A great 17th century French educator, John Baptist De La Salle, wrote: “It is the duty of teachers to touch the hearts of those entrusted to our care.” I believe that students and their parents can profoundly touch the hearts of teachers. I also believe in the power of doing the unexpected.
While president of Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee, I got to know the mother of a member of our men’s basketball team. She was an amazing woman who was extremely proud of her son who was successful on the basketball court and in the classroom. We sat next to one another at many a game.
After a while, I noticed that this dear lady was not coming to games. I discovered that she had developed cancer. I would check her son periodically to see how his mom was doing. The reports were encouraging at first. However, as graduation approached, he told me that he didn’t think his mother would live until graduation and even if she did, she would not be able to attend the ceremony. Without so much as a second thought I said, “We’ll take graduation to her.”
On a beautiful springtime day, this young man, his head basketball coach and I arrived in his mother’s hospital room, dressed in full academic regalia. We even brought a tape of “Pomp and Circumstance” to play while we walked into her room.
Before us was a tiny version of the woman that I had gotten to know in Canale Arena on our campus. The cancer had not only devastated the body, but had taken its toll on her brain, as well. However, once she heard the music and saw us enter the room, she became fully alert and had a smile that went from ear to ear. We had a mini graduation ceremony with all the proper words and the official conferral of the diploma. At the end of the ceremony, with tears in her eyes, she said: “Now, Lord, I can come to you knowing that my baby boy has a university diploma.”
I write to tell you that at that moment, my belief in the power of doing the unexpected became a grace. This woman kept God waiting, so that she could see her son with a university diploma in his hand. Tears filled my eyes and those of everyone in the room. Doing the unexpected is one of the ways that we can mirror what the Divine One does for us frequently. This woman and her son profoundly touched my heart and taught me that it was OK to do the unexpected. To touch hearts is to mirror the God who made all of us.