I am delighted to offer my sincere congratulations to the members of the Loyola University Maryland Class of 2013. It has been a pleasure for me to witness the hard work and commitment you have demonstrated as students at Loyola, and I look forward to learning about the personal and professional achievements I know you will attain in the years to come. I am proud, as I know your families are, to celebrate with you today.
Thanks also to Dr. Carolyn Woo for being with us today. It is extremely important to us to engage a commencement speaker whose personal and professional achievements demonstrate their commitment to the ideals at the heart of Loyola’s Jesuit identity. Dr. Woo, an accomplished academic, extraordinary leader, and dedicated force for the greater good in our complex and sometimes troubled world, clearly shares so many of our most defining principles. I am honored—we are all honored—to welcome her to our University community.
I also extend my congratulations and my thanks to Sister Maureen Fay and Ms. Sally Riley for their exceptional and enduring achievements, to whom Catholic and Jesuit education broadly, in the case of Sister Fay, and this University specifically, in the case of Ms. Riley, owe so very much.
I must admit, the past few months have been a great time to be a Jesuit. Since the election of Pope Francis in March, the eyes of the world have been trained on our order and what makes us so distinctive, and by extension, on our Universities and their influence on our global society.
As a Jesuit university president, I’m often asked by prospective students and their families what’s so different about the Jesuit approach to education, to spirituality, and to exploring life’s most essential questions. This spring, it seems everyone is asking—because they want to know how this new pope’s Jesuit background will shape the Church and its influence on the world. I don’t have a definitive answer, of course—I doubt even Pope Francis knows exactly how his identity as a Jesuit will affect his leadership.
But I know how I hope it does—and this hope looks very much like the hope I have for how each of the graduates we celebrate today, shaped as you are by Jesuit education, will approach your new roles as leaders—and the hope I have for how your influence can help heal our world.
The aspect of Jesuit identity people are most familiar with is our emphasis on intellectual curiosity and academic life—and while those are very appealing qualities—especially to a lifelong student like me—that’s only part of it. A more fundamental quality is what we call our Jesuit way of proceeding, an approach to governance and other aspects of human engagement rooted in reflection, discernment, and true, authentic dialogue.
Basically, to use a phrase employed by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair when he visited Loyola last month: “keeping an open mind.”
My friend, mentor, and distinguished theologian Sister Margaret Farley called it something else: “The grace of self-doubt.”
This doesn’t mean that you go through life devoid of faith, beliefs, or convictions—but it does mean you approach difficult decisions and particularly your engagement with others ready to imagine, if only for a time, that something else might be the case.
This way of proceeding, I believe, could be transformational when it comes to leading a church that been battered and fragmented in recent years, and particularly in working with people of other faiths.
And it could be even more powerful if upheld by each one of you as you move into this next phase of your personal and professional lives.
If one were to ask me what one of the greatest challenges facing our society might be, I would have to answer the near absolute refusal of many of our most prominent leaders—political, corporate, religious and otherwise—to approach any discussion ready to see it from the other side’s point of view. Consider our recent congressional debates over gun control, for example. This refusal has led to a perilous decline in civility and the creation of a public environment so fraught with animosity as to make true dialogue—and by extension, meaningful progress—close to impossible on virtually any issue of consequence.
And it doesn’t have to be that way.
Each one of you graduating today knows a better way. You’ve demonstrated your embrace of this better way, many many times already—or you would never have succeeded at Loyola. This open-minded philosophy I describe is an essential component of the debates, dialogues, and conversations that form the Jesuit tradition of the liberal arts, an integral aspect of what has made your educations a bit different, and dare I say, a bit richer than the ones you might have received at other universities.
And I hope that over the past few years, you’ve come to understand that this philosophy is not, cannot be, limited to academic matters. It is in fact even more vital in questions of individual integrity, social justice, professional responsibility, political conviction, and personal relationships.
And I believe it is in these areas where you are prepared to have the greatest impact. You have learned so much in your years at Loyola. You leave Loyola today armed with an extraordinary amount of knowledge and experience in your discipline. You have read extensively, engaged in research, completed internships, traveled domestically and internationally. Those of you who are receiving graduate degrees today are already immersed in so many professional opportunities and challenges— and for many of you, with the added responsibilities of caring for your families and filling critical roles in your communities. You are all undoubtedly ready, on a practical level, to face all that lies ahead and to thrive in whichever fields you wish to pursue.
But the uniquely Jesuit approach to your learning, your willingness, perhaps even your eagerness to confront difficult questions with an open mind, with a desire to see debates from multiple and often opposing perspectives, to embody the grace of self-doubt…that’s what makes you so ready to lead.
And it is my sincere hope that you, like Pope Francis, will accept this challenge and this responsibility. That you will ask, no—expect—those you lead to follow this philosophy. That you will demand such an approach of your leaders.
And when you do, and when you inspire others to do the same, I believe you will truly begin to change the world, to transform it into a richer and more beautiful version of the one we know today, to help realize God’s vision for all of his people and the potential that lies within us.
And that journey, one you have traveled all the days of your lives, continues today.
Congratulations, and God Bless You.