Commencement season is upon us once more and so we see proud parents and anxious soon-to-be graduates flocking to campuses to listen. And reflect. And sweat. It is easy to become a bit bored during the ceremony itself: the speaker can be dull, the reading of the names takes ages, and there is never enough shade to go around. Now for a moment imagine sitting through not one, not two, but seven of said ceremonies. Where the speeches are the same and the list of names nearly endless. But the advantage of being part of the choir is that it’s acceptable for you to read or write or nap, given you wake up in time to sing the Alma Mater. To kill time, having finished the book and play I brought to entertain myself, I endeavor to attempt an age-old writing exercise. It is hard to write speeches, harder still to write good speeches, primarily because it’s not something often done. So, soaking in speeches as I am this weekend, I’ve written my own commencement address. Forgive the presumption and triteness; I am truly bored.
Congratulations graduates! I fully understand that I am standing between you and some great party, so I’ll try to be brief. You are about to be handed a great gift. It is a gift that you have worked tirelessly for these past four years. You have paid…well, more than you probably want to think about for it. You have earned your degree, but that does not make it any less of a gift. It is a precious thing that you will soon hold, not truly encompassed in that small piece of paper with a beautiful seal. It is your learning, your passion, your wisdom that you will carry with you for the rest of your lives. This experience has brought you in to an elite group that few people in history have the opportunity to enter: you are now college educated.
Some one once told me that challenges are gifts and great challenges, great gifts. And by the same token, gifts must also be challenges. You stand before you with a great gift, so what is your challenge? You already know it; it is why you chose to come here, to this Jesuit institution. St. Ignatius challenged his Jesuits to “Go out and set the world on fire.” That is the same challenge that stands before you today, as you walk across this stage. You don’t need me to give you that challenge; it has been given to you every day for these past four years. I am merely here to remind you of your duty to be women and men for others. To take your great gift that you have strived for these many months and go out to serve the world.
I’ve given you a quote and a challenge. I’ve made a bad joke. The only thing left to do is leave you with best wishes for you future and congratulations on all that you have achieved.