Visualizing a Peaceful World (in the mid-1940s)

A Fenwick alumnus saved his valedictory address from 72 years ago. We publish it here to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day.

By Jim Wilson ’45

706 stars: A Service Flag hanging in school depicts the number of Fenwick alumni serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during Wilson’s junior year in 1943-44 (Yearbook photo).

In 1945, Fenwick Commencement Exercises took place on June 10th, one month after Germany’s surrender from World War II. In August of that year, the United States would drop two atomic bombs on Japanese cities.

For the past four years Fenwick’s graduates have been embarking on a pretty dark world. They have shouldered this responsibility of freeing that world from fear, slavery, and oppression. Because of the zeal with which they have met this responsibility we, of the class of 1945, are able to look beyond the tragedy of war and visualize a peaceful world, void of fear and oppression. We realize the responsibility of procuring a Christian peace that will be a fitting memorial, especially to those 38 Fenwick graduates who have given their lives in this conflict, and thereby made our graduation a step into a more peaceful world.

But some will ask: “Are we prepared for such a job? Are we taking enough with us from Fenwick? What have we achieved during our last four years?” These questions make us look back and meditate on our years in Fenwick. We see the progress we have made and the change that has come over us since we first became Fenwick boys. What we see makes us certain that we are ready to assume the responsibilities that the world will impose on us.

Scholastically we are prepared. We have learned how to think, how to reason. We have delved into many different fields, into the arts and sciences. We have not only learned how to form our own ideas but how to express them, both by speech and by the pen. Our high school days have been spent with our teachers, men expert in their fields, with whom association alone was enough to stimulate our intellects in the pursuit of knowledge. Intellectually, Fenwick has abundantly prepared us.

Wilson was the 1945 valedictorian at FHS.

But a full education depends upon much more than scholastic or intellectual training. The mere sharpening of wits, the sheer procuring of knowledge can be used either for good or for evil. Intellectual enlargement is dangerous unless it is accompanied by a corresponding moral growth. Our years at Fenwick have certainly been a stimulus to this moral growth. This development, however, has not been entirely dependent upon religion classes. The application of God and of moral standards to the other subjects, the discipline, the religious opportunities at Fenwick have all been instrumental in giving us a full Christian education. The faculty itself is composed of men, of priests who have devoted their lives to the development of this moral growth and education.

Fenwick has not only trained us for a time, but for all eternity knowing that it will not profit us at all if we gain the whole world but suffer the loss of our souls. No man can be said to have gained true success in life unless that success be both for time and for eternity. Because of the Catholic education which we have had the opportunity to enjoy, we know that we are prepared to gain success in this life in whatever fields we may enter.

For such an opportunity, for such an education, no words can sufficiently thank those who have helped us through our four high school years. There are our parents who long ago realized what we have just recently apprehended and who made a Catholic education possible for us. We are also grateful to the faculty who has helped us to make the most of our opportunity and who has guided us through our transition from Catholic boys to Catholic men. We thank our fellow students and all friends of Fenwick who have stood by us in our failures and our successes.

The time has come for farewells. We will say goodbye to the faculty, to our classmates and to our friends, hoping we will see them again and often, but we will never say goodbye to Fenwick. We cannot say goodbye to Fenwick because Fenwick is part of us. It is not a building, an architectural design, or just a high school. Fenwick is its graduating classes, its students, its alumni. It is an emblem of a full Christian education — of our education. Those who have gone before us, those who have faith in us, may well be assured that our association with Fenwick guarantees this: that the principles of right and justice will be applied by us as individuals as we strive together for a Christian peace, for a Christian world.

About the Author

Jim Wilson is 90 years old.

Jim Wilson came to Fenwick from St. Francis Xavier School and Parish a few months before that fateful December 7th in 1941. He wrote for The Wick, was a Science Club and Blackfriar member as a junior and senior and debated as a junior. He also played freshman football, swam as a sophomore and participated in boxing all four years.

After Fenwick, Jim went on to graduate valedictory from Georgetown and then graduated #2 in his class from the University of Michigan Law School. Now 90, Wilson spent his entire career as a partner at Schiff Hardin and Waite in real estate, representing some of the top buildings and blocks of Chicago and New York City.

“My father-in-law looks like he’s in his late 70s,” reports Mike Delaney. “He is still very mentally quick and walks two to three miles a day.” Jim also is involved in a book club in Burr Ridge, volunteers at Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Glenview, and still drives, his son-in-law adds. “He is wired like a 16-year-old in all forms of media and lives in a hip, new apartment building in downtown Glenview with a bunch of 30-year-olds. He lives young and doesn’t believe in retirement communities.”

3 Replies to “Visualizing a Peaceful World (in the mid-1940s)”

  1. Catherine Wilson Opper – sister of James Wilson. It is so often not the fashion to comment positively on totally positive people that I was speechless when reading this. THank you to Michael Delaney for doing this wonderful and desirable job. My sister and I trotted along, slightly off the course, on this journey . She has left us, but she would bear witness as do I.

    What you have read here is true. What we saw is what we got. It still is. I am a frustrated writer (translate: unpublished!), but in my archives are many accounts, poetry/prose of this special man and his special world. Right now I am old; he is older. I pray for more years for both of us. We loved our world, St. Francis, Fenwick I never entered that school, but Jim lived it for me. I have a grandson now considering Georgetown – and I know it is Jim’s world. His life has been real with good times and bad, but he is better than anyone I have known in turning bad to good. If he falls, breaks a bone, experiences a loss, within a short measurable period, he shares with those who love him, and the number is huge, how much his life has improved because of this occurance! I end by sharing with anyone who sees this, how much my life was improved by being allowed to share his life. Thanks agaiin, Michael and Mary Delaney, and, of course, Jim!
    And, Fenwick, Georgetown, God and, always the Jesuits. They really knew what they were doing.

  2. Thanks for sharing my father and hero’s commencement speech. I grew up hearing all of his fond memories of his time at Fenwick. Truly a joy and surprise to see your story.

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