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In the Spotlight: MSU undergrad Dan Faas reflects on teaching, fear, and awe

on Wednesday, 28 November 2012.

Dan Faas' classmates chose him to speak during Commencement weekend last summer and, with his characteristic wit and wisdom, the former Spartan captured the fear, awe, and Christ-revealing hope of the ACE experience. Below are excerpts of his speech. To read the full transcript, click here.

On behalf of the graduating class of ACE 17, I want to thank all of you for being here tonight. Thank you to the ACE M.Ed faculty, pastoral staff, and all who make ACE what it is...And on a personal note, I want to thank my fellow ACErs — my fellow masters, my allies in Catholic education, my dear friends, my brothers and sisters for giving me — a lowly Spartan — the opportunity to speak for a few minutes tonight on their behalf and to represent Our Lady's University in this capacity. I say with all sincerity that this is the honor of my life.

I'm a little bit intimidated to be up here right now...Many of you are perhaps expecting me to briefly and succinctly encapsulate the ACE experience. Grandma Rita in the back perhaps might be wondering what it's like to be an ACE teacher, or perhaps Cousin Herschell wants to know about the academic rigors of the M.Ed, and Aunt Esther might just want some more clarification on why her sweet niece or nephew was sent to Plaquemine, Louisiana in the first place, or even where or what a Plaquemine is...

I've come to the conclusion that —alas! — it can't be done. For those who have completed ACE, no explanation is necessary and for those who have not, no amount of explanation will suffice. The story of ACE as a whole is too big for one man to explain. It is, alas, not my story to tell.

But this burden nevertheless left me afraid. Afraid, much like the apostles were [in the boat the night they saw Jesus walking on the water]. Scripture says a strong wind was blowing, and the apostles of Christ were frightened. And when Christ appears, walking on water, what does he say but, "Do not be afraid"?

"Do not be afraid" — says the unsinkable man.

At first, this reading did nothing to allay my fears. If I'm afraid to sink, why should I listen to Jesus, as he is buoying on top of the sea?

But when the apostles stop being afraid, when they recognize what is happening — their Lord defying the laws of nature and physics — they let him into the boat...and they are amazed. They forget their fear, and they just live in awe of what they just saw...

I was teaching the sacraments in religion this past year and we were talking about the Eucharist — that is, the sacrament that Catholics recognize as the real presence — body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. I explained this to my students, and saw their faces kind of contort — first in confusion, then in understanding, then in shock. Many of my students, non-Catholic, didn't understand how people could really think this. And then Shauntai, in the back, asked a question I'll never forget:

"So, Midda Faw, if you think that Jesus is REALLY the bread, then why you not be amazed, like, ALL THE TIME?!"

And I didn't have an answer for her. Still don't.

And I think, maybe, that's why I was so afraid of this talk. Not just because I have to get up in front of 500 people. I taught middle school, I can handle 500 people. But because you all amaze me so much, and I don't want to disappoint...

It's easy to be afraid, especially in times like this. We are moving to new places, and schools. We have new vocations, new spouses, new fiancees, new roommates, new careers.

But when I think back to all of you all, and how I have seen Christ in you and in all of the work and the pain and the struggle and the joy and the good, the real and lasting good that we've done — together: I am not afraid.

I am amazed.

And, like Shauntai's question, I really don't know why I wasn't amazed the whole time. I should have been. And now, looking at all of you, finishing this difficult and beautiful experience, I know I will continue to be amazed for a very long time.

Dan is currently teaching in the ACE Chile (ChACE) program.  To read the full transcript of his commencement speech, click here.

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