We're well into our 15th year of serving food on Skid Row, in downtown Los Angeles and we've served over 730,000 meals! Thank you to all of our supporters!
Excerpt from Castellani's Commencement Address at the
Albany AcademyJune, 1997
This is a moment - to be remembered - this is a moment that will be remembered - in the hearts - minds - bodies - and souls - of each and every one of you sitting here - this day - June 11, 1997 - The 184th Commencement - of the Albany Academy.
I congratulate each of you - that is graduating today - I want to thank - each one of you - for this beautiful - and prestigious - honor - you have bestowed upon me - It is both humbling - and heartwarming - I welcome it - I cherish it.
I would like to invite the student body - that will eventually meet the requirements - to have their own commencement day - in future years to come - to share in this moment - As you look on in wonderment - asking yourself - "Will that day ever come?" - I assure you it will - Be patient - Enjoy your trip - for one day - you will look back - at this whole period of time -and realize - how short it was.
I would like to invite the faculty - from the art instructor - to the math teacher - from English - to music - to science - to history - to language - to the librarian - whose labor - delicate and most arduous task - of teaching these young men - has come to an end today - Your patience - your love - your caring - your compassion - your tolerance - your unlimited framework - for your abilities - to teach young minds - and prepare them for life itself - must be commended - There are apprehensions somewhat - as I speak - a little sadness also - to see these young men - leave your ward - I believe it is outweighed - by the tremendous feeling of joy - each of you - also - must feel - by the communion - of accomplishment - and success - that is witnessed here - today. These young men will never forget you - You have given them life's greatest - commodity - knowledge - preparing them to walk life's path - to see the pitfalls - and to utilize - to the utmost of their abilities - the teachings - that have been taught here - at this academy - Dear faculty - please share in this moment.
To the athletic director - to the coaches - to the assistants - to the program itself - of physical education - The evening - is drawing near - your job - also - has come to an end - You have trained the mind - and body - to act as one - the spirit of winning - eased the heartbreak - when you lost - They have learned what competition - was all about - and sportsmanship - above all - In today's sports oriented society of ours - we do need leaders - You have done - your very best - to uphold the integrity - and dignity - of the task at hand - You have taught these young men - the boundaries of the game - the uncalled for fouls - the timely - time-outs - that they will utilize - for the rest of their life - as they step onto the playing field - of our complex - and ever so changing world - I invite you to share in this moment.
To the parents - let me not forget you - for each of you were present - at the beginning - of their journey - Reflect with me - your tears of joy - when your son was born - the days - the years - that followed - when he first smiled - realizing he had a mother and a father - When he took his first step - when he said his first word - when he blew out candle - number 1 - The nights you stayed awake - because he were crying - the fears - that you gently eased - The worries - you endured - for the values you instilled in him - so that he may walk in peace - the times he was sick - and you nursed him back to health - for the love - tears - joys - and understanding - you gave - to accompany him - for his lifetime - the sacrifices - there were so many - the braces on his teeth - the events you came to see your son excel in - how proud you were - And that first time he came to you - and asked you for the car - And the deep concern - each of you have - that your son be a light of hope - for someone whose courage - is faltering - that he may be used as an instrument - to give - to heal - To fulfill life's forum - for the betterment - of mankind - I invite you to share in this moment.
To all the friends - the sisters - the brothers - grandmothers and grandfathers - uncles - aunts and cousins - I invite you to share in this moment - for each of you - share in part - the library of knowledge - that exists in the mind - and heart - of each young man - that is graduating today.
The Alumni Association with its vast outreach program - undertaking the task of linking 65 or 70 years of graduates - to present day functions - at the Academy - which you the class of 1997 - will be a part of - in a very short time - to make the same journey - that many of us have made - I invite you to share in this moment.
