The Grad at Grad comes to Indio

February 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

I was nervous. More nervous than I had been in months, maybe even years. It was just an hour or so before our first mock trial competition, and I was roaming through the second-floor halls of Xavier, imagining all the things that could go wrong. What if our lawyers forgot their objections? What if our witnesses forgot their parts? What if I failed to prepare our team? (And, for that matter — more pacing, more looking into the carpet for reassurance — did we practice too much? Too little?)

The cross-examination continued; my fretting turned into an inquisition. My reputation, and that of Xavier, awaited a verdict.

I wanted to win. I knew we could lose. What if we lost?

Spontaneously I thought, “Pray.” Find God in all things, says St. Ignatius. Can I find God in nerve endings, in my swirling stomach? What if that acted like static, blocking God? I was a bad AM radio station the Holy Spirit couldn’t tune in. I prayed anyway. Lord, if I haven’t coached well, teach me. If I haven’t prepared them for tonight, reveal yourself in the lack of preparation. Give them excitement. Don’t let them feel let down.

A half hour later, we had just exited the I-10 on our way to the Indio Courthouse. We approached an intersection, and I turned and looked at the glimmering windows of a Starbucks and the commonplace scenes of rush hour. The ordinary consoled. Win or lose, the Starbucks will serve coffee. Win or lose, traffic will continue. The fate of the world does not rest upon tonight. As we slowed at the light, the students began to laugh. I looked up in the rear view mirror and saw Anthony.

His background rushed to mind. Only a sophomore, Anthony arrived in the U.S. just weeks before his freshman year, diverted to our school by luck. Originally from Latin America, he joined the Xavier mock trial team first as a witness, having no prior knowledge of the American justice system. Impressed by how quickly he learned the part, this year we asked him to take on a tougher role, that of attorney. Anthony set himself to mastering the rules of evidence, direct and cross-examinations, and an opening argument. What a journey, I thought. Two years ago he’s thousands of miles away in a foreign country, now he’s delivering an opening argument in a southern California courthouse, before a real American judge.

Shortly after we arrived, we gathered outside the courtroom doors engaging in final fidgeting and double-checking. I was issuing reminders. Silence fell. And then, one of our students said, “Mr. Emerson, can we pray?”

We usually do pray as a team, but that night, so distracted by my concerns, it didn’t occur to me. When Celia asked that question, I thought to myself, “How could I have forgotten that?” But I was thrilled she brought it up. “Of course,” I told her. “That would be great.”

She made the sign of the cross, encouraged everyone to clasp hands, and then started an “Our Father.” She then offered her own spontaneous prayer and finished with, “Let us do everything tonight A.M.D.G.”

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*     *     *

We won. And we celebrated with our customary post-trial pancakes from IHOP, but driving home, it wasn’t the win that moved me most. It was recalling Anthony’s story and Celia’s prayer. My nervousness before the competition, though understandable as a coach, had divorced itself from memory. I had forgotten the point of mock trial within the mission of our school and Ignatian education. The Grad at Grad does not call us to win, to be flawlessly prepared, to go undefeated. It calls us to form. To form young men and women based upon standards the world does not recognize.

That night, the principles of the Grad at Grad, which I had often recited to rooms of parents, grew lungs and limbs, and learned how to laugh. As part of the Grad at Grad, we ask our students to be open to growth, and what better example than Anthony, confronting a new American school and a complex foreign legal system? We ask our students to be religious, to be more intentional in living out a relationship with God. What better example than Celia, who, noticing that we hadn’t prayed, initiated the prayer?

The Grad at Grad had come to life. This is success, I thought. This is why we do what we do. It is not about winning: it is about something much better.

(To keep confidentiality, names have been changed above)

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