Dec. 18, 2011
Greetings to all of you this on this auspicious morning in the life of Marquette University. And to our newest graduates on this big moment in their lives, let me be the first to welcome you by your new title. Greetings, Marquette alumni.
At the beginning of this semester, when you were mere students and I was brand new to this university, I quietly put a rather considerable burden on your shoulders. I relied on you to determine whether the wonderful impressions of Marquette that drew me here were indeed true.
This is, of course, just one of many heavy loads you’ve borne with aplomb during your time here. But in your interactions, I soon recognized the intelligence, the faith, the concern for others and the willingness to wrestle with life’s questions that characterize learning at great Jesuit universities. Through you and your fellow students, Marquette exceeded my best expectations.
Just four months later, it seems awfully soon to see many of you packing bags and boxes. Fortunately, though, we aren’t really losing you. Marquette is yours and you are Marquette’s — forever. As one of my favorite poets Bruce Springsteen might say, the ties that bind you to Marquette can’t easily be broken. Or as your parents may have chanted back in the ‘70s in making some best-forgotten moves on the dance floor, “We are family.”
So make no mistake: This is a day to celebrate your hard-earned accomplishments and to toast the permanent spot reserved for you among Marquette’s alumni.
Even more so, this is a day for gratitude — the virtue that is first in the spiritual imagination of St. Ignatius Loyola. When God's grace transformed Ignatius from soldier to saint, Ignatius felt what we feel this morning: gratitude. This overwhelming feeling was, for Ignatius, the start of all else — the founding of the Society of Jesus, the establishment of the schools of higher learning and the spread of a world-wide mission.
As we contemplate where your gratitude will take you, and how you may add to Ignatius’ legacy with your work in the world, please share the best gratitude your souls can supply — your special reserve — with your parents and families. They have been your best teachers and your biggest supporters. Don’t let today pass without expressing your deep thanks to those who sacrificed so much of their lives out of love for you. On behalf of Marquette University, I want to do the same — thank you parents and families of these graduates.
Our gratitude also goes out to the faculty and staff who have contributed more than anyone to your success as scholars, as persons of character, and as future agents of change in a world aching to be made more gentle and just. In his book The Art of Teaching, longtime Middlebury College English professor Jay Parini writes: "Teaching at its best is personal. It involves the interaction, even the clashing of separate wills. One can always get mere information from a textbook, so the passing on of facts is the least of a teacher's job. Transforming those facts into feelings — [and I would add, “wisdom”] — is the real work of education." Thanks to our faculty and staff, the real work of education is alive and well at Marquette. When you think of how you have stretched, strived and grown during your time here — in ways that would have been unlikely at another university — I want you to think of our faculty and staff and their interaction with you as a unique person, which is to say their patient practice of the core Jesuit principle of cura personalis.
Everything that you have learned and all that you have become at Marquette prepare you for the new course your life is about to take — the beginning implied in this morning’s commencement exercise. Given the energy that has gone into preparing you for your unique role in the world — and the delightful, wisdom-packed address by Mike Switzenbaum earlier — you may not be looking for more advice from me. So I’ll share the rest of what I have to say in the form of my hopes for you, with perhaps a bit of the advice thrown in that you might expect from someone who wears a religious collar and has had time to read a lot of books.
Regarding Marquette and the friendships you have formed here. I hope you stay close and grow closer. I wish for you to dance at one another’s weddings and stand as godparents for each other’s kids. Mark life’s most important moments by each other’s side. And “don’t waste love.” That’s one of the best things I’ve heard from a college president and I heard it 30 years ago.
Visit Marquette often, and most importantly, take the spirit of Marquette with you where you go. As you do so, I hope dearly that the world’s opportunities begin to be revealed to you quickly. I know its many problems are yours to begin solving. It needs you and it needs your commitment to the principles that are part of you as well as this university: excellence, faith, leadership and service.
“This is our joining point,” said Mother Teresa in 1981, speaking to the Marquette community in this very building. “This is the discovery that we must make: the discovery that Jesus loved us as the Father has loved Him. And that He wants us to love one another as He has loved each one of us. And not only just in words, but let us try to find the poor, first in our own family, in our own communities. Love begins at home."
Yes, I’ve done it. I have loaded you with expectations again. But you have exceeded them before and I have faith you will exceed them again. Marquette has lit a spark inside you. Now that spark is yours to use in guiding your way forward and yours to share in love for the betterment of others as you live out the words of St. Ignatius and “go and set the world on fire.”
God bless you, God bless Catholic and Jesuit higher education and God bless Marquette University.