wave good bye; wish me well. You've gotta let me go.
And so we do. The voice you hear could be that of a member of the Class of 2018: excited for what's ahead, but still not quite ready to leave; in some ways over-confident in what he may have already mastered, but grateful for all the experiences that have molded and people who have mentored him; aware that regardless of whether the entrance was effortless or traumatic, you still have to cut the cord for new life to begin.
Yes, but that's yet another way a La Salle education is different. You cut the cord, but that doesn't mean the connection is severed. A bond remains for alumni and parents alike, one that keeps the connection alive, wherever the shaping of a uniquely human life may take us. Towards the end of "Human" Brendan Flowers asks, "Will your system be all right/When you dream of home tonight?" I am both happy and grateful that for so very many of La Salle's former students and alumni parents alike, the answer is clearly YES. These are sweet dreams indeed, dreams infused by light, a light reflected by the strong, luminous people with whom these four years were shared, a light that shines so brightly because it finds its source and power in that faint red light that flickers before all the Tabernacles in the world, wordlessly reminding us that we are in the Holy Presence of God.
May God richly bless all of you and your families this summer, those who will be returning to us in August and those whose tomorrow will be a step that leads you through that open door, away in some senses, but never truly beyond, so long as Jesus lives in our hearts. Forever!
Brother James L. Butler, FSC