St. Mary's President Thomas M. Mengler presents the Brother Louis Ernst Rattler Award to Jake Sims (left) and Caden Floyd (right). Credit: Courtesy / Antonio Morano

At St. Mary’s University’s recent athletics banquet, I presented the Brother Louis Ernst Rattler Award to two freshmen baseball players, Caden Floyd and Jake Sims. The award each year goes to one or two athletes who demonstrate the best characteristics and values of a St. Mary’s student athlete.

We honored Floyd and Sims because, on their way back from a Gulf Coast spring break trip, they rescued a couple involved in a car accident. Right in front of these St. Mary’s men, the couple’s vintage Ford Model T experienced mechanical failure, spun out of control, rolled over three or four times and landed on its side. By lifting the car with the help of a few other good Samaritans and applying a tourniquet to the bleeding driver, Floyd and Sims helped save the driver’s life.

Less than seven hours after I presented those awards, three other members of the St. Mary’s University community risked their lives to save a woman from certain death. University Police Sgt. Ken Hamilton, senior Andrew Jazbani, and 2018 graduate Eric Galy left their cars to rescue a woman trapped in her vehicle, which had rolled over and caught on fire. As flames raged, Hamilton, with the help of Jazbani and Galy, broke through the windshield, ripped it away, and pulled the woman to safety.

What should we make of these two stunning events? Is it mere coincidence that five members of the St. Mary’s University community engaged in selfless, heroic behavior? What lessons can we learn?

One lesson, against the grain of now frequent condemnations of police forces around the country, is that the overwhelming majority of men and women who have chosen careers in public safety are dedicated servants. That’s certainly the experience of St. Mary’s faculty, staff, and students. In recent years, when a campus police officer has walked across the graduation stage to receive his or her diploma, the other members of the graduating class have risen to their feet and applauded – for a long time.

St. Mary’s campus police work to protect and assist our students and to ensure that our students feel safe and secure. It’s not surprising, then, that when Hamilton was asked why he risked his life to save a stranger, he told KSAT News that he was just doing his job.

A second lesson also cuts against the grain. A popular characterization of millennials, sometimes referred to as “Generation Me,” is that they care only about themselves. The actions of Floyd and Sims and of Jazbani and Galy – and the reasons why they acted so selflessly – are to the contrary. When asked why they stopped their cars to help, the young men responded that they simply did what they thought they should do.

Our young men and women are overwhelmingly drawn to attend St. Mary’s as a Catholic Marianist institution because we are a living, breathing community, not just a place to get a degree. The Marianist brothers who founded St. Mary’s in 1852 and still work and live here have imbued the campus with a Christian culture we call “family spirit.” That family spirit leads us to accept the other members as families accept their own, recognizing both a deep bond and set of obligations stronger than the occasional benign gesture.

Every day, St. Mary’s faculty and staff model this behavior to students, inside and outside the classroom. In the words of Marianist founder Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, our faculty are to teach a “Christian lesson by every word, gesture, and look.” St. Mary’s faculty and staff respect students, treat them with the dignity we each deserve, and understand that young adults are on a faithful journey to find purpose and meaning for their lives.

A third lesson, therefore, might be that heroic action like that of Floyd, Sims, Jazbani, Galy, and Hamilton is not itself extraordinary. The heroism of these five men is the ordinary conduct of extraordinary people.

Thomas M. Mengler, J.D., is President of St. Mary’s University, the first institution of higher learning in San Antonio and the oldest Catholic university in the Southwest. Since joining St. Mary’s...