More Than A School
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Politics and Activism

More Than A School

How my old high school demonstrated community time and time again


My old high school, Salesianum School, has an odd combination of intense demands of, and strong compassion for, its students. Much like the lessons taught in the classroom, the life lessons the teachers and faculty tried to teach us were often not taken seriously and ignored. Such a thing is to be expected in a school of about 1,000 teenage boys. Like all prep schools with strict dress codes and fancy Latin mottos, the students of Salesianum (past, present, and, future) feel like they are different from their peers. This sentiment stems not from unfounded, self-entitled arrogance, but simply from the merit of being in a different environment than their peers; an environment wrought with intense demands of, and strong compassion for, its students.

Intensity: On the first day of my junior year at Salesianum my principal read a list of “five essential truths” as purported by Franciscan theologian Richard Rohr to the entire student body:

  • Life is hard
  • You are not that important
  • Your life is not about you
  • You are not in control
  • You are going to die

I did not think he was wrong, but I did think it was odd that he listed off those things in a “welcome back” address to high school kids. Honestly, I do not remember what his overarching message was, but that is beside the point.

Compassion: Not too long after the school year began, the Salesianum community experienced truths 4 and 5 first hand when Salesianum graduate and New Castle County (DE) Police Lieutenant Joseph Szczerba was killed in the line of duty on September 16th, 2011. I remember that on the day we found out we were let out of classes early and assembled in silence around the flag pole in front of the school. A police bagpipe detail played “Amazing Grace” and a Salesianum student played “Taps” on his trumpet. Our principal gave some remarks and we went back into the school in silence. Since 2012, Salesianum has sponsored a memorial 5k run/walk in his honor.

Intensity: Salesianum, as an all-male Catholic school, expects a lot out of its students. By providing opportunities for expression in the arts and opportunities to compete in a choice of top-notch athletics programs and clubs on top of the college preparatory academics, the school facilitates the education of “the whole person.”

Compassion: One such person was senior Tyler Brown, who died on March 11th of this year in car crash. The collective response from the student body and the community-at-large was nothing short of amazing. My family, and the other families in New Jersey whose boys go to Salesianum, knew Tyler for many years and were without words when we heard of his passing.

This is neither an obituary nor a news report, but there are some things about this situation that I feel compelled to discuss. (To read his obituary: . To read a news report about the funeral: )

I was not present for any of the services around Tyler’s passing, but my mother described all of them to me in great detail. Tyler passed on a Friday evening, and the following Saturday morning the parents and students were notified about what had happened and the school held a memorial service for him in the afternoon which was attended by hundreds of people, my mother included. At the conclusion of the Mass, she told me, nobody moved, like statues. They stood in the gymnasium in silence as Tyler’s mother grieved. Nobody dared to leave her side, doubtless unsure of what they could do to, but fundamentally knowing that they were doing all they could do: show up and literally, physically, be there for Tyler’s mother.

Tyler’s funeral was held at Salesianum on March 18th. My mother told me that there were so many students who wanted to help with the service that they ran out of jobs for them to do. Students did readings, performed music, and told stories about Tyler.

I have found one, literal, image particularly moving. It is a photograph of a group of Salesianum seniors, including some from the wrestling and rugby teams, of which Tyler was a member, carrying Tyler's casket out of the school and into the car that would take him to his final resting place as two lines of fellow seniors face inward and watch. My younger brother is one of the rugby players and clearly visible in the picture.

At Salesianum students are regularly subjected to quotes from the namesake of our school, Saint Francis de Sales. The quote that I find myself thinking about the most with regards to all of this, mainly in relation to the students, is “Do ordinary things extraordinarily well.”As I noted earlier, death, although tragic and sad, is still a “truth” of life. Death is something that everyone deals with throughout their lives. It is, broadly speaking, ordinary. Therefore, the notion of dealing with the death of someone close to you, being a universal experience, is ordinary. That does not diminish the value of anyone’s life nor does it undermine anyone’s pain.

Gentlemen of Salesianum, putting Tyler’s death, and your collective response to it, in the context of the words of Saint Francis de Sales; you faced a situation unbelievably tragic and universally ordinary, and within the confines of your ability to support Tyler’s parents in their darkest hour you handled the situation extraordinarily well. Nothing can ever replace their loss, but Tyler’s parents were blessed to have your support.

I feel compelled to write about an event that occurred last month because as I write this the students of Salesianum and its two sister, schools, Padua and Ursuline are raising money for the annual SALSTHON fundraiser, and this year the cause they are supporting is “The Summer Learning Collaborative” in Wilmington, Delaware, which will help fund a camp named in Tyler’s honor, aptly named “Tyler’s Camp.” (For more information: )

Although not a Saint Francis de Sales quote, Salesianum students are often told that they “stand on the shoulders of giants” that came before them. To the gentlemen of Salesianum, and particularly the class of 2016, I will proudly say that based on your response the week after Tyler’s passing, the continued support you’ve given to Tyler’s family in various venues, and permanently honoring his memory through this year’s SALSTHON, you are truly giants. You have experienced brotherhood in its purest form. You have more than earned your right to wear the white tux on June 3rd. I know you do not seek any praise or celebration for your actions, certainly not from me, but that kind of community is rare and I wanted to commend you for living the finest values espoused by Salesianum.

Tenui Nec Dimittam

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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