Aug. 25, 2011
Provost Pauly, deans and faculty, our honored guest Mr. Moore, and particularly the Marquette University Class of 2015, it is my privilege to be here with you today as we observe this ritual that marks the arrival of the new class joining the academic life of Marquette University.
As you make this passage, you live out the dreams of Milwaukee's first archbishop, who labored for 40 years to establish this exceptional university.
In a city experiencing rapid industrialization and waves of immigration, Archbishop Henni envisioned an institution of higher education emerging on a hilltop above the shop floors, stock yards and tanneries. It would open its doors wide to the children of hard-working parents, many of whom still struggled with the English language. Marquette has been an engine of opportunity ever since.
In the 130 years since then, Marquette has become that citadel. And you, as a class, in a way that would make Archbishop Henni proud, bring tremendous talent with you. Those talents will stand you in good stead as you face the challenges that will be presented in the next four years. Last night I shared with you some thoughts on the nature of university life in general. Today briefly I want to focus on the university’s principal concern—our shared commitment to academic excellence. As a Jesuit university that commitment to excellence is explained by a Jesuit concept captured in the Latin word Magis—a restless desire for excellence. That desire is grounded in gratitude, the kind of gratitude that compels us always to ask the next question—to wrestle with the becoming thought. The Magis makes us uncomfortable with the present situation and unsatisfied with past successes. Ours is a culture of continual improvement, relying on grace we pledge at the start of every academic year ever to excel for the greater glory of God. I urge you to join the many members of this community, especially our faculty who marry their learning with labors of selfless love. A Marquette education is not merely an end in itself. It is as well the means for promoting justice and contributing to the common good. So much lies ahead of you at Marquette that it simply eludes a full description today. There are profound changes in the offing for you and change can be a sloppy process and rarely occurs in an easily described sequence, but people such as yourselves who want to be agents of change in the world will need a broad scope of skills and insights across many domains. The acquisition of such skills and insights is precisely why you came to Marquette.
As you arrive here at Marquette for new, larger challenges, I couldn't be more pleased to have Wes Moore here today.
The story he tells of two lives starting from nearby points and then diverging abruptly is profound and moving. I thank him for telling it with such honesty and insight. I believe you will long remember his words here today because they reveal a powerful framework for understanding what's ahead for you in this next pivotal phase of your life. It's a framework that St. Ignatius and his fellow Jesuits very much had in mind when they established their higher education enterprise 500 years ago.
It is common to talk of life's path delivering you to a certain point, just as your paths have all led you to this hall at this moment. But Wes dramatizes a deeper truth: that the course you take in life is determined by choices you make. As you strip away the clutter of daily schedules, emails, texts, chats and status updates, you reveal that decisions both big and small determine where your journey takes you.
Who will become your best friends? What major will you choose and what career will it open up to you? How much will you throw yourself fully into imagining and understanding the subjects rather than having them join the background noise of media that runs throughout our days? How seriously will you take the choice to live and work in an ethical way? What and who will you love? Ultimately the life of the mind here at Marquette is about falling in love. Let me leave you with words on that subject written by Father Pedro Arrupe, former superior general of the Society of Jesus:
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.