Stepping Into the Rest of Their Lives
Michael J. Graham, S.J.
As a veteran of many commencements, I have long since learned that there are at least two ways to make it through them: name by name, or person by person. In the first instance, the long line of capped-and-gowned graduates becomes a lengthy list of names, intoned by a luckless reader for what seems like forever. Every so often an especially loud cheer, a particularly imaginative cap, an air horn or a beach ball rouses you out of revery. But not for long, and soon you succumb to the spell of the names again.
The second way is much to be preferred. Here, you meet each graduate as she or he takes the stage solo for one precious moment. What looks like an undifferentiated mass at a distance assumes an amazing variety up close. Some have their moment on the stage well-choreographed and elaborately planned, while others appear to improvise. Some are clearly overwhelmed; others seem to be still shrugging off the effects of the night before. Some have a quick speech that they want you to hear while others are just smiling, glad as anything just to be there. One by one they come across the stage, shaking my hand, receiving their diploma from the Board Chair and exiting stage left, down the stairs and into the rest of their lives.
But it’s their eyes I always notice first. No matter how it is that they make their way across the stage, their eyes are always vibrant and alive, sparkling at the specialness of the occasion. This very aliveness of their eyes makes it easy for me to believe that each and every one of these graduates crossing the stage is really a gift being given to the world. For each and every one of them has talents and abilities, hopes and dreams and passions, that no one else exactly has. Each of them will go into their own particular corner of the world, there to meet people that no one else exactly will, and discover there an opportunity to make a difference that no one else exactly can.
Meeting these eyes and shaking these hands, I am reminded of what Jesuit Superior General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach has said about Jesuit schools like Xavier. Our ultimate measure, he insists, is not the size of our endowments, the acreage of our campuses or even the SATs of our incoming freshman classes. Our ultimate measure is always who our students become. To be sure, this process of “becoming” is a lifelong journey, but a journey that we all hope will be different than it otherwise would have been for their time spent here at Xavier. And so, just as these graduates pack a lot in their eyes, in their smiles and in their handshakes as they cross the stage to greet me and then move on, so do I try to pack a lot into my greeting back to them and all to say just this: that each and every one of them would help realize Father Kolvenbach’s hope for Xavier as a Jesuit, Catholic school, and, in this realization, find their own highest and best hopes for themselves fulfilled.
And so, too, for all of you—may you all continue to become more and more the people God made you and meant you to be. And along the way, may you enjoy yourselves and those you love in a special way during these summer months.