Commencement Address by The Rev. Thomas Regan, S.J.


 

Bishop Lori, Father President, Members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished guests, my fellow honorary degree recipients, especially my former student and fellow Loyola III resident now "Dr. Dr." Ed Hardiman, my dear colleagues and friends on Fairfield's superb faculty, fellow administrators, parents and friends of our graduates, and most importantly members of the Class of 2007!

What a thrill it is for me this morning to share with you this wonderful moment in your lives! I thank Fairfield University for the great honor that it has bestowed upon me. Know that I come here most humbly for I feel that although I always put my best effort into being a Jesuit and a Fairfield professor, when I left campus after some 20 years of service, I personally sensed that really I was the one who was taking away so much more than I had ever contributed.

But today is not about me, it is about you who are graduating. Commencement ceremonies represent such a joyous occasion in the history of any family. Stop for a moment and think about it. The context for this morning's celebration is really nothing less than amazing. I am sure that for many people sitting behind this impressive sea of caps and gowns, it seems like only yesterday that you, our graduates, were getting ready for that first day of school, that first big dance or game, and of course, the first big move away from home. Today all of us have come here to the great lawn behind Bellarmine Hall to celebrate with you, the members of the Class of 2007, because it has been our privilege and our good fortune to have shared all or some of the legs of the journey that brings you to this moment.

These past four years truly have transformed you and your lives in ways that you could never have anticipated when you arrived on-campus in September of 2003. Yet before your families and friends kick their celebration of all your wonderful accomplishments into high gear, I would like to give you one last assignment. But don't worry. Each of you is the world's expert in the field that I shall ask you to explore, namely your own experience. The grading process, however, will take a lifetime. This morning, your last assignment is to sit back and begin to assess exactly the extent to which you have and will continue to embrace your Jesuit education.

I truly welcome this chance to speak at graduation. This opportunity provides a "bookend" as it were, to one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done. For 16 years in a row, Fairfield invited me to address the entire incoming freshman class at orientation. I would stand in the middle of the stage of the Quick Center and look out over this vast sea of shiny new faces. I would try not to laugh, since inevitably more than a few of freshman would saunter and swagger to their seats trying to give the impression to their fellow students that they had "this college thing" all figured out.

Each year I tried to sketch out in a humorous manner some key elements of what I knew their college years really would entail. I would then offer a few concrete strategies that could enhance their undergraduate experience. I loved doing this because as I spoke one could visibly perceive that "deer in the head lights" look start to descend upon and envelope their naïve faces. They had no clue. At that point, I knew something they didn't. But I also knew that happily in four year's time, these same young men and women would discover the very truths that you, our graduates, now know! I was not making this stuff up. Their lived-experience and now yours would bear out the veracity of my observations.

Today, four years after your freshman orientation, I invite you to assess the Jesuit education that you have received. In order to do that, let's use the five elements from the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm: context, experience, action, reflection, and evaluation. Let me present them in the form of questions.

  • Out of what particular context did you come to Fairfield University?
  • How did you experience the learning process once you got here?
  • How did the process of reflection assist you in becoming more aware of what you were learning so that you could understand it better?
  • How did you move your newly acquired knowledge into action?
  • What process of evaluation will you use throughout your lives to determine whether or not your Jesuit education here at Fairfield was successful?

Although focusing on the transformation of undergraduates, these observations apply equally to those of you who are receiving graduate degrees as well, because these cycles of growth and education repeat themselves again and again throughout our lives

Let's start with the context. In September of 2003, you, our graduating seniors, were fresh off the most triumphant summer of your young lives. I am sure that you can remember it well. Ah, what a summer you had. You were recently graduated high school seniors with a first-class college acceptance in your pocket. Wise adults know how important it is to keep a safe distance from such "all-knowing" creatures. And yet, as one kind old professor once observed to a new colleague, "Go easy on the freshmen, remember, they are only four years out of the eighth grade!" All of you brought to Fairfield a unique set of assumptions and a variety of factors that made you, you. Four years later, you can now look back and realize how clueless you were and see how much you have built upon that foundation.

Given that context, you arrived on campus ripe for stage two, the college experience. As your Fairfield years unfolded, you quickly became aware that not everyone grew up as you did. You met people from other parts of the country and from other strata of life. You met people who spoke with funny accents and held strange views. Some were very unlike your high school friends. You slowly came to realize that you were faced with three choices. First, you could hold hard and fast to all the views that you had brought with you and simply shut out anything that challenged your preconceived notions of how life "ought to be." Secondly, you could jettison everything that made you "you" and attempt to become just like "them", the coolest person or persons you had ever met. Or thirdly, you could approach this new experience in a critical and thoughtful mode that characterizes the learning process.

Given my experience, I know that you tried out all three. Think back. Remember that weirdo roommate or that strange person down the hall whom you immediately wrote off freshman year: you know, the one who would eat things your mother never cooked; or the one who believed things your grandmother would not accept. You quickly decided he or she was "crazy." You just couldn't believe someone could think like that or behave that way. He or she was just way too different! You assumed they had nothing to teach you.

Then there was that time that you tried out the second approach by taking to heart everything a charismatic professor told you lock stock and barrel. You came to think, Professor "X" was so incredibly brilliant and intelligent. You thought no one could possibly object to such well informed and enlightened views until you tried out a few of them at home around the dinner table. Perhaps you can still hear your father's voice. "Is that what they are teaching you at Fairfield? Is that why we sent you off to college, so you could come home and spout off ideas like that? As long as you live under my roof...!" Ah, that night it was so good to get back to campus!

