Today, I went back to Marmion and participated in the 20th anniversary celebration of the LEAD program. A lot of emotion in the room.
Mr Bellafiore, the leader of the program for the majority of its twenty years and a man who continually led - challenged, frustrated, cared about - me during my time at Marmion, was the master of ceremonies. Mr B cried during his opening address. He’s the man who taught me it was ok and sometimes very effective to cry when you speak publicly, actually. (It’s a trick I abuse indiscriminately.)
LEAD at Marmion was always an uphill battle; focusing on business skills at fourteen years old and being explicitly “civilian” at a school with a 50-year military history was the kind of thing that made you a real weirdo. I graduated in a class of seven; the school is more than five hundred boys in total.
Thankfully, I was too fat to get stuffed in many lockers; I certainly did my best, though.
I campaigned to get military dress taken out of our yearbook pictures, complained loudly to anyone who stood still about funding inequalities to anyone who would listen, and attempted to recruit anyone frustrated with too many push-ups and shoe-shines. I wasn’t popular in high school for a whole host of reasons, but I definitely knew I brought a lot of it on myself with stunts like that. (Which, oddly, obviated the need to feel bad about not being cool.)
Today, it’s a different place. The program has grown, though not tremendously, from ten to thirty percent of the student body. The administration is not only tolerant now but eager to push it forward.
Today, I could come back and be a part of a new “founder’s club,” the twenty years of guys who struggled to establish a damn thing in an environment that was sometimes ambivalent and sometimes hostile. Most of the programs that I’d led were still there today; a leadership summer camp and adult education programs, a male beauty pageant (which was awesome). They’d been cancelled in the interim, but the institutional memory was there when the funds and enthusiasm resurfaced.
Being a founder is actually something very much like that; doing the hard slog of exploration, and then finding the people to carry it on when you can’t any longer. Installing that faith that something good is happening here.
I got to give a little talk towards the end of the ceremony (which was terrifying because I didn’t know I was doing it until I arrived). Luckily, I had been daydreaming of this damn program being a success I could talk about since 2002, so I was able to scribble something semi-coherent on my program while the ceremony went on.
Credere Deo, Luctari pro Eo
"To believe in God, and to fight for him."
Those are the words on the Marmion seal, and on the nerdy little pocket protector that LEAD kids wear on their blazers three days a week. (They don’t sew it on so as not to conflict with JROTC/military regulations; I told you it was bad.)
I had some epic arguments with military classmates about what that meant; specifically was “luctari” to “fight” or to “struggle” - did someone have to fight to serve God in the Marmion model? (I told you I was insufferable.)
That aside, what mattered to me was that the belief and the struggle are arranged around the seal in a circle. To believe is to struggle, and to struggle strengthens the belief. In God, in LEAD, in my company, my relationships, and in myself.
To me, that’s what being a founder is. To keep my eyes open, to learn, but to be wholly committed to that spiral process, and ready to dive in again at every cycle.