Matthew P. Day of Hawthorne, N.Y. delivers valedictory address at Fairfield University's 50th commencement
Matthew P. Day, of Hawthorne, N.Y., explained the distinctive markings of his Jesuit education while giving the valedictory address at Fairfield University's 50th commencement on Sunday, May 21.
The Jesuits, he said, carry on a tradition begun by their founder, St. Ignatius Loyola, teaching their students "the interdependence of ethical morality and educated thought," challenging students "to internalize this value system and to remain faithful to it throughout their lives."
"We have learned more than facts during our years here," he noted. "Our professors and advisors have shown us that our education can only be complete through balanced components of scholarship and service."
Matt took part in the University's Mission Volunteer program to Haiti, following his junior year and told of a boy named Blaize who taught him an old Haitian proverb: "The heart cannot feel what the eyes have not seen."
"Fairfield," Matt said, "has taught us so much. Everyone has tried their best to prepare us for our futures, and now we must leave here to go see. We must see what is wrong with today's world and see what is right with it. We must search out and see the poor and marginalized, as well as the rich."
He said he and his fellow graduates would always carry the values they learned at Fairfield and urged them to "believe in the infinite possibility within yourself, and within everyone you meet. Believe that we can change the world."
A participant in Fairfield's Honors program, Matt is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Sigma Nu and Pi Mu Epsilon, the National Mathematics Honor Society. Despite the demands of a difficult double major in mathematics and economics, Matt achieved an excellent academic record and passed the Math Department Comprehensive Exam with distinction.
He was awarded a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship while at Fairfield and has been an active member of the Fairfield community. This past year he served as co-president of the Campus Ministry Council during which he helped to bring Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry's to campus. He also was co-leader of the Eucharistic Ministers and worked on Hunger Clean-up and with the Appalachia Volunteer Corp.
At the Arts and Sciences Awards Ceremony last month, Matt received the Award for Outstanding Achievement in Mathematics as well as the Rev. William Hohman, S.J., Award in Economics, given by the faculty of the Economics Department to the senior who best represents the ideals of Fr. Hohman, the founder and first chairman of the department. Matt's outstanding academic record combined with his exceptional service to the community made him a natural choice.
Matt was also awarded the Arthur F. Dershowitz Prize in Mathematics, given to students who have demonstrated curiosity and scholarship beyond classroom performance and who show promise to be life-long learners and seekers in the many dimensions of living. Matt has twice participated in the Math Department's Honors Seminar, and has completed both an independent study and summer research project with Dr. Stephen F. Sawin, assistant professor of mathematics.
Matt is vice-president of the Mathematics Honor Society, has represented the Math Department at Fairfield University's Preview Day, and has done extensive tutoring.
Matt has accepted a position as an analyst for health care and group benefits practice with William M. Mercer, Inc. in Stamford.
Valedictory Address at Fairfield University's 50th Commencement
May 21, 2000
delivered by Matthew Day of Hawthorne, N.Y.
Welcome and good morning Fr. Kelley, members of the platform party, distinguished faculty, parents, family, friends, and members of the class of 2000.
Many may not realize it, but a fateful iron cannonball is the reason we are all here today. Over four hundred years ago, a bone-crushing cannon blast shattered the leg of Ignatius, a Basque soldier. It was during his rehabilitation that he had an epiphany, a grand realization that he should no longer fight for an earthly king, but that he should become a soldier for God.
After his recovery, Ignatius formed the Jesuits, a new order of Catholic priests. Soon, the first Jesuits realized that they would never be able to change the world alone. They saw that if the world were to be won over for good they would need some help. This was the beginning of Jesuit education.
The Jesuits opened some of the best schools and taught their students all the intellectual skills they needed to excel; but they taught something more. The Jesuits taught their students the interdependence of ethical morality and educated thought. They challenged their pupils to internalize this value system, and to remain faithful to it throughout their lives. This was how Ignatius envisioned that the world would be changed.
Although it is centuries later, this challenge is as integral to Fairfield University as it was to the first Jesuits. It was embedded in every class and activity during the years we were here; and it experiences a glorious achievement in us today. Fairfield's mission statement says that a primary goal of this university's education is to foster in its students "values and a sense of social responsibility." Today, we become alumni; and this responsibility is now our own. Today, we receive degrees, but we also receive a calling to become "men and women for others."