The Board of Trustees - year after year - working tirelessly - for the betterment of the school - and the integrity - of the students - making decisions that must be made - for the future of the Academy - to keep up with change - the one facet of life - that is constant - it is not an easy task - I commend each of you - you are truly unsung heroes - I invite you to share in this moment - And to the surrounding staff that support the Academy - the web of intricacies - the secretaries - the staff at the buttery - and the Academy Store - to the gentleman that warms your school in winter - and keeps it clean - by day -
The cornerstone of this Academy - has been laid some 184 years ago -1813 to be exact - The Albany Academy - highest standards - compelling values - the workings of this institution - are far reaching - and never ending - encompassing - and weathering - incredulous - and most phenomenal -periods of history - our country has faced - From the war of 1812 - the Civil War - The turn of the 20th century - Vaccines wiping out small pox - and polio - From the horse - to the car - to the plane - to the rocket - From a walk down Main Street USA - to that historical walk - on the moon itself - We have fought two World Wars - Korea - Vietnam - the Gulf War - Heart transplants - are no longer a figment - of the imagination - We have endured earthquakes - hurricanes - tornadoes - floods - snowstorms - heat waves - And the introduction of the atomic age - I could go on but I think I'd better stop here - This is what the Albany Academy has seen - and much more -
Today it sees the class of 1997 - standing ever so proud - standing tall - this class will always be unique - to this year - to this day - for you are the only ones graduating - from the Albany Academy - at this particular moment
Today we entrust the present - future - and the overwhelming task - of preserving the ethics - our founders laid for us - to Head of School - Lawrence T. Piatelli - the legacy is in good hands - strong hands - steeped deep in integrity - He dignifies the essence of purity - and has compassion - for the soul - He does not compromise - his values - nor justify - his positions -The welfare of the student - is paramount - He will lead most - of this student body - into the 21st Century - He will be able to guide - and give you courage - in troubled times - when they arise - He will placate - the fears - and encourage - the spirit - He will be your head of School - he will be your strength - until you have your own - And many a times - he must stand alone - in the solitude of his own thoughts - to make a decision - a very lonely place to be in - Head of School - Mr. Piatelli - I invite you to share - in this moment.
To these beautiful young men - I care about you - I care about your welfare - I care that each of you - hear something I say - something that you can carry from me - for the rest of your life - as I will carry this moment - I spend with you - for the rest of my life.
This is truly your moment - This class has spent the better part of six years - together - some more - You know each other very well - you know who did what - when - and where - went on your first dates together - saw your best friend cry - because he broke up with his first girlfriend - went to your first dance together - got your first awards - played your first game of varsity football - swam your first meet - how your heart beat before the start - Alliance - and Allegiance - you all had with each other - for each other. How about all the worries of passing a test - or getting a paper in on time - Or how about when you got in trouble - and were sent to the office - that heart beat again - didn't it? Each of you know this school - inside and out - it will never leave you - as long as you live - And somehow I believe - that these halls - these classrooms - still house some of the teachers - and students - that have passed on -
The step out - the excitement of tomorrow - the accomplishments of today - the journey- with it's twists - some good - some not so good - the joys that will come your way - the girlfriend - that you will marry - the wife - that will bear your child. Some of you will be lawyers - doctors - physicists - chemists - actors - businessmen - or just a man - that has a feel - for humanity- - you name it - It is here - in this class of 1997 - The journey you're on - will see the blinds open - to the 21st century - It is your century - A lot different from the beginning of the 20th century - for our world - and the people in it - move rapidly - swiftly - and sometimes without thinking - Some of you will be asked to solve - world problems - to contribute - to the salvation - of our society itself.
We have a troubled society - beware - Some of you here today - may be able to ease the pain - that will exist - in the heart - of the unborn - You are prepared - you are equipped - the shadows that exist for the 21st century - are many - The challenges - that you will be asked to face - in the century to come - are many - from overpopulation - global warming - extinction of our beautiful animals - that inhabit our Earth - the pollution - of our oceans - and water ways - the very air - that we breathe - And as the years pass - you will have instant recall - of how it was in the year of 1997 - And when you come back to your reunion - you will reflect - for just a moment - and relive the picture - that is here today - coupling it with the thought - of how simple life was - in 1997 - For this year truly - belongs to you.
