Martin J. Dempsey, Valedictory address
Fr. Kelley, Dr. Grossman, administrators, deans, faculty, students, family and friends it is a great honor to be speaking before you today on such a wonderful occasion. As I look into the audience I see the students with whom I began this journey four years ago in the faces of the adults now sitting before me. Each of us as taken our own road and made our own decisions along the way, but I am happy to say that we have all reached this final destination. As we prepare to leave the safety and comfort of college life and enter the world beyond college, we must be grateful that we have been so properly prepared to deal with the uncertain circumstances that like will deliver. Eight months ago many of us believed that there were certain things we could expect from life: a good job, a decent home and a loving family. Yet if we have learned anything this past year, it is precisely that there are no certainties in life. This does not mean that we should surrender or forfeit in the face of life's difficulties, but rather that we must learn to appreciate every moment in life, even the difficult ones.
As graduates of Fairfield University, we have a unique advantage over other college graduates entering the working world. Besides the intellectual knowledge necessary to function in today's society, we also have the moral and ethical knowledge to be better members of the human race. The fact that a chapel occupies the central space of our campus testifies to our university's mission to produce students with more than just the basic skills to survive in today's competitive world. The mission of the Jesuit universities has always been to produce students with a genuine concern for others, not just themselves. The student response to this Jesuit ideal can be seen in any number of community service projects in which students so enthusiastically participate.
Learning at Fairfield takes place outside of the classroom just as mucb as it does within the classroom. Any student can testify that there are certain aspects of life that can never be found in any novel, poem, treatise, or statistic. The look of gratitude in a homeless man's eyes as you provide him with food at a soup kitchen is an experience that no textbook can ever define. Students do not participate in these moments because they feel obligated or they think it will help their career, in fact acts of charity are rarely rewarded in today's business world. Students take part in these moments because it provides them with a chance to express their genuine care and concern for their fellow human beings. Anyone who would doubt the sincerity of their actions only need to look into the eyes of these students as they recall their experiences of service, the honesty and humbleness that one will see in their eyes testifies to just how serious and unselfish their intentions really are.
A professor once asked me, "When you graduate, will you graduate with a degree or an education?" I did not fully understand the difference until the first time I ventured from the classroom to assist in the service of others. A degree is simply a record of requirements fulfilled, while an education is a testament to ones desire for knowledge and understanding. A degree may open the door to a high paying job, but an education is a master key and it is up to you to decide which doors to use it upon.
We are fortunate to have been given knowledge of the rest of the world, not so that we can conquer it, but so that we can respond to its many problems with understanding rather than ignorance and with peace rather than violence. However, with this privilege comes a responsibility; a responsibility to actively participate in the events of the world rather than passively watch them unfold before us. We have been taught that every person can make a difference, regardless of how small or insignificant it may seem. Yet it is easy for us to forget our responsibilities in this world that grows more complex with each passing day. As we enter the working world, we can lose sight of ourselves and our responsibilities in favor of pursuing illustrious careers, making money, obtaining power, buying homes or achieving some sense of social acceptance. We can become so confined by our daily routines that we rarely take the time to look at the world around us and appreciate it for its many beauties. We can become so absorbed in becoming financially and politically successful that we forget there are other definitions of success. Considering success to be measured by how much money and power one has obtained is only one way of defining success and will, in the long run, prove a fruitless and empty definition. There is nothing wrong with wanting to earn a good living and if that results in one obtaining a certain degree of power and influence, there is still nothing wrong with it. But, when that becomes one's sole purpose in life, then life becomes devoid of any real feeling or knowledge. That, my friends, is a compromise none of us should ever have to make.
The best definition of success that I have ever heard comes from a parable in Paulo Coelho's novel The Alchemist. A young man wants to learn the secret of happiness in life so he goes to see the wisest man in the world, who lives in a castle high in the mountains. After the young man explains why he has come, the wise man gives him a teaspoon holding two drops of oil and tells him to explore the castle for two hours without spilling a drop and when he returns the wise man asks what he saw. The young boy realized he was so concerned with the drops of oil that he failed to notice anything else. So the wise man tells him to go back with the spoon and this time to observe the wonders of the castle. When the young man returns after seeing all the castle has to offer, the wise man asks him what happened to the drops of oil. The young man looked down and realized that he had become so enraptured by the castle's beauties he completely forgot about the oil. The wise man then says to him, "Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you. The secret of happiness in life is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon."
I encourage each of you to embrace life to its fullest. Yet never lose sight of the responsibilities that have been bestowed upon you as "Men and women for others," the hallmark of our Jesuit education. Seeing the many wonders of the world is important, but it is ultimately the drops of oil that determine our essence and guide us safely home. Eight months ago, who could have imagined that we would be here celebrating such an important day today? In the tragic events of Sept. 11th we were forced to look beyond the problems and circumstances of our own lives and recognize that our personal difficulties are often trivial in light of the greater problems that exist in the world. Yet we must be proud of the way we have reacted in the face of evil. We have responded to hostility with charity, to cowardness with courage and to hatred with love. Many of us were battling though life before Sept. 11t, mostly concerned with our own individual problems, but when the challenge arose, we did not neglect our greater responsibility. Yet now eight months later, it is tempting to return to that point in which we were so focused and intent on our own individual pursuits. It is my hope that this message will remind you of the fragility and temporality of life. I challenge every one of you to stop during the course of your everyday life and take a moment to step back and evaluate your situation. Never take for granted the simple things in life because they will not always be there. Remember to laugh once a day, remember to be a role model, remember to ride a bicycle (because some things you can forget), remember to tell a joke everyday, remember to give someone a hug, remember to pray, remember to participate in karaoke night, remember to coach your kids in Little League (because some opportunities will not always exist), remember to thank your parents for their support, remember to be different, remember to see a play, remember to have courage, remember to speak your mind, remember to tell someone you love them (because love is the greatest gift you have to offer and it doesn't cost a penny), remember to share your thoughts, remember to play with your dog, remember to see all the marvels of the world and always remember to keep in sight the drops of oil on the spoon.
Thank you very much and God bless.
Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on May 19, 2002