I am delighted to offer my sincere congratulations to the members of the Loyola University Maryland Class of 2012. It has been a pleasure for me to witness the hard work and commitment you have demonstrated as students at Loyola, and I look forward to learning about the personal and professional achievements I know you will attain in the years to come. I am proud, as I know your families are, to celebrate with you today.
I must also take a moment to acknowledge 12 members of the undergraduate Class of 2012 who cannot be here with us at this ceremony, but who are nonetheless demonstrating their pride in Loyola in a very special way—the senior members of our men’s golf and men’s and women’s lacrosse teams. The golf team left for Athens, Georgia, several days ago to compete in the NCAA Regionals, which continue today, and the lacrosse teams are today competing in the NCAA Quarterfinals in College Park and Annapolis. The women are in the midst of their game now—don’t think I haven’t seen a few of you checking the score!—and the men start at 2:30—so I promise to keep my remarks quite brief!
Thanks also to Father Greg Boyle for being with us today and for his thoughtful and inspiring remarks. We strive each year to welcome a commencement speaker who we believe truly understands Loyola’s Jesuit mission and identity. Father Boyle’s remarkable work with Homeboy Industries illustrates vividly his own embrace of these ideals—and provides a remarkable example for all of us of the kind of extraordinary difference a person can make in his or her own community.
It is with great pride that I welcome him to the ranks of Loyola University Maryland alumni, where his presence brings great honor to our university.
I also extend my congratulations and thanks to Father Jack Dennis, Dr. Mary Pat Seurkamp, and John Ciccone and his colleagues at Saint Ignatius Loyola Academy, all of whom have demonstrated remarkable support for our University and the ideals we strive to uphold. I’d like to offer a particular note of gratitude to Father Dennis, my friend and colleague, who has enriched the Loyola community in so many ways during his time with us. All of us at Loyola wish you all the best as you assume the presidency at Brebeuf.
Preparing a commencement address is always a daunting task, and I admit, each year I struggle to find a new and different way of offering our graduating students a few words of wisdom to inspire them as they embark on this new phase in their lives. This year, I had a breakthrough while listening to NPR not long ago. The show featured the authors of a new book: “It’s Even Worse than it Looks,” which essentially argues that our elected officials’ steadfast refusal to admit that their opponents’ positions could possibly be valid and the resulting deadlock in both houses of Congress have consigned our nation to a situation in which no forward progress is possible—on any issue. You can find evidence of the same thing on a more local level, where even in Maryland, basically a one-party state, our legislators couldn’t agree on a budget.
Pretty grim stuff for a Commencement address, right?
But as I look out on the graduates gathered before me today, I don’t see obstacles or pessimism. Rather, I am filled with hope, with optimism, and with a firm belief that they have the power to change the direction of discourse in this nation and, ultimately, the world.
One of the greatest benefits of a liberal arts education in the Jesuit tradition is the exceptional grounding it gives students in the invaluable art of dialogue—a willingness to accept that other, reasonable people may think differently, an eagerness to learn more about those differences, and a desire to reflect on their meaning to find real solutions. Thus, our graduates and others educated in this vital tradition must not fall into the trap of the single-minded—but must instead accept the responsibility of becoming agents of change in their communities, in our political system, and, over time, in the world that surrounds us.
The great Catholic theologian David Tracy once wrote that “if genuine dialogue is to occur, we must be willing to put everything at risk”—every belief, every ideal, every position you hold dear. That, indeed, is what you must be ready to do if you are going to help shape a better society than the one in which we currently live. Enter discussions and debates with conviction, and the facts to back it up—but also the open mind that allows you to see past your beliefs and fairly consider the positions of others.
When you do this, as you embrace new positions of leadership in your professional life and in your community, you have the opportunity to help effect real change in our world. To think about the choices you make and how they affect others. To help address the challenges in our economy. To help preserve and protect our environment. To help ensure a legal system that assures safety and justice for all.
And yes, some of these changes will indeed make life a bit more pleasant and comfortable for each of you personally—but they also serve the more fundamental goal of the common good.
The notion of the common good posits that our individual success and well-being is inextricably connected with those among us who have the least. To focus only on our own wants and needs isn’t merely “wrong” in some abstract moral sense—it actually undermines our own safety, security, and prosperity by allowing the unifying “common good” to continue to languish.
There are many ways to serve the common good, and your commitment to service throughout your years at Loyola—a commitment I sincerely hope you will continue to uphold as you begin your careers, or, for our graduate students, accept new positions of leadership within your fields—provides compelling evidence that you already embrace your responsibility to the society we share. But there are many other ways of living this principle—including your willingness to set aside differences, both superficial and profound, and work with others to find the solutions that have eluded us. And to exemplify for the leaders of our nation and the world how to do the same.
I know that you have the power to do this. So do each of my colleagues and our guests on the stage behind me. So do each of the friends and family gathered here today to celebrate with you. And so do each of you sitting before me.
Congratulations, and Godspeed.