Better Man Blog
The Better Man Blog is a place to share inspirational stories demonstrating how Vancouver College students continue their journey to become "Better Men." The stories in the posts share some of the current concerns, daily challenges, and significant accomplishments of our students. Still, with the guidance of Blessed Edmund Rice and our Essential Elements, our boys continue to use their talents to better the communities around them.
If you have a story you would like to share, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is bittersweet for me to bid farewell to our Centenary class, the Grads of 2023. We have come through a great deal together, from the lows of the pandemic to the heights of our VC100 fireworks at homecoming this year, with many adventures in between. For me, every graduating class is unique and takes on a personality of its own, and the Class of 2023 has lived up to the expectations of being special as the graduating class in our 100th year.
During Spring Break, twenty-three young men and three staff members travelled to South Bronx, New York, to immerse themselves in the culture, faith, and people. The team had the opportunity to engage with students and learn about the challenges they face in an economically disadvantaged neighbourhood. Returning to Vancouver, the team is eager to advocate for the people they met by sharing their stories and experiences.
Every four years, Vancouver College is indeed ‘inspected’ by the Office of Educational Services of Edmund Rice Christian Brothers North America, the consortium of eighteen schools we belong to, part of the over 300 schools around the world that make up our network. I put ‘inspected’ in quotation marks, because this is not a typical school inspection, as most would imagine it. For example, we are also inspected every two years by the BC Ministry of Education, during which they check on all aspects of how our school runs, from curriculum to policies to emergency drills to teacher certification. The Edmund Rice version runs much deeper, I would argue, as it explores how well we are living our mission, and particularly, our values: our Essential Elements. For this reason, the process is actually called a Validation Visit, and to ensure its validity, it starts at the beginning of the school year, and involves the creation of a lengthy self-study to document both our current evidence and our core goals moving forward.
On November 12 to 19, 2022, 12 young men and three staff members travelled to Brownsville, Texas, to immerse themselves in the culture, faith, and people. A recurring theme throughout the trip was creating connections with individuals they met. Despite the language barriers, the team was able to develop a genuine connection with the migrants, asylum seekers and Brownsville locals. Coming back home to Vancouver, the Brownsville team wants to continue to advocate for the people of Brownsville by sharing their stories and highlighting the importance of building a connection.
As the bus pulls out carrying sixty-odd boys off on our first Encounter retreat of the year (but 95th ever!), the Grade 12 students voiced their excitement around what I often call our spiritual capstone here at Vancouver College. Since these retreats started here in the late 1980s (I participated in a version of one at STM in that era), they have been an amazing opportunity for the boys involved to pause their hectic lives and focus on what is important: their relationships with each other, those they love, and with God.
As I crossed a busy street to enter the Richmond Olympic Oval in May, I was a little shocked that I could already hear the roar of cheers from our boys at our annual VC-St George's hockey game. After two years without this event, like so many others, the exuberance of our senior boys was especially bursting. And while at times, particularly this spring, that pent-up energy went in the wrong direction, that moment made me pause and reflect on the true character of the Class of 2022.
When I started this blog, most of my stories came from the Senior School, both because that was my domain and comfort zone, and also because I foolishly thought that it was only in their latter days at Vancouver College that our young men really started to look outside themselves and truly have an impact on our world. Since taking over the principalship, I’ve realized how wrong I was. I now often say that Middle School is the ‘engine of our school’, where character and values coalesce and our Better Men are forged. This entry is dedicated to them, to share a few recent stories of inspiration from those who are already making our school and world a better place.
'So much for our international outreach program…’
So said a saddened staff member almost exactly a year ago, as we sat at our last pre-pandemic event, the VC Basketball Banquet in March 2020. The NBA had just shut down their season abruptly and the world itself was going into a lockdown that is still dragging on.
Much has transpired since our last entry: a global pandemic, an economic crisis, social unrest and racial tension. In the immediate aftermath of elections, particularly one to the south of us, as well as recent hopeful news of a vaccine, it seems apropos to resurrect this blog. In the same way it started a few years ago, I wish to share some perhaps small but nevertheless inspiring stories of our boys as they certainly keep me motivated on a daily basis.