We have learned more than facts during our years here. Our professors and advisors have shown us that our education can only be complete through balanced components of scholarship and service. These mentors taught us the economics of poverty, which we then experienced first-hand in Bridgeport soup kitchens.
Their classes helped us understand the delicate psychology of the children we played with while volunteering at ABCD HeadStart. They taught us the skills of nursing, and then showed us how to use them to comfort others in rural Appalachia. Our teachers showed us how "becoming men and women for others" can be a life-long unifying purpose. Their education has challenged us to live accordingly; to inspire this same other-seeking, outward-looking orientation in all the people with whom we come in contact.
In a class called "Prophets of Non-Violence," my professor introduced me to the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. My teacher showed me that Dr. King was one of the greatest examples of the Jesuit ideal that Fairfield strives to teach; he truly lived his life as a man for others. In his writings, he used the word Agape, one of three Greek words for love, to describe what he felt. He wrote:
Agape is more than romantic love; it is more than friendship. Agape is the understanding, creative, redemptive, goodwill towards all people. Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. When you rise to love on this level you love all people not because you like them, not because their ways appeal to you, but you love them because God loves them.
It was on a retreat called Search, during my first year at Fairfield, that I learned about Agape. During that weekend, 40 Fairfield students from very different backgrounds, students who otherwise never would have met, came together and learned about each other and about themselves.
We saw that the ideas Dr. King wrote about are present as central tenets behind all religions and cultures. Agape cuts through our differences and compels us to appreciate and benefit from our diversity. That weekend showed us that it is possible to love a person simply for what they are.
Every person has an infinite mystery within themselves; the Search retreat taught us to never confine people to what we know of them. One of the readings from the retreat expresses this openness eloquently when it says:
To love anyone is to hope in them always. From the moment at which we begin to judge anyone, to limit our confidence in them, we cease to love them and they cease to be able to become better. We should expect everything of everyone.
We must dare to love in a world that does not know how to love. During our time at Fairfield, we have been surrounded by teachers and mentors who always believed that we could become better. Our parents, advisors, and moderators always believed in us; and they worked long and hard to make it all come true for us. They inspired us with their belief in our ability.
Then, while the first year or two was zooming by, we did become better. We used our minds, collaborating in groundbreaking academic research. More students than ever before continued their research full-time during the summers.
We used our hands, aiding in community service across town and across the globe. Groups such as Hunger Clean-Up, Circle K, Alpha Sigma Nu, and the Mission Volunteers aided the lives of the less fortunate. We used our talents, displaying to everyone the excellence of Fairfield and our pride in it.
Our Glee Club sang across Europe, our football team went from newcomers to champions; so many teams and clubs excelled beyond any expectation. We used our energy, educating and entertaining our fellow students. FUSA, our student government; UMOJA, our African-American student organization; Peer Education; and the many others clubs, made campus life a complete and enriching experience. We found every possible way to bring out our talents and to use them in service to this community.
We have also inspired this hope and belief in the students we leave behind. We know that they too will become always better, continuing to improve Fairfield. We confidently leave things in their hands.
Years ago, we left the comfort and familiarity of our homes and high schools to come here. Now, Fairfield has become like a second home for us. We have gone from asking directions to giving them. The people we met during orientation are now the dear friends we rely on and confide in.
The vast possibilities of Fairfield have become our cherished memories; but now it is our time to move on. Now we must commence a larger task; we must "dare to love in a world that does not know how to love."
Last May, I traveled to Haiti with the Mission Volunteer program. While I was there, I met a boy named Blaize who taught me this old Haitian proverb: "The heart cannot feel what the eyes have not seen." Fairfield has taught us so much, everyone has tried their best to prepare us for our futures, and now we must leave here to go see.
We must see what is wrong with today's world, and see what is right with it. We must search out and see the poor and marginalized, as well as the rich. We must go out and see all the people, places, things, and events that make up this complex world; because it is only through this sight that our hearts may begin to feel. It is only through this sight that we may begin to believe in everyone, the way we have come to believe in each other. It is only though this sight that we may begin to spread the revolution of Agape and truly become men and women for others.
We leave Fairfield today, but the values we have learned here will be with us always. Believe in the infinite possibility within yourself, and within everyone you meet. Believe that we can change the world; and remember that it all started with a cannonball. Congratulations and good luck to the class of 2000.
Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on June 21, 2000
Vol. 32, No. 283