Joseph M. McShane, S.J., President of Fordham, praised members of the 40th graduating class of Fordham’s International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) as a group like none other.
“Certificate in International Humanitarian Assistance? Does that title really capture who you are? Does it say who you aspire to be? Not really,” he said. “This morning, you really should be held as masters of compassion, doctors of the human heart.”
Father McShane spoke at a June 28 diploma ceremony held for 43 students, many of who are already working in the humanitarian field. He told the graduates that they occupy a special place in his heart because they deal not in contracts, strategies or lesson plans, but in working with people.
“You deal with their joys and their sorrow, their hopes and their fears. You bind up human hearts, you champion the dignity of those who live at the edges of society, in the shadows of the cities, towns, villages and countries of the world,” he said.
“You are called to live life in the thick of things, in the heart of the human city, and you live life not from your heads, but you from the heart.”
The ceremony capped an intense month of multi-disciplinary lectures, workshops and field experiences designed to simulate a humanitarian crisis that lasted ten to 12 hour days, five to six days per week. This year’s crop of graduates hailed from a total of 24 countries, as varied as Georgia and Sierra Leone.
Arielle Goodman, one of the students in this year’s group, used her invitation to speak to serenade the room with an a cappella version of Hoagy Carmichael’s song Skylark. She pronounced herself astounded, humbled, and inspired.
“I actually don’t really know a lot about each and every one of you, yet I feel so very close and connected. And I think it’s a testimony to the power that we have as human beings,” she said.
“We have that power to connect and transcend all obstacles. When you’re just present to the moment at hand, which we had to be in this program, that’s powerful. I think we’ll all take that with us.”
Larry Hollingsworth, director of humanitarian programs at Fordham’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs, which administers the IDHA, told graduates to follow their path furiously, but to stay in touch with their classmates and teachers.
“I sincerely hope that you’re taking away at least two or three close friends, and I hope also you’re taking away another 39 people whom you know you can trust, because they’ve been through the same mill that you’ve been through this past month,” he said.
At the event, Father McShane received an honorary certificate in International Humanitarian Assistance, honoris causa. He noted that, in a world that is all too eager to devalue the downtrodden, the graduates’ insistence that every life is precious and worthy of protection lead some forces in the world to consider them a “nuisance.”
“If you are a nuisance, you are an important and saving nuisance,” he said.
The IDHA has been designed as an intensive four-week training program, including more than 200 hours of lectures, presentations, debates, and group work, including a course designed to simulate a humanitarian crisis. The program began in in 1997 and has served students from more than 115 nations.