Apropos of the Notre Shame controversy, “Blackadder,” one of the commentors on Vox Nova commented on how rarely commencement addresses have anything directly to do with commencement. Properly speaking, a commencement address should be advice to the students about their upcoming life. Like the title of a Bill Cosby book that someone gave Mary when she graduated: Congratulations: Now What?
If a commencement speaker is a famous scholar, he talks about his work. If she’s a celebrity, she talks about her career. Politicians give political speeches.
But a proper commencement address should concern, “Now that you’re entering the big world, he’s what you need to think about or do. . . . “
Take the Cardinal Arinze at Georgetown controversy. Georgetown invited him precisely because they wanted a political speech on Islam. Instead, they got what is widely regarded as a “political” speech on “family values.” In reality, it is a speech to the students, talking about how they should live out their (alleged) Catholic education in their adult lives.
Beliefnet has the full text. Here are some “highlights” 😉
God be praised for this major event today in the life of Georgetown
University. Near a thousand young people are graduating. To you, dear young
friends, I say: Allow serious religion to lead you to lasting joy. Happy parents
and friends surround their loved ones. With them I say: Let us thank God for the
gift of the family. The Company of Jesus, the Jesuits, initiated and nourish this University. With them I rejoice
at the patrimony of St. Ignatius and especially that the Catholic Church is
God’s gift to the world. To all I say: Arise, rejoice, God is calling you.
My dear graduands, at this turning point in your lives, it is helpful to
keep to essentials. One of them is to locate in what happiness consists.
Everyone wants to be happy. Every human being desires lasting joy.
happiness does not consist in the accumulation of goods: money, cars, houses.
Nor is it to be found in pleasure seeking: eating, drinking, sex. And humans do
not attain lasting joy by power grabbing, dominating others, or heaping up
public acclaim. These three things, good in themselves when properly sought,
were not able to confer on Solomon, perfect happiness. And they will not be able
to confer it on anyone else! (cf Eccles 1: 2-3; II King 11: 1-8; Mt 20: 24-28;
IJn 2: 15-16).
Happiness is attained by achieving the purpose of our earthly existence. God made me to know him, to love him, to serve him in this world and to be happy with him for ever in the next. St. Augustine found this out in his later age after making many mistakes in his youth. . . . God’s grace helps me to live on earth in such a way as to attain the purpose of my earthly existence.
. . .
Allow your religion to give life, joy, generosity and a sense of solidarity to your professional and social engagements. In a world of religious plurality, you will of course learn to cooperate with people of other religious convictions. True religion teaches not exclusion, rivalry, tension, conflict or violence, but rather openness, esteem, respect and harmony. At the same time you should keep intact your religious identity, your distinction as a witness of Jesus Christ.
Sounds like he *did* talk about interfaith issues (however briefly). Addressing the families of graduates, he says the (in)famous part:
In many parts of the world, the family is under siege. It is opposed by an anti-life entality as is seen in contraception, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. It is scorned and banalized by pornography, desecrated by fornication and adultery, mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions and cut in two by divorce. . . .
But the family has friends too. It is nourished and lubricated by mutual love, strengthened by sacrifice and healed by forgiveness and reconciliation. . . . May God bless all the families here present and grant our graduands who will one day set up their own families his light, guidance, strength, peace and love.
Then he praises the Jesuits who run Georgetown, talking of the importance of St. Ignatius’s spirituality.
This Church has produced Saints from every state of life, men and women who, open to God’s grace, have become signs of hope. But this same Church also has sinners in her fold. Far from discouraging and rejecting them, the Church offers them hope, wholesome Gospel teaching, saving sacraments and the invitation to abandon the food of pigs, make a U-turn, and return to the refreshing joy of their Father’s house, like the prodigal son (cf Lk 15: 14-24).
. . .
The tenets of the Catholic faith do not change according to the play of market forces, majority votes or opinion polls. “Jesus Christ is the same today as he was yesterday and as he will be for ever” (Heb 13: 8). This is the Church which St. Ignatius invites all his spiritual children to love and cherish. This is the Church to which we have the joy to belong.
My dear graduands, parents and the Jesuit Community of Georgetown, arise, rejoice, because God is calling us. And may God’s light, peace, grace and blessing descend on you and remain with you always.
Now that’s a graduation speech for a Catholic university.