Henrik Parker was a student at Vancouver College for as long as I have been there, and I am honoured to say that I was his high school principal throughout his three years in our Senior School. While we are not a small school, with over a thousand boys, and while Henrik was not a loud or brash young man, I feel that I did get to know him very well, and my life has been blessed by his presence in it. I also know that there are many, many people in our greater VC community who can say the same thing.
‘Where is everyone?’
That was our alarmed reaction as we entered the Catholic Charities Sacred Heart branch in McAllen, Texas, just across the border from Mexico, where we had planned to spend most of our week working with asylum seekers on our recent Brownsville Faith In Action Immersion experience from November 16-23, 2019. For the past six months, our team of twelve boys and three teachers had been planning and meeting weekly with the expressed goal of trying to serve this marginalized population and to delve into the complexities of their challenging situation.
In VC’s Senior School, we have an inspirational banner, provided by our Value Project team, that reminds our boys of one of the best definitions of character or integrity; “What do you do when you think no one is watching?” Attributed to one of my favourite Catholic thinkers and authors, C.S. Lewis, it resonates because it implies something intrinsic about our students’ behaviour, unmotivated by external rewards such as marks, accolades, or even a compliment. What is wonderful is when someone, unbeknownst to the young man, observes his admirable behaviour and shares it, so that the story gets out and can inspire others to become Better Men.
This is the story of a group of young people who are about to leave our community as the better men we always knew they could be: the Class of 2019. This year, our school community has been focussing on the pursuit of excellence. For many, the focus tends to be on the product: the excellence, and this grad class certainly has a lot of that. Thousands of dollars in academic scholarships will be celebrated at Grad in June, many top athletes will go on to star in their sports at the university level (Chris, Adam, Noah and Owen in football, John in soccer, Nick and Lukas in lacrosse, to name a few), while others have been selected to some of the top American art colleges (Felix and Bruce, for example). But every graduating class seems to have a pervading personality, and, if you ask their teachers, this group would be simply described as a bunch of nice guys. However bland or beige that moniker may seem, I would argue it is exceptionally difficult to be so nice, so kind, so empathetic of each other, in our post-modern world of social media diatribes, a society that celebrates nastiness, makes memes out of meanness.
I was fortunate enough to witness how this worthwhile risk worked out. Without exception, every single boy went into the experience with the right attitude, determined to make a difference in these children’s lives. Most importantly, they were able to individually connect with them on a personal level, thus providing positive role-modelling and inspiration that will help to keep these young people in school and focussed on literacy and numeracy. Within a day or two of their open-hearted and focussed work, the St. Ann’s teachers started to express their wonderment with our boys, and by the end of the week, the phrase ‘best volunteers ever’ was overheard frequently.
‘What do you want for Christmas? How about a book?’
‘I just got a new one about Goldilocks - can I read it to you? Once...upon...a...time…'
'Where are you boys from?’
‘How come you’re here today?’
‘We’re trying to help out...it’s just part of what we do.’
Last Sunday before mass, I met a lady who asked me where I worked. When I said Vancouver College, she became very animated and told me both her sons had graduated from VC a decade ago and how much influence it had on their lives. ‘Grade twelve was such a special year for both them’ she said. ’It was when everything that had happened to them there really made sense.’
The US border agent frowned.
‘Brownsville? Are you sure? You really don’t wanna go there…’
As I read over the comments our Grade 12 students are submitting to accompany their graduation photos in their final yearbook, I am struck by how many of them reflect on their earlier days here, and how, though they didn’t realize it at the time, it was those experiences that ultimately made them into ‘better men’.
I consider myself blessed to hear this request dozens of times a week, because it means I might have the opportunity to help one of our fine young men navigate a tricky situation and learn from the experience. However, recently I’ve noticed that a fair proportion of these requests actually have less to do with the self and more to do with others and the greater good.
‘Snow day! Snow day!’
While an afternoon off classes may have been a highlight for some of the boys during our last week of school in 2017, many others inspired me by getting being the superficial feel-good moments of the impending holidays and realizing the deeper meaning of sharing gifts at Christmas