President's Remarks to the Graduating Class of 2008


I'm very happy to have the opportunity to say a few words of farewell to you, our graduates, at the end of this commencement ceremony. As you know, I had wanted to say something today because many of you, both undergraduates and graduate students, began your careers here at Fairfield with me in August of 2004, and so you are my graduating class. You are, as I've told some of you, the first class that doesn't remember that other guy, the Irish priest who was here before me, O'Reilly, I think his name was.

Together, we've seen a lot of changes at Fairfield. The complexion of the institution has changed dramatically, and you leave Fairfield a much more diverse institution than you found it. We have made a commitment to a more integrated vision of education, and as young alumni, you will see Fairfield recognized as a leader in the integration of life and learning.  The face of the campus will change quite literally as we implement new master plans for landscaping and housing that will help us to discover intersections and interconnections for our community. More of you have studied abroad, more of you have done internships, more of you have participated in service programs than ever before in the institution's history.

I don't think I'll be graduating with you today: there's no diploma here for me. I guess you could say I'm being kept back! But we've shared experiences together, and if you have a sense of having grown up in the last for years, so do I. Growing up is at least in part a matter of remembering the experiences you have had and the lessons you have learned that have made you who you are. So many of these memories are wonderful - don't you agree? - especially those associated with people. Many of the lessons come from mistakes we have made, and an occasion like this offers me the opportunity to apologize for my own and ask your forgiveness for the things I did that I shouldn't have, or the things I didn't do that I should have. But I'm sure it is the case with you, as I know it is with me, that you know you have become a different person, hopefully a better one, in the course of these four years.

What I'd like to do in the remainder of my remarks is to reflect with you briefly on just what I hope the impact of your education at Fairfield has been and what you are taking away from this place. I must say that when I talk about what you have gained from your education at Fairfield, I have a very lively sense that I speak in the name of and on behalf of the faculty who are gathered here in front of you, and of all the members of the administration and the staff who have helped you along the way, as well as your parents and families who have supported you so selflessly for all these years. They are the ones who have helped to form you into the people you are, and so I invite my colleagues and your parents to consider that I am speaking on their behalf, and I ask you to imagine that it is they who are talking to you.

I'd like to think that what you our graduates have learned here at Fairfield is that you must make a commitment of your lives. It is a dangerous illusion to think that knowledge is value-free, for there is a dynamism to knowing that moves from knowledge to action, whether we realize it or not. Unexamined, that dynamic leads to self-absorption and self-aggrandizement. One of the distinctive characteristics of Jesuit education is to make this dynamic self-evident, so that it becomes an unavoidable challenge to bright and talented people. What will each of you do with what you know, and in whose interests will your many talents be used: your own; those of the rich and powerful; or in the interests of those who have no one else to be their protectors?

It's close to being a cliché, but nonetheless true, to say that you, our graduates, whether first degree students or professionals entering the marketplace, face tremendous uncertainty at every level of your personal or professional lives. But this state of affairs, your uncertainty about your world and even about your own lives, is also your opportunity. You should have the resources, both personal and as result of your education here at Fairfield, to confront this uncertainty. And in confronting uncertainty we believe you have the opportunity to grow in virtue - not least in faith, hope and love.

I hope that the education we offer our students here at Fairfield makes you critical thinkers, resistant to naïve or simplistic explanations, aware of the complexity of the world around you. Further, I hope your education has helped you to become people of competence in a given discipline or profession, but has also challenged you to integrate what you know, to see the connectedness of the disciplines and their interdependence, and to view professional life in relation to the common good. I believe that these are essential acquirements to face a world of uncertainty. It is good to have confidence in what you have learned, and more than one successful alumnus of Fairfield has told me it was that confidence that saw them through difficult times, both personal and professional.

But faith, hope and love? A taller order than professional success in a world of uncertainty! But so much of what is behind or implicit in the education we seek to offer at a place like Fairfield aims at these virtues! Liberal education and professional education in the Jesuit mode only make sense on the assumption that the world - natural, social and interior - is in some sense intelligible: that there is a congruity between what we seek to know and our ability to know it. Can I prove this to you? No, but like any act of faith, the assumption that the world makes sense is justified by its outcome, and the only way to confront a world of uncertainty and confusion is with the belief that you have the talent and the tools to figure it out.

There was a lot of nonsense that people believed about progress in the past.  Events of the twentieth century have been enough to give the lie to the belief that progress was natural or inevitable. But hope in the future is not the same thing as belief in inevitable progress. Hope in the future is based not on belief in progress, but on the realization and acceptance of our own moral responsibility. It is far from inevitable that our confusing and uncertain world will be a better place, but it will be if you accept your responsibility to make it so and act on that responsibility. This sense of personal responsibility - that what we do makes a difference in the world and that the world will only be better if we do something - is, I'm sure you recognize, a strong and steady current in Jesuit education at both the graduate and undergraduate level. I hope that we have schooled our graduates in ethical responsibility as effectively as we have schooled them in chemistry or accounting!

Ah, and love! Can we expect you, our students, to have learned something about love in your time here at Fairfield? Was it even our responsibility to teach it to you? And I don't mean just romantic love, although I mean that, too. I also mean love of neighbor and love of God and, most relevant to our task here as educators and yours as learners, the love of something that you will do with your lives: your passion, your vocation. For many of our graduates who are completing professional training, that commitment to family, community and profession is clear, and we hope we have provided you with both the skills and the perspective to renew your commitment to professional life with intensity and engagement. But what if love is as uncertain in your lives as your future, as yet unrealized, and unfulfilled? And what if your vocation is still unclear? Well, let me clue you in on something. Any of these loves is not something that can be produced or achieved. Love is something you are invited into; it is discovered and given to you as a gift, quite apart from your own efforts or deserving. It is, in that sense, not unconnected with uncertainty, in so far as love is not in our control. Uncertainty is, in a way, love's condition of possibility.

I hope one of the things we have taught you here at Fairfield, as much by example as by lesson, is that the ways of love and care are not arbitrary and not exclusive. The logic, the calculus, the dynamism, if you will, of love is gracious and ultimately all encompassing. Love, however, works on its own timetable. To quote the Supremes, that greatest of Motown groups of my own youth: "You can't hurry love, you just have to wait." But you can be watchful and expectant, and hopefully we have given you an ability to read the signs of the times and ways to know yourselves, so that as the object of your love presents itself, or himself, or herself, you will know and be able to respond. In the meanwhile, the very best advice we can give you in these times of uncertainty, and the very best thing you can do, is to abide in a loving and trustful anticipation of what is to be. If it is any comfort or reassurance to you, it is that same loving and trustful anticipation for your future that describes our thoughts, our hopes and our prayers for you.

Thank you for listening, and God bless you all!

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on May 18, 2008