Fordham President Joseph M. McShane, S.J.’s remarks at Fordham’s 164th Commencement on 16 May, 2009:
Mr. Tognino, Mr. Brokaw, Mayor Bloomberg, Ms. Wylde, Dr. Lin, Dr. Macchiarola, members of the Board of Trustees, the faculty and administration, parents, honored guests and members of the Class of 2009.
My friends, for generations Edwards Parade has played a rich, if varied, role in the life of the University. In fact, it has served as a soccer field, a parade ground on which the men and women of Fordham trained before marching off to serve our nation in World War I and World War II, and a grassy beach on which Fordham students have played frisbee, caught a few rays between classes, and honed their skills in the fine art of flirtation. It is also here, on the manicured grass of Edwards Parade, that the University traditionally gathers in solemn convocation to honor its own and to welcome dignitaries into the Fordham family. It is also from here, this ground made sacred by the hopes, dreams, loves and heroic figures of our shared past, that the University sends its newest sons and daughters out into the world.
My friends, this is the most solemn day on the University’s calendar, for this is the day on which we celebrate achievements and honor heros. Therefore, once again we ring the Victory Bell, drape Keating Hall in banners and bunting and gather on Edwards Parade in solemn convocation. Decked out in our academic finery, we welcome our newest honorary degree recipients into the Fordham family and recognize the contributions they have made to the life of our City, the nation and the world. I hope that you will not mind if I single out two of our honorees for special mention: Mr. Brokaw and Mayor Bloomberg. The Mayor first: last week I heard the Mayor speak at a Jesuit fund-raising event in Manhattan. In the course of his typically gracious remarks, he noted wistfully that he had not had the benefit of a Jesuit education. Mr. Bloomberg, this is your lucky day: you are now a Fordham graduate and thus a member of the Jesuit family! (The Development Office will call you on Monday about your contribution to the Annual Fund. I couldn’t resist.) As for Mr. Brokaw: I cannot tell you how honored we are that you served as our Commencement Speaker this year. Throughout your rich career as a commentator on current and world events, you have taught us to expect great things of you. This morning, however, you exceeded even our highest expectations and gave us not a good speech, but a spectacular speech, rich in wisdom and insight. Therefore, on behalf of our graduates, their parents, and their guests, I would like to thank you for making this year’s Commencement ceremony an event that we will all remember and cherish.
Of course, our honorary degree recipients are not the only heros whom we toast this morning. Far from it. Members of the Class of 2009, this is above all your day. This is the day on which we celebrate you and all you have done and achieved at Fordham. Therefore, we celebrate hopes that have been realized, dreams that have come true, loves that have blossomed and lives that have been changed–changed utterly. Fordham has honored presidents on Edwards Parade. Today, it honors you in the same setting. The University has hailed cardinals and foreign ministers on the Terrace of the Presidents. Today, it honors you on the same site. Fordham has toasted mayors, governors, visionaries, artists and Nobel laureates on this sacred ground. Today, it honors you too. You too are our heros. You too are worthy of praise. You too. U2. (You knew that was coming.)
When U2 appeared on Edwards Parade in the early morning hours of March 6th of this year, you were delirious with pure joy. You pulled an all-nighter to make sure that you got a good place on Edwards Parade for their concert. 5,000 strong and drawn from Fordham College at Lincoln Center, CBA, Fordham College at Rose Hill and all of the graduate schools, you stood patiently in long lines along Constitution Row and wondered if the sun would ever come up. Of course, you put your time on line to good use. You texted your friends at other colleges and claimed bragging rights by reminding them that U2, the greatest band on the planet, was appearing only at Fordham. Then, as dawn broke over Keating Hall, you welcomed the band with full-throated cheers. For Bono and the lads, it was love at first sight. And the feeling was mutual. You fell under their spell. You sang along with them. You swayed to their rhythms. That magical morning, you played Edwards Parade and shared the stage with U2. And the world took notice. You were splashed across the Jumbotron in Times Square. You were beamed into four and a half million American households. It was the experience of a lifetime. It was an experience that you will brag about to your children and your grandchildren all your lives. It was an experience that you will recount (with some embellishment) and relive every time you come back to celebrate your reunions in the company of your friends.
