008. Toward an Unknown Future

Toward an Unknown Future

Toward an Unknown Future


Toward An Unknown Future
Michael J. Genevro
18 March 2010

I truly cannot believe that I am standing here before you today. I never imagined that I would ever receive such an award as the Merit Award that you are giving me today.

Today, I would like to share with you, the students of Serra High School, some of the lessons that the great teachers of my life taught me. I have been so blessed to have a chain of great teachers in my life. In this brief talk, I will describe the impact of four of those teachers: my Father and 3 teachers from my Serra years - Father Stadler, Father McEentee, and Dale DeLetis.

However, before I begin the talk, I would like to thank my classmate, Tom Prussing, for making it possible for me to be here today with you. Tom, as we re-connected after more than 40 years, you saw something in me and in my life story. You put yourself on the line and you worked for weeks on the nomination letter that led to this Award. I am truly amazed that I am here today and I shall be eternally grateful to you for your faith in me.

As I stand on the cusp of old age, I often ponder how I reached this moment in my life. The true starting point of my life, the guiding star of my life journey, is my Father. He is the role model of my life not because of his words but rather because of his deeds.

The most powerful lesson of my life occurred almost 60 years ago now. I was about 4 years old and my brother Rob was about 1 year old. The family went on a trip to the Niles River Canyon. On a quiet summer afternoon, Rob somehow wound up in the river; Rob was drowning. All I remember is my Father's long, spindly legs racing across the sand and into the water to save his son. My Father does not swim; he had no idea how deep the water was. There was absolutely no hesitation, no thought for his own life or safety. The only thing that mattered was to save his son. Amazingly, both my brother and my Father survived.

At that moment, my Father taught me the most important lesson of my life - that there are people and causes and values that are more important than life itself; that there are people and causes and values for which I must be willing to sacrifice my life, without doubt, without question, without hesitation.

That lesson is the irreducible foundation of my life; that lesson is the irreducible foundation of the role of service in my life.

Dad, you are the role model of my life, you are my Master Teacher and I can only hope to be worthy of your model and your lessons. I love you.

As I worked on this talk - oh, I wish it could be a dialogue - I recalled the impact of so many other teachers on my life. For the next few moments, I will focus on three from Serra High School - Father Stadler, Father McEntee, and Dale DeLetis.

Father Stadler, my Senior Year English Teacher introduced my to the works of Albert Camus; above all, he introduced me to La Peste, The Plague, Camus's novel about the battle against the ravages of the pneumonic plague in his native Algeria. As I read Camus over the ensuing decades, he came to embody the life of commitment as an artist for me. In Gordon Wright's phrase, his "almost poetical prose" is the impossible model for me as a writer, as an artist. I can never be Albert Camus; I can only be myself. However, as I work on one of the two great unfinished tasks of my life, my writing, Camus's work embodies a kind of Platonic Ideal, an unreachable, but living presence that guides my own struggle to express the lessons of my life journey in words and images.

Father McEntee, my Sophomore Year Religion Teacher and my Junior Year History Teacher, taught me that the irreducible, core foundation of any relationship is trust; without trust, there can be no relationship in any area of life. Trust is the standard to which I hold myself accountable in all the relationships of my life, with family, with friends, with business associates, with customers, with students.

Father McEntee also introduced me to teaching in East Palo Alto. His tutoring group at Saint Francis of Assisi Church was my first real experience with the East Palo Alto / African-American community. That tutoring foreshadowed the 9 and one half years that I would spend in the elementary schools in East Palo Alto. In the truest sense of the word, I grew up during those years in Ravenswood. During those years, I also met the love of my life, Joyce, my wife of more than 31 years and counting, still, the most remarkable person that I have ever known. Joyce, there is still more to go – there is still so much to do and to be. Our life journey together is just beginning.

Eventually, Father McEntee became Jim McEntee. He married; he raised a family and, most importantly for me at this moment of my life, he founded the Human Relations Council of Santa Clara County. For me, Jim embodies a long life, well-lived, a life of service.

When I left HP, one of my goals was to talk with Jim and get to know him. Sadly, he died before I could meet him. As I start work on the Center for Education and Change, I hope and pray that he – that Jim, you - will be a presence in my life, encouraging me when I falter and guiding me when I am lost.

Dale DeLetis, the coach of our Speech Team - Dale held me together during my last year at Serra, a difficult and agonizing time in my life.

Dale taught me the difference between knowledge and wisdom. He taught me that no amount of book learning alone can give me wisdom. Wisdom emerges from other sources deep within us. Wisdom comes from living a life of integrity, from living a life of wholeness, according to our own deepest values and beliefs. For me, wisdom emerges from living a life of service, to family, to friends, to community, to humanity, to God. I hope that I have found some wisdom in my journey and I pray that I can give that back to the world and to God.

Finally, Dale introduced me to the poem Ulysses by Alford Lord Tennyson. During one of our practice sessions for the Speech Team, he gave me the last line of the poem as the topic for an extemporaneous speech. In the poem, an aging Ulysses calls on his friends for one, last voyage into the unknown. The quiet life of retirement as an elder statesman is not for Ulysses. There are some men - and, for my daughters, there are some women - who are not meant for safe harbors.

As I stand before you on the cusp of old age, I ponder the great remaining unfinished tasks of my life, to write and to build an organization that lasts beyond this frail lifetime – an organization founded on the principle that education is a fundamentally transformative institution, that the goal of education is to enable students (and we are all students) to uncover our dreams and visions and to transform those dreams and visions into reality. As I stand on the edge of my own voyage, the words of Ulysses that Dale gave me beckon me to set sail into the unknown:

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

(from "Ulysses" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

Thank you. And, as Tom Prussing would say at this point, “God Speed.”