Remarks by Rev. Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J., President
2017 Spring Commencement
It is vaguely ironic that we celebrate the conclusion of your USF education by means of a ceremony called Commencement. Something is indeed ending, and something new is beginning.
What’s ending - quite successfully - is your program of study. By dint of effort, concentration, grit and grace, and with a good dose of help from your teachers and mentors, and with a good deal of collaboration from your fellow students, your family and friends, you have earned a degree. More than that, you have gained knowledge, skills, and habits of the heart that qualify you for a higher level of civic and professional engagement, for many of you, leadership, for the further development of your self as a person and for the betterment of the communities and societies you will next join. That’s the commencement part – what begins today is the next chapter in your life.
Certainly, you graduate at a moment in history where there are great expectations, and not a little anxiety, about what world leaders will do. International trade, climate change, migration policies, treaty alliances, and so many other vital issues will be debated, and changes may be profound. In the face of all this uncertainty, you possess three virtues, deeply embedded in your heart, which were certainly strengthened during your time here at USF, and which will help you navigate the troubled waters ahead: faith, hope and love.
First, faith – in God, who loves you mightily and holds you, and encourages you, always. Faith in humankind, for despite our weaknesses and temptations, we are capable of much goodness; it is your responsibility to recognize, defend and call forth the goodness in the heart of every person with whom you live and work. Faith in yourself, in your ability to know and to do what is right and just.
In many ways, faith can see further than her necessary sister, reason. As Blaise Pascal said, the heart has its reasons that reason can never fathom. Faith is a species of courage – it comes from the heart, from the very core of our being, and gives us the audacity and the power to act in the world as we believe we should, creating and sustaining, protecting and promoting, all that is good, human and true.
Second, hope. Hope is a holy desire to gain some great good that we do not yet possess, but that we ardently desire. Hope spurs us to attain a level of excellence that is neither completely out of our grasp, nor easily within reach. Hope is the virtue of trusting that your dreams may come true – if you work very hard and if you are helped along the way - by friends, colleagues and even strangers. Hope invites us to clarify our desires, sort through our many wants, take the time to identify our deepest desires, our holy desires, and then to ask God to help us fulfill them. Saint Ignatius believed that our deepest desires are in fact God’s desires for us. So hope boldly, hope wisely, hope generously. Hope for the good of others as much as you hope for your own good.
Finally, love. On this day you are feeling a lot of love falling on you from parents, from siblings, from relatives and friends. Soak it in - be an emotional sponge, totally present to this moment. Take a mental picture of this scene, of your heart overflowing, of the tears of joy welling up. There are few days like this in a lifetime, so remember this one. There will be difficult days ahead when you will need to recall what you now know to be true: that you are loved. And that you love many in return.
The ancient Greeks were very wise, and being philosophical by nature, they made distinctions and found shades of meaning. They had three words to define what love is: eros, philia and agape. Eros is the passionate love of two people who so share themselves with each other that the two become one. In the months and years to come, not a few marriages will be celebrated among you.
Philia is the love of friends. This is the affection you have for the people you like, the friends with whom you enjoy spending time. Many of the friendships you formed here will last a lifetime, and they will give your life meaning and texture.
Finally, agape – the love we have for people we don’t like, or people we don’t know.
This sort of love is not a feeling; it is a decision. We choose to be charitable to people who are down on their luck, we choose to be kind to strangers; we choose to be hospitable to the widow, the orphan and the foreigner sojourning among as, as all the prophets called us to do.
We your faculty and staff mentors and friends, we are truly proud of what you have accomplished and salute you on your Commencement day. Make us prouder still by what you will accomplish next, and how you will change the world by the quality of the life you lead from here.