As most of you know - I was here in April - to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award - a tremendous honor - And as I sat in the fourth grade room - I thought back to 1943 - and my fourth grade teacher - Ms. Swantee - I was sent here - because I couldn't read - or spell - I had been held back 2 years - as I went into this grade - I was not too literate - a mild absence of knowledge - I was 10 years old - when I arrived at the Albany Academy - but before then - I spent three years in an orphanage - from 4 to 7 - not a nice place to be in - in 1937 - When one tried to run away - they caught him - laid him out on a table - sat us all around - in a big room - and made us watch - as they whipped - that boy fiercely - far beyond his crime - I can still see it - I can still hear the cries - By the time I was 7 years of age - the only inner feeling I knew - was loneliness - It haunted me - it beguiled me - it wounded me so deep - that to this day - I can still recall - those feelings - Many a time during those years- I huddled in a corner - and cried - Those feelings have never left me -
From that orphanage in New York - to another - across the river in Troy - But this time I was close to Albany - I planned an escape - For I knew -where my grandfather -lived -
On that Saturday - so many years ago - I - in the literal sense - ran to the house - on the corner - of Maine and New Scotland Avenue - I remember it so clearly - Down the stairs - to the cellar - I went - weeping so - most frightened - I pounded on the door - My Grandfather came - opened it - I looked up at him and I said - "Please don't let them take me back, Grandpa" I pleaded - I begged - I cried - He stood six feet two - He picked me up in his arms - and said - "Nobody is ever going to take you away again"- I can still feel the strength - the power - of his arms around me - I lived with him - in the cellar - for three glorious years - I never wanted to leave his side - I loved him so much - He gave me hope - He gave me love - He gave me warmth - He gave me compassion - He gave me life - Today he is with me - As I walk in the September of my years - the vision of my Grandfather - becomes ever so prevalent - for I know he will be - waiting for me - one more time - to hold me - and guide - me through eternity.
I was allowed to have wine - as a youngster - little did I know the effect - it would have on me later -
I want to speak of some of these ironies of life - I don't want to hide behind any mask - of self deluded ideas - or images - I want you young men - to see me as I am - to feel me - to know me - I don't want any of you to think - I'm misleading you - or trying to put something - in your head - that doesn't belong there - I'm not - I do not want - in any way - to tamper - with the inner beauty - each of you have - I am passionately concerned - about each of you - I would love nothing more - than to transmit the passion - that is swirling around - inside of me - to each of you.
So many times you will hear said - "The young men of today - are the hope - and future - of tomorrow" - What a burden - The future of tomorrow - on your shoulders - You haven't gotten through today yet - You will wake up one day - and say - " I am so far behind - it doesn't matter any more " - You are not the hope of the future - You are the hope - you are the young men - of today - The Now - Each of you have the capability - within your grasp - of making a difference - today - with your knowledge - your energy - your ideas - with your compassion - your tolerance- your understanding - your love - your lust - for life itself - Each of you - here today - have that capacity - what a triumph - what a concept.
As I stated - a few moments ago - I was 10 years of age - when I arrived here - at the Academy - I graduated in 1952 - and I had a lust for life - The only formal education I received - was here - at this institution - my foundation - I carried this foundation - with me - to New York - to become an actor - The Marine Corp interrupted my quest - for a period of three years - In 1957 I was back acting again - plays in New York - Summer Stock - Repertory - TV - etc. - that little bit of wine - I had as a child - had progressed - as part of my demeanor -
In those late 50's - my talent as an actor grew - At one time Helen Hayes - one of the finest actresses of our time - came back stage - to congratulate me on my performance - Just 7 or 8 years later - in 1966 - after coming to Hollywood - and doing many TV shows - in the early sixties - I stood outside 20th Century Fox Studio - I did not know what show - I was on - let alone my lines - I had to ask the guard at the gate - what show I was doing - the use and abuse of alcohol - had rendered me - almost immobile - that talented young actor - the one that could learn 450 lines - and perform three days later - was no more.
For the next three years - the tortures of life - the downhill slide that seemed to never end - the Skid Rows I have seen many - been on many - from New York - to Miami - to Los Angeles - the hopelessness - the fears - the deterioration - of my mind - my body - my soul itself - loneliness - and despair - prevailed - By 1969 I was bleeding internally - huge sores on my body - that would never heal - long hair - bearded - dirty - audio - and visual - hallucinations - black outs - I shuffled as I walked - I spoke in circles - I could not pronounce words - I weighed but 140 pounds - One ounce of alcohol - rendered me immobile - I was 36 years of age - I was dying.
