Almost every commencement address you read has a field day telling the young graduate what's wrong with the world, what's wrong with our society, and unless something happens soon, society will die.
I would like to share a few thoughts with those who are making their preparations to return to school, who are commencing a new year of hope, study and success. Instead of waiting for the commencement address to be given next year, I would like to give one now as you start back to school, instead of having one when you leave school.
Concerning the world the college student will live and work in, those people who you hear berate and rail against, the people who are the ones who make up this cruel world and jungle atmosphere, they did not get that way just because they left college and graduated. Their habits, their personalities were formed, their moralities were established long before they were placed in the so called jungle that we hear so much about. No matter what your catalog says about your school, there is no such place as an ideal school. Each school is filled with as many limitations as there are individuals. The people who you meet in your academic world, who you see lacking character, lacking purpose, will be for the most part the people who you will meet tomorrow, lacking in the same character, and lacking in purposes. They might be hardened by society, but they were formed long before they got into society.
I think one of the big mistakes parents and students make is that they get so involved in getting a son or daughter into college that they fail to make known what kind of a son or daughter they want to have when their college career is over. If you, the students, who are going to college or high school for that matter were to ask, "well, what do my parents want me to learn and develop while in college?" I think you might be surprised. Each one can say, "well, I know I am not a Rhodes Scholar, I know that my SATS were not that high, really, what do my parents expect?"
Speaking in behalf of the parents, every Catholic parent would want his son or daughter to develop what can be called a sense of integrity. The reformation of society that is so needed starts with you as a person, your own personhood. This means personal honesty above all things with yourself. Every generation has its own hang ups. Our generation had a hang up on sex. Your generation has a hang up on violence. For any person to point the finger of guilt or accusation at another generation is quite immature. Every generation can blame someone or something for the mistakes that society now has. We can blame sociology for reminding us of the over population problems. We can blame psychology for delving too deeply into the unconscious and not coming forth with too many solutions. We can blame theology for telling us how religion is dying. It is easy to find the straw man to blame someone else. But this helps in no way. If we are to analyze our future, it must be analyzed honestly. For you, as young people, every decision of your life must be honestly reached by your reflection and your own right conscience. In every encounter, whether it is spiritual or moral or emotional, somewhere in the course of your personality you have to say, "well, I think I did what God wanted me to do." The cycle of your life is always the same.
God took you from eternity so that you could live in time. God gives you time on this earth so that you will live happily with God for all eternity. Integrity is not based on what others do. Your personal integrity is developed when you do what you know God wants you to do. I meet people who are telling me they did not have the proper relationship with their parents, that they experienced an anguishing situation in their adolescence, that they never received any demonstrative love between father and son (all of which cannot be minimized). But I think a lot of people are not being completely honest. It is oftentimes much easier to blame something or someone than to make the necessary adjustment to become a person of integrity. It demands honesty, and it start with you as a person being honest with God.
The second quality I think every Catholic parent would want his son and daughter to develop is what is called a sense of your own value, your own importance. Sending you to school is not just a question of laying out money or wondering what specific topics you will pursue. They are risking, as your parents, a lot more than this. They are risking their name, their reputation, their family relationship, their future happiness on your experience with education. This is a big risk, a big sacrifice. They are aware of your worth. They hope that you, in your Christ-like fashion, will recognize your own worth and importance. Why is this so important that you yourselves recognize your own worth, your own importance? Much of the fear that parents have is that their wholesome, normal sons and daughters will come back from college ruined.
In the language of the Gospel, each one is given either one, two or five talents. You cannot hide them under a bushel, you cannot conceal them. You know that too many adults blame our political leaders and many of those adults do not even take the time to vote in the primaries. For you to sit back, complain and ridicule the college or school of your choice without trying to better it is just as useless as the man who does not vote and then complains about those in power. Today in schools you hear about binge drinking, hazing in fraternities, and tragedies such as Columbine. We are grimly reminded of the fact that the silent majority did not recognize its personal responsibility. Individuals in the silent majority do not recognize their own worth and importance and did not make a contribution of their talents to help better a situation.
Going back to school has always been a traumatic time no matter how old the people might be. Today you are rubbing elbows with people who have far more psychological and theological hang ups than any other generation. People with hang ups are generally those who cause the flare ups, cause the violence and cause the trouble that hurts the college of your choice. You, more than anyone, must have the sense of integrity and sense of worth and importance to make sure that you are not led by any group.
There is a theory that if you have the proper knowledge that you can walk into the deepest jungle area in Africa without having to carry a weapon. If that is true, then maybe we can likewise say that if you have a sense of integrity and a sense of importance at school, you can one day leave that school and walk into the so-called jungle of society. You might never be able to change it, but it is possible with these qualities for you to better it.
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