Guest Column: Pax Christi Commencement Speech from Dowling Catholic

by Diocese of Des Moines | July 5, 2019

Henry DeAngelis

“Well Lord, Here we are, I can’t believe we finally made it to High School graduation.”

These are nearly the same words I spoke in the opening prayer of my eighth grade graduation over four long years ago. In that moment, I began my high school career and in these next few moments, It will come to an end.

It feels like it was just yesterday when we all gathered together for our first all school Mass.

I remember being in my perch above the gym and being surprised not just at how many kids were at Dowling but how different each of the classes acted. From where I sat, I could always see the entire school, and I noticed how much more our class moved around when we were freshmen. When I compare that first all school Mass to the most recent one, I see how much Dowling had nurtured our class. Unlike the current freshmen, who still wiggle around and steal each others’ seats, we are all more respectful, and while we aren’t perfect, the difference is obvious.

It is important to notice this difference because sometimes it can be difficult to tell where we were as freshman compared to where we are now. Dowling’s mission is for us to be Leaders for Life, Centered on Christ and while Dowling nurtured us for four years, succeeding as Leaders for Life, Centered on Christ in the future takes intentionality.

This toothpick bridge was built by Jackson Fischer and me in sixth grade, and since then it has traveled with me, through numerous moves, and rested on many a bookshelf. It may not be the prettiest, and is in dire need of repair, but it has stood the test of time, and for the last few years has represented not only Jackson to me, but what he was best at doing, making friends. A project that asked us to build a toothpick bridge out of hot glue, cardboard, and of course, toothpicks, ended up being the project where we would build our friendship.

It was reflecting back on how Jackson and I became friends that I realized how good he was at making friends, after all - it’s what he did. And through this great skill he taught us, as a class, how to build OUR bridge.

So, over these four years, we as a class became the living embodiment of this toothpick bridge. We all started off as separate toothpicks, ready to be built, but not knowing how we would fit together or what we would create. And Dowling is the cardboard on which we built our bridge. Giving us the solid support we needed to build upon.

Our relationships and connections are the glue that holds us all together.

And each moment of adversity is the bridge being tested. Over the years we as a class have faced a lot of adversity, from all trying to pass that one class we just didn’t quite get, to shoveling our cars out of the snow, to all the personal battles we’ve fought inside our heads.

Each bit of adversity is a test. And the question during these tests is always the same. Will we stick together as a community? Or will we crack under the weight?

Now, each time we struggled, or made a mistake a little glue strand might have broken off, or a toothpick might have shifted its place, but overall our bridge still held, because those people, or relationships, still had other toothpicks and glue strands to lean on.

But sometimes there are tests that put the entire bridge under stress. From world events, to the passing of someone in our community whether it be Jackson Fischer, or Reubin Alcoy, Trevor Schwager, Mrs. Swanson, or any of the other members we lost during our time at Dowling.

Every time our community has gone through one of these events, though, it has been Dowling and our faith, that has kept us upright, Dowling that has only ever let our bridge bend to a knee in prayer.

Dowling made sure when we stood back up, we had gained a renewed strength in God. Our bridge has faced many tests, millions of small tests that now seem insignificant and many tests that will stick with us for the rest of our lives.

So, although we are all leaving Dowling I will be leaving this toothpick bridge that has represented Jackson Fischer to me for so many years at Dowling, as a way for our class, and the school to remember him for years to come.

As we leave Dowling, we will once again become individual toothpicks, who will go to a new school that will become our cardboard, and will build new relationships that will become the glue that will hold our new structures together.

But this time we won’t have our parents, or childhood friends with us to help push us forward.

What we can have instead, is a mission statement that will declare our intentions. It was sophomore year when Mr. Meendering first called me into his office. He asked me to talk about myself, and my skin condition.

After I finished telling him about myself, he had two questions for me: “What do you want to do about it?” and “How do we help?”

I left his office with those two questions burned into my head. A few weeks later, in the spring of 2017, I drafted a mission statement, that came in the form of a poem. For me a mission statement has a few goals, it explains how you want to serve, and how you want to accomplish that service, while also acknowledging where you currently are in life, to make sure you are always moving forward.

So in my mission statement I told myself to intentionally stop hiding, to intentionally speak more, and to intentionally serve by telling the world about my skin condition Epidermolysis Bullosa.

My mission statement gave me purpose and a passion throughout high school, it gave me something to look back on when times were tough and a piece to reflect upon as I became successful. As senior year went on and we as a class had an amazingly successful fundraiser, I realized I was embodying the person I said I would become in my mission statement. I realized that I outgrew my poem and completed my high school mission.

While we will all complete high school, your mission may be complete, or untouched, or anywhere in between. And that's okay.

But as you move forward I encourage you to discover your mission statement.

I encourage you to intentionally decide what your purpose and passion will be. So that whichever bridge you start to build next, you will always have a reason to serve, a plan to accomplish that service, and a piece to reflect upon to see how far you have come in life.

As we start to close the chapter that was high school and begin anew, I wish to read to you my new mission statement in the form of a poem.

 Butterfly 9102

 I am a Butterfly,


not in the way you would expect.

I am not

artistically talented


beautiful like a butterfly's wings.

I am, well, quite the opposite; in fact,

my skin is, different, unsettling, and even grotesque at times.


I still am a butterfly.

My skin, is only as strong as a butterfly’s wings,

it breaks, blisters, bleeds… and,

It always hurts to sit, stand, walk, talk, and eat.

Yet here I am smiling and uncomplaining every day,

 A mask...

 I chipped away and broke it over three years

Transforming me and my fears

You see, I was talking and teaching to everyone with no end.

Heck, even the school joined in.

This is when I really learned, that life, was great

So I learned to love it, and strengthen my faith

 I tore down tall walls, and shone before them.

I always spoke,

I told my friends, my peers, and even the old folk.

I learned to deal with the pain,

And openly ask for help.

Especially after I had accidentally hurt myself.

 I feel,

Well… Like I found myself

Like I tore down the walls from third grade leading to this day.

 And even if unexpected

Questions about my skin will please me greatly

And issue a response refined and stately


 Since I’ve become a butterfly,

That is



And making great change.

 I haven’t hid

behind a mask,

 For those who hide are seen as weak,

and I am not

For those who hide are seen as liars,

and I am not

For those who hide are not seen as brave,

As I have proven to be

 But most of all those who hide are forgotten…

 So what must you do to get started?

I accomplished my high school mission. And this is my new mission statement. A mission statement that explains how I want to serve, and how I want to accomplish that service, and will help me reflect on my journey in the years to come. Mission statements help us live intentionally.

So Lord, Here we are, ready to start the next section of our lives, having been formed as Leaders for Life, Centered on Christ, we are ready to intentionally discover our mission statements and build our new bridges. Thank You.

Diocese of Des Moines

The Diocese of Des Moines, created in 1911, serves people over a 12,446 square mile area in the southwestern quadrant of Iowa, including 23 counties.