Does the name Desmond Doss mean anything to you? Certainly some know the story but many do not.
At sophomore-junior orientation Thursday, Principal Brendan Donohue, a history buff, told the students about Doss. Doss was a man of faith and principles. During World War II he had a deep desire to serve his country, to help others, but he had no desire to carry a weapon.
"He wanted to maintain his commitment to his faith and serve his country at the same time. He thought he could do these two things simultaneously," Principal Donohue told the assembled students. "However, he was criticized and ridiculed constantly for his religious beliefs and many tried to drive him out of the army – but he persisted."
He became a medic, and at Okinawa Doss became an American hero. He charged into battle – without a weapon -- because he wanted to save lives. When his regiment was forced to retreat he stayed behind with hundreds of wounded men. It is estimated that he saved about 75 lives that day. He was seeking no reward, but received the Medal of Honor. There is no higher award in the U.S. Military.
So why did Principal Donohue tell this story? Young people can be influenced. They feel peer pressure. But Donohue urged them to stand firm in their beliefs, have faith in God that He will protect you, serve others without thinking of yourself, and don't give up on your goals, even when others ridicule you and try to get you to change.
"With the story of Desmond Doss in mind I challenge you to set goals for yourself this year as a student, a man of faith, a brother, a friend, a teammate," Dononue told the students. "Think about all of the things that you can do this year that will help you survive later in life, just as Desmond Doss did. You will probably never have the extraordinary experience that Desmond Doss had, and you may never actually save someone's life, but your actions today and this year will shape the man you will become and they will impact those around you."
The orientation day had small messages and big messages, some inspirational, some practical, all designed to allow the student to become the best version of himself.
I.D. photos were taken and there were visits from the Guidance Department. In the chapel, Campus Ministry spoke about mission and service, with Campus Ministry Director Peter Lyons reminding the students to utilize the chapel as often as possible, even if for just a moment or even seconds. Prayer does not necessarily have to be long to be meaningful. He also encouraged these upperclassmen to set an example for the freshman and be a part of the tradition of making the sign of the cross when passing by the chapel.
Classes open with prayer at Xavier and religion teacher Bill Garrity told his class that he leaves a little time for silent prayer. "I just prayed for people who do not have health care. Second period I prayed for my wife who started her first full day with third graders. Whew, I'd rather have sophomores," he said with a smile.
At the end of the day the students went into an assembly in which Dean of Students Nick Cerreta and first-year Academic Dean Kyle St. George spoke. St. George likely got the juniors thinking when he told them, even though this is their first day here this year, they are now closer to the end of their Xavier career than the beginning. And they are now upperclassmen, thus leaders. And that they need goals. You can't create a plan to get somewhere if you don't know where you're going.
Then it was home to begin a four-day Labor Day weekend before the real work starts on Tuesday.