Sometime in July of 1969 - a warm - and all encompassing feeling -came over me - the realization that death - was imminent - and near - A moment later - I held a bottle of Gin in my hand - And I uttered these words - "Please God help me - I don't want to drink this." - Next month - July- 28 years will have passed - since my cry - of despair - was heard - for I have been without alcohol or drugs - whatsoever in my body - for this period of time - a miracle - For many years - I was ashamed to come back to the Academy - for I had done nothing - accomplished nothing - I just gave heartache - to any one - I came in contact with - I was ashamed - to see my teachers - I was ashamed - to see my classmates - But those same classmates - that were at this ceremony - with me - 45 years ago - came to my side - with love - and understanding - they didn't care - what I had accomplished in life - they just wanted to see me - This is the bond - that will last the ages - for each of you - You will all go your separate ways - but the graduating class - of 1997 - from the Albany Academy - will forever - be together - Faces will change with time - bodies altered by age - hair thinner- voices differ - But 1997 - will never change - It is here now - and it belongs to you -
In 1987 I was most discouraged - I had done many T.V. shows - worked with some of the top people in Hollywood - honed my talent back - to where it was - when I was a young actor - But disappointment set in - the loss of a Broadway play - The never ending roles on TV - that were always the same - another realization - that things would never change - came to me - I decided to leave Hollywood - and my life as I knew it - I took off in my white truck - for parts unknown - living out of the back of my truck - I traveled absolutely nowhere - for several months - pounding my dashboard - pleading for guidance - begging for help - crying at times - despondent - angry - and ever so lonely - one more time - I was 54 years of age.
I'd like to say right here - I had a vision - But that's not true - it sure would make a nice story -
One day while driving in that truck of mine - I had a feeling come over me - to go back to Los Angeles - much against my will I did - As the next several days unfolded - I was directed by this inner feeling - to serve food in the downtown area - known as the Skid Row section - This was not on my personal agenda - I want this understood - But I was obedient - to the feeling
On Dec 5 1987 it was a rainy Friday night - cold - miserable - At three in the morning - I made 111 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches - and waited for dawn - a couple of friends of mine - showed up around 8 am - and downtown I went - Since that rainy Saturday morning - what was only to be - a short moment in my life - turned into a decade - the 111 sandwiches - have now grown to over 575,000 meals served - to the destitute - the homeless - the downtrodden - the despaired - to the unwanted - and discarded human beings - of our society - where water - is a premium - on hot summer days - and soup - a welcome - on cold - winter nights.
In 1992 - I received a magnificent letter - from President Bush - In 1994 a beautiful letter - from President Clinton - And on a warm Spring day - in 1995 - over the loud speaker - came these words - "Ladies and Gentleman - the President of the United States of America " - For one brief moment - as the President came through the Oval Office - into the Rose Garden - the vision of past Presidents became prominent - I saw President Roosevelt - I saw Truman - Eisenhower - I saw President Kennedy - fragmented seconds they were - I realized where I was - I came from my own depths of despair - to the highest office - of our country - to meet the most powerful man - in the world - And when President Clinton - gave me this elegant medal - he said to me - "Thank you Ray - for taking care of the people - of Skid Row - in Los Angeles" - I said thank you Mr. President - I had tears - emotions - and wonderment for this precious moment - I accepted this tribute - on behalf of the hundreds of volunteers - and the thousands of people that have supported me - and the residents of Skid Row - I am truly interwoven - with this society of people - and how proud they were - that I met the President -
I have spent the better part of 10 years of my life - on the streets of Skid Row - this time no alcohol - no drugs - The darkened streets - at night with the fires - the scarred souls - where hope is at a minimum - where rape - murder - prostitution - stabbings - gun shot wounds - drugs - alcohol - gang bangers - and violence beyond reproach - sleep by day - somewhat - I have held twisting bodies - ravaged by alcohol convulsions - I have held bodies fallen -by heart attacks - I have held these bodies in my arms - waiting for the paramedics to come - I have hugged the lonely - of our society - I have had them weep - in my arms - I have felt the stomach - of the pregnant women - for they did not know - who the father was - I have intervened in knife fights - I can speak the language of the streets - but also - the language of the heart - I have been the father - mother - sister - brother these people didn't have - And every time I left downtown - I also wept - for I realized I was used again - as an instrument - of the Will of God - for the betterment - of mankind - what a privilege- what an honor -
Four principles - have dominated my make-up - for many years now - allow me to share them with you - Purity - honesty - unselfishness - and love - With these principles - and only these principles - I have been able to face - with dignity - the onslaught of humanity that suffers so - I have gained the respect - the love of thousands - I see no color - I see no man nor woman - I only see equality for the human race - There is no room in my heart - for prejudice -
