By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Not with a whimper, but a bang.
Two years from now, if plans go accordingly, there will no longer be an Archbishop O’Hara High School. That will be the year that the brand-new St. Michael the Archangel High School will open in Lee’s Summit and Archbishop O’Hara will close the book on 51 years of high school education in the Christian Brothers tradition.
But if there were any doubt about the way O’Hara students are going out, if there were any concerns about lagging school spirit, they got blown out of the gym when Kelly Tyler Byrnes, Class of ’83, led the entire student body into a familiar cheer.
“O’HARA!” Byrnes bellowed into a microphone.
“CELTICS!” some 355 voices bellowed back even louder, not needing the help of electronic amplification.
Then Byrnes, a motivational speaker and author who gave the keynote to end “Waking the Leader in You,” a day set aside to hone leadership skills in students, told the student body something they already knew. And that included some 50 students who transferred from St. Mary’s High School that closed at the end of last school year.
“It means something to be an O’Hara Celtic,” Byrnes said. “I graduated 30 years ago, and it still means something to me.
“O’Hara is a special place,” she continued. “Most high schools don’t have people dedicated to who you are and who you will become as an adult. But the thing about high school, you are not adults yet. You do not have those life skills yet.”
Byrnes shared with the O’Hara students her five strategies for successful living called the “All-In Way” which has put her in international demand as a speaker before corporations and professional sports teams.
“The first strategy is give all,” she said. “I don’t want you to be overwhelmed by doing everything. But give your all to whatever you are doing at the time. The more you pay attention to what you are doing, the better you will do it.”
The second strategy is “See beyond.”
“When you are doing your math homework, what is the bigger picture? You are learning skills you will need in life,” Byrnes said.
The third strategy is “Notice others.”
Byrnes particularly challenged the O’Hara students to reach out to someone they don’t know yet, and particularly to those new transfer students from St. Mary’s who are now as much a part of O’Hara as everyone in the room.
“The tendency is to wait for others to reach out to us,” Byrnes said. “But the more you are reaching out to others, the more you will be reaching up, and the more people will be reaching out to you.”
The fourth strategy is “Move forward.”
“Life is about a journey we take and the journey has ups and downs for everybody,” she said. “When you have downs, figure out how to move forward. Don’t get stuck. Acknowledge it. Think about it. Feel it. Then get out.”
Byrnes’ fifth strategy is “Enjoy now.”
“As frustrating as life can be, this is a great time in your life,” Byrnes said. “Too many people wait for joy – ‘It will be so much better when . . .’
“Find the joy every day. If you are looking for misery, you can find that every day. If you are looking for joy, you can find that, too,” she said.
The day began with Father Don Farnan, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Kansas City, telling the students to “Shake the salt” and “Shine the light,” reminding them of Jesus telling his followers to be the salt and light of the earth.
“The leader in you will be awakened when you realize what it means to be salt and light,” Father Farnan said.
To be light means sharing your love with others. To be salt is to preserve, purify and add flavor, he said.
“There are those who truly love other people, they are always prepared to stop what they are doing to help others,” he said.
“The world needs a purifying element,” Father Farnan said. “That is your challenge at Archbishop O’Hara High School this year.”
In breakout sessions, students heard from a variety of experts on topics that both challenge and present obstacles to youth today.
A special “men only” segment viewed Dr. Jackson Katz’s 1999 documentary, “Tough Guise” about how the culture places pressure on males to be violent with the result that 90 percent of violent crimes are committed by males — including every single instance of mass murders at schools.
A special “women only” session had career educator Susan Sterner Spence leading a discussion on how the advertising industry uses women’s bodies to sell virtually any product while perpetuating an unhealthy and unrealistic image of the supposedly “ideal” woman.
In “Social Media,” Kansas Bureau of Investigation Agent Angie Jones warned the teens that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become hunting grounds for a new breed of sexual predator.
“How many of you have 100 ‘friends’ on Facebook?” Jones asked as every hand in the auditorium of nearly 100 students raised their hands.
“200? 300? 500? 1,000?” she asked in progression as some hands remained up with each higher number.
“I’m going out on a limb: You don’t really know all those people. You may know someone who knows someone who knows someone,” Jones said. “Your parents should be going through your ‘friends’ for people they don’t know.”
Allowing people to be Facebook “friends” gives them access to everything a person posts on Facebook pages, even those marked private.
Jones also warned that the profiles posted on social media Web pages are always public, and accessible to anyone with Internet access. Young people should take particular care not to post anything on those pages that could lead a predator to identify where they live, what their habits are, and where they go to school.
And she also issued another sobering thought about social media content.
“Four out of five colleges look at Facebook when they are recruiting students,” she said. “Ninety-one percent of employers use LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to screen candidates,” she said.
Young people have been declined admission into the college of their choice or denied employment because their social media pages included such things as inappropriate comments, negative comments about their school or a previous employer, and even pictures of the student drinking or doing drugs, Jones said.
On the other hand, Facebook profiles can help a student get accepted into college if they contain such things as extra-curricular activities and volunteer work outside of school, Jones said.
“Think before you ‘tweet’ or post, because you can never take it back,” she said. “What you post is in cyberspace forever.”