This morning at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg we recognized our graduating seniors, of which she's one. The young people each gave a brief talk about how they plan to bridge the gap from students in Religious Growth and Learning classes to young adults. Here is what Olivia had to say:
"Good morning! My name is Olivia Hayes, and I’ve been going to church here for thirteen years. I will be graduating from Central Dauphin High School, and will attend the University of Pittsburgh this coming fall. I intend to study the fields of genetics and bioengineering.
"This church means more to me than I can express in words. It’s welcoming, it doesn’t force any specific belief set on you, and it’s all about peace and love. I am so grateful that I was able to follow my own spiritual path, change around my beliefs, and just be myself when I’m here. I will greet the real, adult world with a free mind and open arms. I will accept the things I cannot change, and change the things I cannot accept.
"My college choice was greatly influenced by whether or not there would be a Unitarian church nearby. I plan to continue to see the world in different ways. I will try to accept people as they are and, even if I can’t bring myself to love them. And I want to keep searching for myself, too. That’s what Unitarian Universalism means to me. As begin I cross this bridge into the adult world, I will have this church to back me up."
That would be enough in and of itself to make me burst with pride. But then the director of our young adult education announced that this year, for the first time, the church felt the need to acknowledge one teen (a "superstar") who had excelled in the areas of leadership, of making multi-generational connections, of community service, of taking social action, of contributing to worship at our church, and of participation above and beyond the norm in learning classes. As soon as she announced that the winner had been a Unisinger (our church choir) I knew it had to be Olivia. Over the years Olivia has marched in protest for Gay Marriage Equality every year since she was eleven; she raised--literally--a ton of food for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, she raised $2,000.00 from the congregation to help pay for the middle-schoolers' trip to Boston; she is a member of our women's group Queenspirit; she sings and plays in the church orchestra; she is a staunch supporter and defender of our church's sex education program; she has served as a Lay Liturgist; and she has performed every year in Kaleidoscope, in order to help raise funds for the church's music scholarship.
I know I'm going on and on here, reciting the litany of her accomplishments like any proud dad would do, but I can't help it. If I have nothing else to be proud of in my entire life, I can be proud of how Olivia has turned into the most amazing young woman it's my privilege to know.