As you settled in, more likely you found yourself embracing the third mode, working out the logistics of a genuine give and take with those around you. You came to realize that you, yourself really did have something to contribute and yet you realized you didn't know everything. You came to see that others, even some of those weirdo freshmen, whom you had written off, could teach you something. Thus you entered into the challenge of higher education. You found yourself actually seeking out new opportunities that would enable you to grow both intellectually and affectively.

Welcome to the third dimension of Ignatian pedagogy, the world of reflection! Encounters both inside and outside the classroom began to open you up to new horizons. You came to appreciate, however, that not all ideas or new experiences could be accepted uncritically. Looking back, you now see just how much the Core Curriculum put you in contact with bodies of knowledge and new ways of seeing the world that, left to yourselves, you would never have discovered voluntarily on your own.

The world of relationships also began to take on new and exciting dimensions. Privately and publicly, how often did you reflectively ask yourselves those three questions around which the Ignatian Residential College was framed? Who am I? Whose am I? Who am I called to be? Be honest, you not only asked those questions, you began through your experiences to formulate and reformulate working models of answers that were acceptable to you. More over, you began to forge important and life-giving friendships with faculty and staff and form friendships among your peers that you now hope will last a lifetime. There were friends whom you got to know through your classes or through playing sports; there were also friends whom you met while doing service projects together or while on immersion trips in Appalachia or abroad; and then there were those special friends with whom you went on road trips or with whom you chose to hang out at the townhouses, the village apartments or at the beach.... Ah, the beach. And to think that you began your time at Fairfield assuming "the grape" was just another fruit.

In the last two years especially, you have seen Jesuit Education's fourth dimension come into full play. You have truly shown yourselves to be people of action. You have embraced the life of the mind and have taken your knowledge beyond the classroom. You have applied what you have learned within sophisticated laboratories, in hospitals and in a wide range of on-site internships. In many off-campus venues, you have not only used your newly acquired knowledge, but also you have worked side-by-side with adults who actually engage each and every day in the practice of doing what at this point of your life you think you want to do for a living. You have traveled outside the United States and experienced other cultures. You can now appreciate that knowledge is and must be considered a global commodity and that embracing diversity is a non-negotiable if one is to play any significant role in the world community. In short, you have begun to assume your rightful position along side other educated women and men.

Today I invited you, the members of the class of 2007, to revel in and celebrate your considerable accomplishments. Think about it. Now many of you are completely comfortable in a foreign language. You can speak passionately about literature. You understand how to approach and solve complex problems within engineering and the natural sciences. You can articulate and express intelligently what it means to be a person of faith and you are willing to live out your own religious faith with courage and conviction. You know how to read around and behind the numbers on a spreadsheet. You can evaluate the logic of an argument and you know when a sales pitch is really taking you for a ride. You feel right at home working in a hospital. You no longer throw out the business section as something only your parents read. You see the value of knowing history and you appreciate the many ways in which the arts can and do enhance the quality of life.

But wait, there is still one more element remaining in the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm. How do you use evaluation in order to assess your growth in mind, heart, and spirit? Ah, there's the rub and here is where your Jesuit education really makes a difference. So much of what I have said could easily be applied to anyone who is graduating from a top-notch college or university. It is important for you to realize that you are entering an extremely competitive world with these very same, very bright individuals. That world will judge you, evaluate you and assess your worth in terms of financial compensation or the sound of your title.

Hopefully, however, throughout your time at Fairfield you will have learned another mode of evaluation. I hope that your Jesuit education has impressed upon you the virtue of the Magis, the more. By now you should not tolerate or accept mediocrity in anything that you do. But you should never evaluate yourselves or others in terms of the size of your wallet or the impressive sounding nature of your position. Rather, you should evaluate yourselves by the extent to which you live out a daily commitment to be "men and women for others."

Because of "who" you are and the Jesuit education that you have received here at Fairfield University, you should always consider your integrity as a non-negotiable. You should feel deep down within your innermost being a real sense that you can never turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the truly poor among us. Rather you can and should always feel an inner urge to get personally involved in the struggle for justice throughout our contemporary world.

Know that your Jesuit education continues to affirm and reiterate that same ancient and fundamental insight into the meaning of life articulated by the philosopher Plato, who taught that anyone who has been educated, who has as it were been lead out of the darkness into the enlightened state, has a moral obligation to go back down into the darkness of the cave, and once there to use his or her knowledge to enlighten the lives of others. With knowledge comes responsibility. My young friends, welcome to the world of educated women and men. The torch is now placed firmly in your hands so that you can enlighten the paths of others. I invite you both to embrace that challenge and to accept that responsibility.

There you have it. I have given you your last Fairfield assignment! You have reflected upon your education using the five elements in the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm: context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation. Throughout your time at Fairfield these rhythmic cycles of education have transformed you into the people that you are today. But this assignment is open-ended. What you do with your Jesuit education from here on out is entirely up to you. The ball is in your court!

It is my hope that the foundation that you have laid here will allow you to become professionally competent and loving individuals who embrace, embody and appreciate all of life's most sacred values as God intended. I can proudly say that I know countless Fairfield graduates whose lived-experience is not only steeped in the values of their Jesuit education but also it bears witness to the very best values that it embodies. I am proud and delighted to think that you will now join their ranks.

I can think of no better way to conclude my remarks than by invoking the words of your own valedictory speaker, David Muccino, who quoted Saint Ignatius' famous charge to those whom he sent out on mission "Go set the world on fire!" My fellow members of Fairfield's Class of 2007, may you now go and do the same! Congratulations, and may God bless you all!

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

Posted on May 20, 2007