About four years ago, a high school senior accomplished something very few have ever done – he gave a memorable Valedictorian speech at his commencement.  It’s an incredibly difficult feat. The graduates and their families are navigating so many feelings and emotions that much of what is said becomes background music in the memories of their minds that this day will become.  For faculty and staff who have been at more of these ceremonies than they can keep track of, there’s little that will be said that hasn’t been said before.  But as Kyle Martin got up and addressed the crowd, there was something genuine and sincere in his voice, with a vulnerability and honesty to his words that made his speech go viral.  It has been shared hundreds of thousands of times and seen by over 8 million people.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the ASCENSION OF THE LORD -MAY 21, 2023.  I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

The Valedictorian speech is offered by the student with the highest grade point average, so Kyle began by explaining how he had learned the year earlier that he was in the “running” for this honor. And he said it was then and there that he decided he wanted it. He wanted the honor, he wanted the notoriety, he wanted the prestige. So he went after it. He worked harder than ever, acknowledging that he sacrificed and even stressed over it. To the extent that it came at the expense of others; he admitted to not attending to some relationships in his life.

When Kyle was at his senior awards ceremony, where they finally announced that he was to be the Class Valedictorian, he said, “It felt so good when I heard my name announced for this title.  It was so good – – –  for 15 seconds. For 15 seconds, my heart was racing and my adrenaline pumping, 15 seconds of ‘yeah, I won!’ 15 seconds of being on the top of all my accomplishments and it felt euphoric.  But there must come a 16th second. And on that 16th second, I sat down in my seat, looked at my silver stole that said ‘valedictorian,’ and I thought, ‘That’s it? What just happened? Why am I not feeling anything else?’” With wisdom beyond his years, he reflected, “I don’t even know what I was expecting.  A parade of balloons to drop? Or maybe I was hoping all my problems would fade away in comparison to this amazing achievement.  But none of that happened… not even in my heart. I felt nothing and I was shocked.

Watching the video, you could see and hear how the crowd went from laughing and clapping along with him as he recounted his story in a pretty bold, confident, and amusing way to now being in rapt attention.  No doubt recognizing he was not alone in having had this experience. Very gently, he helped point out how that could have been the case for anyone obsessing over something they believed was the “end-all-be-all” that they had focused on, at the expense of everything else. For his fellow students, on the athletic field or musical stage; obsessing over getting into a particular school; or even obsessing over their social lives, their social media, their performance on a particular video game.  For the parents and relatives in the crowd, where maybe they had put career ahead of their spouse; where they had put money ahead of their children; where they had strived to be ‘famous’ at the expense of time with their friends.

Kyle continued to say he is glad to have recognized his mistake at age 18 over something he admitted is “in the light of eternity, not that important.”  But he learned something precious that he shared, as he concluded; “Have no regrets in the 16th second. Nothing is more important than your healthy relationships. Nothing. Not your goals. Not your successes. And here is why.  Relationships are where we get to influence, impact, and change people’s lives. Your life cannot be meaningful without them. We were put on this earth by our Creator and we all have a purpose. To advance God’s kingdom that all may be saved. . . there is no greater good you can do for a person than to love them so much that you point them to Jesus Christ.  But first, He should be your first relationship that you cannot neglect. . .If he is your Lord and Savior, then make sure you care for that relationship above all others.”


True story, when I graduated college, I had the honor of giving a speech (not because I was first in my class, I was nowhere near that, but because I was class president), and I can tell you that I didn’t even remember my commencement address as profoundly as I remembered this kid Kyle’s, who I never met before – whose video I saw three years ago and saved and came back to this week. Because this young man’s lesson learned is essential for every one of us, and is particularly important on this Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord.

For the longest time, this feast of the Ascension of the Lord always disappointed me. Whenever we would sing the beautiful hymn, Alleluia Sing to Jesus and got to the words, “Though the cloud from sight received Him, when the 40 days were o’er, Shall our hearts forget his promise ‘I am with you evermore,’” I knew and believed those words, but it felt frustrating. Looking around at the world, or even my life, it didn’t always seem like He was with us ‘evermore.’  So much undermines, diminishes, and even threatens those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ. And all of that can fuel so much doubt that the feast of the Ascension can leave the followers of Jesus feeling anxious.

We can hear and see that in these scriptures that we’re not alone in that. St. Matthew describes the disciples in the Gospel as “doubting” at the mount of the Ascension.  St. Luke, in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, adds details that they just stayed there looking up at the clouds – watching Jesus’ departure to the point that an angel had to come down and kind of smack them in the face, ‘why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

That sense of being disappointed, frustrated, frozen in place looking at the clouds, that sense of doubt over whether Jesus is with us ‘evermore,’ comes from our expectations not being met the way we want or anticipated.  For the apostles, the first disciples of Jesus, that is a consistent problem for them, between getting caught up in their hopes and dreams of what the coming of the Messiah would do to their importance at being part of Jesus’ inner circle. Throughout the Gospels, we keep hearing them misunderstanding things, not getting them. That’s perfectly captured in the first reading of the Acts of the Apostles today. They’ve spent three years with Him. Witnessed the miracles, heard the sermons, experienced the intimacy of his presence… All that culminated with Jesus’ Passion, His crucifixion and death on the cross, to the ultimate victories where He was raised from the dead on Easter Sunday. After He had been with them in His glorious, resurrected body for 40 days, as they come to Ascension Thursday, He instructs them to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak, for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  And their first question is, “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Their minds and hearts return to their own expectations, hopes, and dreams. They wanted Rome conquered; the Jewish authorities who had gotten it wrong defeated; and the glory of the Kingdom of David to be reunited, restored, and even more powerful than it had been centuries earlier, now with them as the new leaders, the new rulers.

As humbled as they had been multiple times before, their hearts and minds kept going back to those very human ambitions. Those things like success, fame, and prestige that we think will make our problems disappear.  The things that we think will prove to everyone else that we are with the winning team. All those human expectations that people constantly categorize as signs of being victorious are, in part, what killed Jesus.

Easter has upended all of this. In Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, everything has changed. Jesus doesn’t take a victory lap on Easter Sunday, dropping in on Caiphas the High Priest, Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, and the guards who seemed to relish putting the nails in the hands and feet of an innocent man on a cross… just to scare the hell out of them, literally. Jesus isn’t interested in picking up with things as they were before Good Friday, which is what I think most of the apostles and disciples were imagining… how much easier it would be to make converts, to rally people behind their cause, to render those who argued against Jesus speechless, with a Risen Jesus walking around with them.

Jesus doesn’t do any of those things that we might expect someone who rose from the dead to do because Jesus isn’t trying to embarrass people into believing in Him, or wow and entertain them. He isn’t trying to win an argument but win souls. He wants me and you for all eternity. He’s poured out His very life to these apostles and first disciples – and promises them, and us, to remain with us and be made real to us. That’s what the Great Commission is all about. “Making disciples” is about investing the time and effort into witnessing, guiding, and sharing the life of faith. “Baptizing” highlights the importance of being connected to the Sacraments. And “teaching…to observe all I command” recognizes how essential it is to be rooted in scriptures and the teaching of the Church. That’s what can make this feast day far from disappointing but, instead, amazingly beautiful and empowering.  He loves and trusts us this much with His victory and wants us to make it our own. He wants us to continue to transform this world, and the human ambitions that so often distort what it is we spend so much time and energy chasing.

That’s what Kyle stumbled upon in the 16th second – upon what’s most important. That when we put our relationship with Jesus first and foremost, and value others . . . that’s when we find no regrets, but rather Christ Himself.