Purity cannot embrace segregation - nor bigotry - nor can it differentiate between male or female - young or old - black or white - One glass of distilled water - one drop of ink - into that glass - it becomes contaminated - deceit - hate - dishonesty - selfishness - resentment - anger - etc. - etc. - become contaminants - of the mind - and soul - when allowed to infiltrate - one's thinking -
The second of these principles is - honesty - most powerful - every moment of life that passes - is a true moment - It is an honest moment or a dishonest moment - You make that choice - Each of you are gifted - with the power of choice - within your own framework - You all know the boundaries - of honesty - or dishonesty -
Third principle - struggling to stay alive - in our world today - Unselfishness - To give purely - to ask for nothing - to put the welfare of someone - or something ahead of oneself - to wake up in the morning - with the sole purpose - of helping mankind - to go to bed at night - knowing I have been a contributor - to the mainstream of life - for the betterment of the human race - To be free of self - with this principle in place - an individual can do - so much - for so many - Unselfishness - a priceless principle - and attribute - to encompass -
"Grant me - that I may not so much seek - to be consoled - as to console - To be understood - as to understand - To be loved - as to love - For it is in the giving - that we receive - It is in the pardoning - that we are pardoned - And it is in dying - that we are born to eternal life" - Most succinct - most elegant - most profound - St. Francis of Assisi - 1182-1226
Love - is the last of these four principles - In order for me to love - there must be no conditions - A mountain can be moved with this simple concept in place - I received a letter in 1965 - the letter came from my father's brother - I didn't know my father - so obviously - I didn't know his brother - When I opened the letter - a small group of baby pictures - became visible - I looked at the pictures - they were of me - the letter went something like this - "On February 18, 1965 - your father - was so riddled with cancer - so weak - he could not hold a glass of water - in his hand -Nonetheless - he managed - to get out of bed - go over to his dresser - pull out these pictures and say " - "This is my son's birthday" - He died 12 days later - He was my father - He loved me - He had no conditions -
I do not rationalize - justify - or compromise these principles - When times are tough - these principles will supercede - the agony - and when times are good - they will accent - the joys - You will realize a freedom - beyond any expectation - you will enjoy peace of mind - and you will have power - that will carry you through life's - triumphs - and tragedies - You will be able to function on any plane - of life itself - cope with any situation - that may come up - you will be able to face - any human being - on this Earth of ours - with the utmost clarity - and dignity -
You have been educated to the highest level - thus far - you are qualified to enter any college - in the United States - or other parts of the world - What an accomplishment - Each of you must be proud - knowing what you have done - a big sigh of relief - also- to realize - that 1997 - has finally come - This is the last time you will be together - in this form - only your memory - will prevail.
I ask each and every person - sitting here today - experiencing this graduation - to focus - for a moment - to channel your love - your compassion - your understanding - your wisdom - your energy - allow it to flow here - to each - and every one - of these beautiful young men - Let them take a part of you - with them - now - as they go from here - I ask you - Be a part of their journey - be a part of their life - be a part of their world - from this day forward -
There is an adage - It goes like this - "What he is - speaks so loud - I cannot hear a word he says - by example" - Each of you - are an example - for the betterment of mankind - not through words - but by action - We are together - we are equal - You are my examples - You are my teachers - I walk - not in front of you - but by your side - Whatever it is you must learn in life - always remember - when the pupil is ready - the teacher will appear-
As you walk from these halls - may your hearts be full - may your joys of tomorrow - be your realities of today - Each of you are perfect the way you are - I am not out to change anyone - my only challenge in life is to comfort the soul - to still the racing mind - for a moment - to give back to humanity - the courage - it has given me - to carry on - to be an example - of caring - Interwoven on the broad cloth of life - are many distractions - pulling and tugging - at the very core - of the ethics - you live by - Do not lose sight - of what it is you are destined - to achieve in your lifetime - Follow your dreams - Stay focused - whether it be selling flowers on the street corner - or re-arranging the stars in the heavens.
Falter not as you go - you are well prepared - schooled to the highest level - uncompromised in your thinking - the courage each of you have - will stand strong - you are a most beautiful group - highly gifted - you have given to me - a most precious moment - a moment I will take with me - and share with the people - by the fires - on the streets - of Skid Row - on those cold winter nights - a moment that will last eternally - in my heart - And that lonely - empty feeling inside my soul - that I have carried so long - will be at rest - a bit - when I think of this moment - I walk away from this most magnificent - and beautiful - and energized area - of love - with a lifetime of dreams fulfilled - Thank you for allowing me to share - this time - with you.
May each of you - stand tall - among the giants - of humanity - and when you reach your destination - as I have reached mine - I hope you find - what I have found - that the end - was but a beginning - May God bless you - until we meet again.
Head of School - Mr. Piatelli - it is my honor - to present to you - the graduating class of 1997.