Youth and the promise of future generations were the themes of Dover Mayor Carleton E. Carey's annual Prayer Breakfast, held Oct. 23 at the Dover Downs Hotel and Casino.
The featured speaker was 2004 Dover High School graduate Sherif Girgis, a Rhodes Scholar who is both a Ph.D. student at Princeton University and a law student at Yale.
Dr. Dina Vendetti of the St. John's Lutheran School set the tone for the gathering, reminding her 300-plus listeners that with all the distractions in today's society, it is important faith be nurtured and cared for. Each person, she said, should go and work with children with "a renewed inspiration."
Introduced by Capital School District Superintendent Dr. Michael Thomas, Girgis started off on a light note, commenting on Thomas' reading of his long list of academic achievements, noting that nine years after graduating from Dover High as class valedictorian, he still is a student.
"Every time I hear that introduction, I think to myself, I can't wait for the day when he can end that with the words, 'he now has a job.'"
Girgis recounted his days as a student at Dover High School and how he found a renewed purpose in life upon his conversion to Catholicism. Speaking without notes, Girgis said he decided to talk about the Catholic tradition that sees everyone, no matter their age, can as a child of God.
Quoting from Matthew, Chapter 18, Girgis noted Jesus said people would not enter the kingdom of heaven unless they would "become as little children."
That led him to reflect on ways people, in advancing their faith, are called upon to be more like children.
One is in having a total sense of freedom that comes with a loving home and family, Girgis said.
The second thing faith provides is boundless energy stemming from the limitless opportunities afforded by a belief in God, he said.
The third, love, comes from teaching children to understand what is important. Sometimes that starts with fear, which can stem from worries about punishment for doing something wrong, but that eventually is replaced with love as a child understands why he or she should or should not do something, he said.
He realized this himself as a child when he did something he knew was wrong, and was fearful of his parents' reaction when they found out, Girgis said. But instead of being angry or indignant, his mother was disheartened, he said.
"Something clicked in that moment," he said, "when I realized that at least some of the time parents' rules aren't arbitrary restrictions. Even when I can't understand them, they're motivated by love."
Love gave him a reason to live the life he lives, Girgis said, even though he may not understand God's plan for him.
Page 2 of 2 - Like children who sometimes fail to see the reason for their parents' rules, life for adults can seem meaningless if they don't know God has a plan for them.
Knowing that God loves you and has a plan helps give life a purpose, he said.
"Love can provide a reason, even for grownups, for everything," he said.
Afterward, Girgis was pleased to meet two familiar faces from the past, Gail (Grambau) Parsons, who was his first-grade teacher, and Lynn Bergold, who taught fourth-grade.
"He was an outstanding student, even back then," Bergold recalled. "He was one of those students who stood out. He was a real joy to have in the classroom."
"I've followed his career for years," Parsons said. "He was always very, very bright. I knew he would go places.
"And," Parsons added with a smile, "he was very cute."
In a 2004 interview with the Dover Post, Girgis had ambitions of becoming a Catholic priest, but today he hopes to either teach law or philosophy. He also wants to "keep one foot in the public square," when it comes to academics and the public interest.
Carey said the day's theme about children was appropriate because adults can forget what it's like to think as a child.
"I don't think of myself as the age I am," the 69-year-old mayor said. "Thinking younger gives you a sense that you can do anything or be anything that you want to be.
"It's important that we feel that way."
This year was the 30th anniversary of the first Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, which was held Oct. 6, 1983, during the administration of the late Crawford Carroll.