Confessions of a special character and Jesus follower

Seventeen-year-old St Bernard’s student, Jordan Kooge, gave this speech at the Education Convention in Wellington in July.

Confessions of a special character and Jesus follower Archdiocese of Wellington At our Year 13 retreat this year we were asked to take a rock from a pile after the liturgy. Each rock had a word inscribed on it. My rock said ‘role model’. So everyday I look at my now faded pet rock and try my best to be my rock.
I have been going to church regularly all my life, but as I look back I can see where sometimes I have not gone, or have acted unjustly with people around me.
In my rebel stage of life (which I believe I am still in) I used to pretend to be asleep so Mum would not take me to church.

A group shock
One Sunday night after church, my good friend John Braddock told me there was free pizza in the back room. This immediately made me feel 100 percent about church, and as we went into the room, sure enough there it was. We went closer, but—too late. They locked the doors and said ‘youth group’!

A big ‘oh man’ went through the room, or maybe it was just me groaning too loudly. When Mum asked, ‘How was youth group, Jordan?’ I thought about giving my usual answer—a grunt or ‘ok’ but then I said in one breath: ‘Mum, it was actually really good. I enjoyed myself the whole time and it was a really wonderful night, the pizza was ok. It’s on next week, too; can I go?’

Mum thought she must have picked up the wrong child. She looked at me as though I wasn’t speaking English.
Wait, church and youth group was…fun? I couldn’t imagine myself saying the two parts of something completely different in the same sentence. Church was cool.

Soon I started to play the drums with the local ‘youthies’ music at Sunday evening Mass. I started reading at Mass, became a Eucharistic minister, and then the Special Character for St Bernard’s College (student religious leader), which I really enjoyed putting on my curriculum vitae.

The retiring type
Being a student in a Catholic college is a great experience for me. I used to be the kind of person who would keep everything about myself secret and would agree with everyone, even if I secretly disagreed or knew they were wrong.
Not many people know this about me but now I can proudly say without fear of ridicule that I do not drink alcohol and do not want to because I don’t want to be the kind of person who wakes up on a bus stop bench wearing a dress and sleeping in my own vomit at 7.45am on a Sunday morning with less than $50 in my bank account.

I am not totally against alcohol. I just know that it isn’t what I want for my life. I can also say I am a Christian Catholic student in a Catholic school.

Camp life-changing

In January I had the best experience of my life at a Young Catholic Leader camp. Nine schoolboys and girls and around 34 teenagers in a school ground for five days. This was a life-changing experience—so many new friends. Through session after session of interesting and intriguing discussions, the leaders kept our attention and we all quickly became good friends. Most of us cried on the last day—me, only a little.

If I were in a state school, my life would be completely different. I would have left school and have been average in everything I did. I think that if I had not found God or the church in such a welcoming environment, I would not be following my dreams to be a professional band musician, New Zealand’s newest host on kids’ TV or a comedian at the Odd Fellows Comedy gala.

Education brings understanding
Catholic education has helped me understand the bible and Jesus’ way of life. I never used to believe in God or Jesus or his miracles I think I now truly understand the meaning of my life—to do God’s will and to be the best person I can be to everyone I see, meet, greet, even if I don’t know them.

World Youth Day
I went to WYD in Sydney in June last year. The pilgrimage was fantastic, so many people were excited on the first day, so many chants and songs to sing, we were completely exhausted after the first three days. The final Mass was so special.

When the pope asked for quiet during the prayer, a crowd of more than 750,000 screaming nutters fell silent—the first real silence I had in eight days.
I came back from WYD a better person. Thank you for supporting us young catholic leaders. Thank you for changing my life from a below-average person to someone who really cares about the world and its ever-changing ideas about life and how it will affect our children.

Thank you for opening my eyes to God, to Christ, to a better and much more amazing world. If there was one thing I learned about God, meeting people and being a better person, it would be to just be myself. God created you for you. You’re unique—act it.
And to teachers and leaders everywhere—if you want younger people involved—add pizza.

Jordan Kooge is keen to train at the New Zealand Radio School next year for a degree in radio broadcasting.