Caught up in the wild excitement of the moment, when he introduced “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight”, Bono said that he had written it just for you. Imagine! Written for you–and you alone. You roared with delight as Bono, The Edge, Larry McMullen, Jr. and Adam Clayton launched into their ode to youth. In the blur of the moment, however, I wonder if Bono’s flattery caused you to miss the words, words that are as challenging as they are consoling. At the very heart of the song, hidden right in the middle of a little light-hearted ditty about young love, Bono and the lads sang out: “Every generation gets a chance to change the world.” “Every generation gets the chance to change the world.” Heady stuff. Heady indeed. Then, at the stroke of nine, it was over. The band disappeared into Keating Hall. The stage was struck. You hurried off to class. You settled back into business-as-usual– till now.
My dear friends, this morning, you play Edwards Parade once again. Of course, a few things are different this time around. For starters, this time, you are the headliners. Second, this time, the crowd on the Edwards is far larger: U2 drew only 5,000 fans; you, however, have drawn 16,000, all of whom are here out of love, and not merely out of the curiosity spawned by rockstar celebrity. Finally, this time around your emotions are more mixed. That sweet March morning, pure unadulterated joy reigned supreme. This morning, however, you are torn between joy and grief. Victory is yours, and that victory is sweet. You have conquered the core. You have mastered your majors. You have covered yourselves with glory. And yet. And yet, you cannot savor your triumphs quite as much as you would like because you know in your hearts that when this ceremony ends, things will be different. You will be different. You will no longer be Fordham students. You will be Fordham graduates. And you will be facing a new and different kind of world, a world that changed dramatically during your graced time in our midst. Faced with these sobering realities, you may want to curse your bad luck, the bad luck of being born into challenging times. You may even be tempted to spend just a little time reliving the past few years and replaying the soundtrack of your college years as a way of keeping the world and its challenges at bay.
Believe me, I will more than understand if you find these temptations to be all but irresistible. I urge you, however, not to give in to them. In fact, whenever the challenges that await you in your lives-after-Fordham tempt you to retreat to a comfortable remembrance of the sweet times that you had here, remember this: no generation gets to choose the world that it is born into. And you are no different. You didn’t choose the world that you now inherit. Every generation, however, does “get a chance to change the world”. In this also you are no different. You have a chance to change the world, and a very specific world at that. You have a chance to change the suffering and complex world that awaits you–and to change it for the better.
But how? How can you possibly change the world? Well, my friends, you may recall that when he looked out at you when he was a pilgrim in our midst, Bono blurted out: “I joined a rock and roll band so I could get out of going to college. Maybe if it looked like this, and felt like this, things could have been different.” Therein lies the answer to the question, “How can you possibly change the world.” For you see, my friends, for you, college did feel like this. In fact, for you, college was not merely like this, college was this. For you, College was Fordham. Therefore, things have been different. And you are different for having been here. It was here that you built homes for your hearts. It was here that those hearts were stretched and schooled. It was here that you were formed for service. It was here that you were trained to be prophets for our time, men and women who feel the joys and sorrows of the human family with attentive tenderness. It was here that you were challenged to respond to those joys and sorrows with urgent, active, transforming love. It was here that you were told — over and over again that Jesuit graduates must always seek the higher things: a better world, more effective service of others, and the greater glory of God. It was here that you were prepared to change the world.
Therefore, my friends, as we gather on this, Fordham’s field of honor, I urge you to seize your chance to change the world. No. I take that back. Rather, seize your graced chance to transform the world. Redeem the suffering world that God places in your hands through your discerning, restless, urgent love. Do not shrink from the future. Its challenges will, I assure you, tease out of you a greatness that you don’t even know you have. And, for the love of God, embrace the world. Do not fear it. Rather, engage it. Do not condemn it. Rather, transform it with that perfect love that drives out all fear. Dare to be honest. Cherish the poor. Champion the voiceless.
And now, my friends, class is out. The next phase of your life has begun. Be bold in all your dreams. Be ethical in all your actions. Be what you are called to be and what we expect you to be: men and women with a difference. Be quick on your feet, but steady in your hearts. Be gentle in friendship, but fierce in your defense of principle. Above all, be men and women whose lives are marked by competence, conscience, compassion and commitment to the cause of the human family. In other words, change the world. And may God prosper the works of your hands and bring you to the greatness that is your destiny and His desire for you.