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A ‘Johnnie’ speaks

Raymond Mitchell encourages peers to take courage and embrace the world ahead of them at SJU commencement
  • Raymond Mitchell, 21, was elected by the student body at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota to speak at their recent commencement service. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in theology. His next move has him headed to Rome, Italy, where he will engage in service for a year with the Benedictine Volunteer Corps, working in guest services at a Benedictine college. Photo: RAYMOND MITCHELL

Published: Jun 19, 2017

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As Raymond Mitchell graduates college and prepares for the next phase of his life, he believes that if he had the opportunity to travel back in time to speak to his high school self, the advice he would offer his younger self would be the same that he would offer today’s students. That would be to work hard. He believes the best way a child can repay parents for the sacrifices they’ve made to give them the best in life is to work hard. And he said that it does not matter if they don’t have everything figured out for their future before they graduate high school.

Mitchell, 21, who was elected by the student body at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota to speak at their recent commencement service, recalled that he had planned to study environmental studies with the goal to become a weatherman. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in theology. His next move has him heading to Rome, Italy, where he will engage in service for a year with the Benedictine Volunteer Corps, working in guest services at a Benedictine college.

He will depart for Rome in August. Over the course of the next year, he is looking to expand his horizon and see more of the world. He’s currently working at the Basilica of St. Mary, the co-cathedral of Minneapolis and Minnesota.

“It will be a good time for me to turn the volume down a bit before I move into a next step of education or life, and also a time for me to just step back, do some prayer reflection on my past four years and prepare myself for the years to come,” said Mitchell.

During his commencement address, he reminded his peers that they all had stories of their time at SJU that their parents and family members would not want to hear; stories, he said, that would tarnish the image of their innocent freshman year selves — of what actually happens during Piano Man at Sal’s (although some of their moms would probably know after attending Mom Prom); stories of the times they should have been studying but went to Big Mugs instead; or even stories of the post 2 a.m. Gary’s Pizza festivities.

“We all have some secret, some story, some memory we dare never to tell our parents or families,” said the SJU graduate to his peers, who are known as “Johnnies”.

Two tattoos, gotten during his sophomore and junior years are evidence of the Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary’s “recklessness” during his four years. One tattoo depicts the SJU cross, and the other depicts three hexagon windows from the Abbey Church.

“These tattoos however, were not the result of a friendly dare or wild Friday night, but the result of my priceless experience at Saint John’s,” he said. It was priceless, he said, because he could never put a numeric value on his experience at the small liberal arts Benedictine University in central Minnesota.

“Just like my two Saint John’s inspired tattoos that are permanently a part of me, Saint John’s has left a permanent mark on me with a life-changing experience filled with friends, fun, the amazing food and memories on our once blank-slate freshmen selves.

“Murray McCartan, an SJU graduate of the class of 1991, once said, ‘Saint John’s isn’t just where you went to college; it’s who you are.’ Those words became truer as [graduation day] loomed closer and closer. Today, we recognize that Saint John’s is more than where we went to college.”

As he and his peers move into the next chapter of life, he told them they represent clear-thinking, morally driven men.

“If there is one thing we have learned during our time here, it is the Benedictine values of awareness of God, taking counsel, respect for persons, listening, dignity of work, hospitality, stewardship, truthful living, moderation, common good, justice and, of course, community. These values got us through our roughest days and reminded us that we are bold, strong and determined. I think that Saint Benedict left out one important component to these values — courage. Courage allows you to reach your full potential. And if it were not for courage, many of us would not be here today, and not have capitalized on the opportunities Saint John’s gave us,” he said.

“If I can give you one piece of advice, it would be this — Pope John Paul II once wrote these inspiring words — “take courage; do not be afraid”. As we move into this next chapter, let us take courage and embrace the world ahead of us. Try new things, grow as individuals and encounter the unknown. Let us take courage as we begin jobs, travel the world, get married and start families. Do not be afraid of change, because we have been changing ever since we got here.”

While Mitchell encourages high school students to work hard in the first instance, and reminds them that they don’t have to have it all figured out before entering college, he said his second piece of advice he would give them would be to not be afraid.

“It’s okay to not know. Just aspire to be great, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. As highschoolers we tend to second guess ourselves a lot. Don’t. Strive for what you want and just work really hard, because hard work does pay off in the long run.”

Mitchell said he was also able to get to the position he’s in today with the help of a lot of mentors, teachers and his family; as well as through prayer and always being faithful.

“Your parents work very hard to keep you in school, and to give you the best education possible, and to give you the best life. Parents want the best for their kids, and I realize that my parents [Ray Mitchell and Brenda Albury], through their sacrifices, that they made all of this possible for me. And the smallest thing you can do is to do well in school, and that goes a long way to repay their expenses for you.”

Mitchell graduated from SJU with a 3.4 grade point average (GPA). It was not high enough to graduate with honors, but it was an average he was still proud of, considering he was heavily involved on campus from the student body to cultural clubs, served as a resident assistant and also did a lot of singing.

Mitchell has plans to obtain a master’s in theology, and possibly a PhD, and says he can see himself working in education in a teaching capacity, at a non-profit looking into social justice issues, and working with people who are oppressed or marginalized.

His year of volunteering in Rome, at St. John’s Abbey program will be totally funded, inclusive of airfare, lodging, food and a monthly stipend. He heard about it in his freshman year, considered it in the ensuing years and decided to apply for consideration in November 2016. He interviewed in December and received word that he had been accepted.

As he embarks on this new journey, he said, the one take away he wants for himself and his peers, is for them to dive into the unknown.

“Leaving college can be a big transition, and that can be scary for most people. A lot of people don’t know if they’re getting jobs right after graduation, or what they’re going to be doing. So my advice to them is to take courage and not be afraid; to be courageous as they move into this next transition in life and this next big step in life, but to also not be afraid of what is to come.”

Mitchell intends to travel to as many European countries he can while in Rome, and is already making plans to visit Prague, France, London, Ireland, Budapest, Israel and Spain.

The St. Augustine’s College graduate also said he was honored his class elected him to speak on their behalf at commencement services.

“We came to this place from near and far — different backgrounds, different experiences, different cultures; however, this place unites us to this one-shared experience. We gathered for more than a graduation, but to celebrate all we have done and all we have accomplished.”


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