Thank you Fr. Niehoff, members of the faculty, staff and administrators, distinguished guests, friends and family, and thank you class of 2009. I am grateful not only for this opportunity to address you, but also for the generosity to others and me over the years. “John Carroll inspires individuals to excel in learning, leadership and service in the region and in the world.” These are words from our university’s mission statement and they call us to recognize the importance of education and service. Remaining faithful to these words is the theme of my address to you this afternoon.
I ask for your patience and apologize as I shall indeed break into song at some points during this speech. I don’t have the best voice but I learned this song back in my Jesuit secondary school in Nigeria and will love to share it with you, as I believe it still applies today. It is Steve Green’s “Find us Faithful” and we could sing this together, I invite you to join me if you recognize the words.
We’re pilgrims on the journey of the narrow road,
And those who’ve gone before us line the way.
Cheering on the faithful,
Encouraging the weary,
Their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace.
This verse reminds me of the warmth I was welcomed with during my first visit to this institution. We all know that a good education is non-existent without a suitable social environment- an environment that stays faithful to the goals of learning and service. The warm welcome I received, on that very cold and windy day, led me to believe that this campus was such an environment. An environment where doors were held, by gentlemen for ladies in hurried flights, meals were shared, on Friday nights, out on the streets of Cleveland, and time was spent, in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. A place where I frequently bumped into Dr. Welki and his kind and encouraging words, and listened to sermons from Dr. Simmons, and a place where I got to see these young and energetic professors take on unsuspecting JCU students in games of racquet ball. John Carroll has been faithful to her mission by providing a citadel of learning where education transcends mere book knowledge. Fellow students, it is now imperative that we fulfill our end of the bargain by remembering the virtues of service and leadership in the world around us.
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize;
But as those who’ve gone before us,
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives.
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful,
May the fire of our devotion light their way.
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe,
And the lives we live inspire them to obey.
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful.
As we go out to continue to engage in the politics associated with the journey of life we must carefully and critically analyze not just the facts and figures, but who and what really matter: who we are advocating for, working for, what we are living for. As our John Carroll education has taught us, let us stand as a “testament to God’s sustaining grace,” running the race “not only for the prize” so that those coming after us are inspired to do the same.
How you may ask? I know that many of you showed up for those core classes in Philosophy and Religion and took notes in courses pertaining to ethics and morality. In these ways you may have understood the Jesuit mission; or you may be indifferent to the liberal education and the Jesuit mission (I hope not), I also hope you are not indifferent to a better and more just world. As such, I ask you to strive for change – to work to carry out the changes your knowledge and experiences have made you envision or visualize.
I am not asking that you trade in your capitalist philosophies for socialist ideals or that you exchange your realist views for idealist perspectives. I am not asking that you change your beliefs; I only ask that you use your talents and gifts to act considerably and committedly, and that you do so with compassion and character.
Some of you are disillusioned with the goals of this education, some of you are still wondering why you should care as we each have our own problems or because you haven’t recovered from not doing as well as you wanted in Dr. Bloom’s Accounting class. But, if you haven’t realized yet, as trite as this may sound, we are all in this together. We really are. The current economic crisis that started with the housing market is evidence that a few people’s actions can influence the fate of many. Therefore, it is important for us to take up leadership and service roles in our societies because making the right decisions will ensure collective progress and also secure individual prosperity.
After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone,
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind,
May the clues that they discover
And the mem’ries they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find.
As we leave with memories of that Murphy snowball fight, wearing our North Face jackets and backpacks, heading into the world in those Ugg boots, tennis shoes, sandals or flip flops we dared in winter months, I hope we hold dear to us that which will never fade away–that desire to lead so that others may live.
Classmates, I encourage you to stay enlightened and empowered in the ways that John Carroll University has formed you these past few years. May those coming after us find us faithful. As some of you have started to inspire children as teachers, in a few years, many of you will save lives through the practice of medicine. I know that some amongst us will create brighter futures through science and engineering and many will defend the rights of those often forgotten in the courts of law. Some will also go into arts and into music to entertain the world, and for those of you who do, you had better sing much better than I did today.