This is a slightly condensed version of a keynote speech delivered by Annette Murdaca to graduates of St. Anne’s School in Lodi a few years ago.
When the principal from St Anne’s asked me to speak to his graduates, I think he thought he was getting some fine, upstanding citizen. Little did he know that my St. Anne’s Class of ’65 voted me the person most likely to succeed as a “go-go” dancer in the popular 1960s show “Laugh In”! So here I am 50 years later a graduate, a mother, a grandmother, a business woman, a philanthropist, and I am here to say YOU MADE IT! ... and now, no more uniforms, no more “blue” pants, or blue shorts, no more “blue anything” No more first-grade poems to memorize, no more sixth-grade science camp food, no more cold lunch, no more community service hours, no more lining up for church, lunch, the bathroom, the beginning of the day or end of the day. No more sweeping up the lunch room. No more “tuck that shirt in.” You made it. You are done with St. Anne’s. You are outta here!
But wait, those field trips ... they were kind of fun. Science camp wasn’t so bad. The basketball games, those spitwads, the school plays and those Christmas programs, and the Science Pentathlon was work but you won!
And then there’s all your friends. Eight years together is a long time. It’s a great bond; it’s something you never forget. I know. It’s 50 years later and I still remember my first-grade teacher and the stories about Heaven and Hell and Lucifer and St. Michael the Archangel. And I still remember my best friend, Nancy Wallior. We still see each other and we still talk on the phone for hours. We still laugh about Sister Alice and her “surprise” skirt checks. The girls had to kneel down and she would check to make sure our skirts hit the floor.
We still remember praying on the day President Kennedy was assassinated. We still remember our friends Doug Hummel, Rick Castanelli, Cheri Kuest, Deb Ahern. We can name them all because the bond was so strong. We grew up together, we worked together, we played together. And that’s one of the greatest things about St. Anne’s — the friendships, the camaraderie, the memories. I have carried them with me for years, and you will too. Memories ... they are yours for the keeping.
But more importantly than the memories there are two other things that you take with you as very special gifts. Gifts no one can ever take away. Yes, you will move on to high school, college, a career, a family, a home. You’ll dream dreams like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Somewhere over that rainbow. You’ll have places to go, people to see and things to do. Two things you will keep with you a lifetime:
2. Faith in God.
Education is a gift we all take for granted. And I say this because I come from an Italian heritage where my grandmother came to America on a ship over the Atlantic, she couldn’t speak a word of English. She barely had $2 and a miniature statute of Jesus in her bag. She made it through Ellis Island and she made it across the United States on a train, with no education. JUST COURAGE AND DETERMINATION. My father never graduated from eighth grade, let along high school. He had no education. JUST COURAGE AND DETERMINATION. Both were determined that their children and grandchildren would have an education. My grandmother built a family. My father built a business. He carried a garbage can on his back, and gave up his education for hard work and a better life for us. “Get an education,” he said. “Use your brain, not your back.” Education was a gift not a “gimmie.”
At St. Anne’s you have been given that gift by your parents, and your teachers. You have been seeded the basic foundation — reading, writing, spelling, math, science, religion. That rainbow of Dorothy’s lays before you. You’ve been taught the discipline to study. You have laid the foundation to build the rest of your house. Now you can go on to the next step of high school and college with pride and confidence. You have an education started here that no one can take away.
I learned to learn here. I learned to love learning at St. Anne’s And I am forever grateful to my grandmother and my mother and father for giving me this gift.
Now, the second greatest gift — faith.
Faith has been the keystone of my life. Everything I have and everything I hope to be ... I owe it all to Thee. My best friend in school was Nancy Wallior. My best friend in life has been Jesus Christ.
I was and am just a garbage man’s daughter who worked her way through life too. Just like you will. There have been mountains to climb, valleys to clear and rivers to cross. I lost my grandmother to cancer, I lost my dad to leukemia. I lost my dreams. I lost my nerve. But I never lost my faith in Christ. All that I have, all that I am. I owe it all to Thee. Only through the power of prayer, and a personal relationship with Jesus have I made it this far in my life. The discipline of prayer I learned at St. Anne’s. I learned about praying not just the “Our Father and the Hail Mary” but a personal daily conversation. ... In times of hardship, heartbreak, and trouble, only my faith, my prayers and my trust in the Lord saw me through.
In Proverbs God tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, acknowledge him in all that you do, and He will guide and direct you.”
How many times, as a kid and as an adult I would ask God for his help. At school, at work, at play, at home. I would ask for help on a test, I would ask for a football game win, guidance at work, money for charity. ... The seeds of my child-like faith were planted at St. Anne’s. Those same seeds are yours. Faith is God’s gift to you. Trust Him. Talk to Him. He is the Shepherd and we are His sheep. He’s here and He’s yours.
That’s it. I am done, but remember that rainbow in “The Wizard of Oz,” those dreams of the tin man, the scarecrow, and the lion.
The tin man wanted a heart ... your heart is the memories of St. Anne’s.
The scarecrow wanted a brain ... your brain is Education.
The lion wanted courage ... your courage is Faith.
A heart, a brain, and courage. It’s just a story. But yours are real. Memories, education and faith.
Put them in your bag along with Toto like Dorothy did, and close your eyes, and click your heels three times and repeat after me: There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home. Home ... St. Anne’s ... with a heart, a brain and courage.
Annette Murdaca of Lodi has led varied nonprofit and charitable community efforts. She spearheaded the drive to establish both the Lodi House shelter for homeless women and children and the Salvation Army’s Hope Harbor Shelter for Women and Children. She hosts the annual Festa Della Donna event, which raises substantial financial support for area nonprofits.