Mary Willows Receives the 2003 Distinguished Alumnae Award

By Mary Willows

Mary Willows, Secretary, Tri-Valley Chapter
Mary Willows, Secretary,
Tri-Valley Chapter

Editor's Note: The following comments were made after Mary Willows received the 2003 Distinguished Alumnae Award.

Thank you for this honor. I have such wonderful memories of my time at Alvernia. I remember attending my first all-school pajama party. There were a few of us who actually thought that we might get a couple of hours of sleep when we were trampled by the people running out of the haunted house room.

I attended my first "father-daughter dance" where my dad and I perfected our much loved polka. My dad was a great dancer.

I remember Miss Zahm. Now most of you probably don't know about the Miss Zahm stance because you probably all got to class on time. However, if ever you were late, you were met by the principal, Miss Zahm, at the top of the stairs with her hands on her hips staring at you as you went by. When you saw that look you knew that you had better move. To this day, I use the Miss Zahm stance. It is quite effective.

I developed my ceramic technique during my junior year. I made a graduation cap and tassel along with a scroll sitting on a little pedestal. I made that on the day that I was informed that I had earned enough credits to graduate after my junior year. I was elated because that meant that I could graduate with all of my same-age friends, most of who attended Mother Theodore Guerin. You see, I didn't really plan on attending Alvernia. One night, during my freshman year, I was involved in a terrible car accident which resulted in my becoming totally blind. So, while my friends continued to attend Guerin, I learned how to use a cane and take the CTA half-way across the north side of Chicago to Alvernia.

The real reason I transferred to Alvernia was because my parents, Jim and Molly McDonough, were committed to the idea that all six of their children should receive the best religious education possible.

I learned a lot while I attended Alvernia. I learned about a part of Chicago which I never knew existed. That really paid off when I attended the University of Northeastern Illinois. The Franciscan Sisters taught me to set my standards high in life, love, creativity and wisdom. They taught us grace and poise. And they taught us to be instruments of God's peace.

I asked God for forgiveness because if you can't learn to forgive you can't move on. And once you learn to forgive, you can let it go and get on with your life. And I teach others to forgive.

I asked God for courage. When I was confirmed, I took the name Veronica because I wanted to have courage like St. Veronica had when she pushed her way through the crowd to wipe the face of our Lord on his way up Calvary. Little did I know that one day courage is what would get me through. And I use it to teach others to have courage in their lives.

I asked God for patience and I use it every day to teach my Special Education students to be patient with themselves if they don't get it the first time.

And I asked God for love and I used it to teach my two sons and my husband what unconditional love looks and feels like.

And I asked God for independence and I learned that there really is no such thing as real independence. We are all dependent on each other for all those things...forgiveness, courage, patience, love and our illusions of independence.

As my son Jimmy told me one day when he came home from kindergarten, "Mommy, did you know that love is something you are supposed to give away?" He told me that he had learned a song in school that day which went something like this..."Love is something when you give it away, give it away, give it away." And that is just the kind of person he is today. Jimmy is always doing something nice for someone.

And my son Donny is always singing about something. He is always happy and full of life. I hope he always continues to sing about love and happiness because that is just the way he is.

And so are all my brothers and sisters and their life spouses. Jim and Pam McDonough, Tom and Meg McDonough, Kathy and Al Grazzini, Eileen and Terry Sweeney and Sheila and Pino Tricase. And they have all of their children with them today, also.

And we all have my parents to thank. They taught us about unconditional love. My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary two years ago. And they are both here with me today.

And I'd also like to thank my two best friends, Connie Denk and Chris McNulty, who put off doing their homework at Guerin to come over to my house and help me get mine done while I attended Alvernia. They never thought of themselves first.

Shortly after I graduated from Alvernia I was introduced to the National Federation of the Blind. These are the people who really whipped me into shape. They taught me that it is OK to be blind. And they taught me how important it is to give back and pass on precepts and concepts taught by our leaders. I was very lucky to have met such wonderful people as Mike Crammer and Steve Bensen from Illinois. When I moved to California, I found myself sitting in the home of Mrs. tenBroek with people like Muzzy Marcelino and Fred Schroeder. I learned early on that I am not alone and I have not succeeded because I am such a wonderful independent person; I am enjoying success in my life because of all the leaders in the NFB who have gone before me. They paved the way for me and it is my responsibility to pass on what they have taught me.

So, in conclusion, I would like to read a poem to you. This poem was read to Dr. Gerri Nielsen by her Oncologist. Dr. Nielsen was the woman who spent six months in Antarctica and developed breast cancer. She administered her own chemo and during her second treatment her Oncologist read this poem over the computer. The author is unknown.

"After a while you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul.
And you learn that love does not mean leaving.
And you learn that company does not mean security.
And you begin to understand that kisses are not contracts.
And presents are not promises.
And you begin to accept your defeats with your head held high and your eyes wide open with the grace of a woman instead of the grief of a child.
And you learn to build your roads today because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain and plans and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
And after a while you learn that even the sun will burn you if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and you decorate your own soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure
and that you really are strong
and you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn and you learn.
With each good-bye, you learn."

I hope that my words today will inspire all of you to go out and find something to love in your lives. Your spouses, your children, your friends, your careers.

Thank you for honoring me today.

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