The Gift of Simple Truths
This year’s commencement exercises (a.k.a. “graduations”) at Gonzaga were unlike any others in modern memory. Held outdoors in an Astroturf-covered football field while puffy clouds intermittently allowed rays of golden sunshine to warm the attendees, the ceremonies were festive and beautiful yet somewhat solemn: as if the masked graduates, their families and friends, and university colleagues all understood what a privilege it was to cap this enormously challenging, physically restrictive, and emotional year in this way.
As I shared with our graduates, there are things we have all learned in dealing with COVID-19 that we might not have otherwise learned, and there are timeless truths which have been affirmed and become even more obvious. Those who find ways to persist in spite of adversity, become stronger and more resilient because of it. Our students – and our faculty and staff – have improvised and discovered new ways of doing things. They coped, reconsidered, evaluated problems from different angles. And in the process, we all have become a bit more wise.
Throughout the past eighteen months, we have continued to live out our Catholic, Jesuit and humanistic mission, educating people for lives of leadership and service to the common good. All along the way, our students have taught us some important things too; in particular, they have taught us the importance of community, of family, of human dignity, and of truth. Despite the many challenges of learning via remote technologies, our students understood that building actual community is possible, even when using virtual tools. That family is the nuclear pattern of all loving, powerful communities, and that human dignity is a value worth standing up and fighting for. And our community never lost sight of its fundamental academic purpose: the pursuit of truth, though it may lead to, and through, very uncomfortable, difficult places, and demand a great deal of those who search for it.
Those values guided Gonzaga through a pandemic, just as they will guide future Zags in their endeavors. And as I shared with our graduates, whether you graduated in 2021 or 1941, you carry the hopes and dreams of others with you, that you will make the world a different, better, kinder, more loving place. Regardless of your age and stage in life, I hope you find value in the five “gifts” or pieces of advice I shared with this year’s graduates:
- Nurture the people who matter most to you. Poet Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
- Find a vocation that makes you happy. Some people sacrifice their happiness for wealth or status. Finding what gives you joy and fulfillment will make you happier, and you’ll be better at it.
- Use the superpower education gave you: awareness. While the world has become a more cynical and distrustful place, we still choose our reactions, whether to tear people down, or build them up; whether to speak up in the face of injustice, or to remain silent. The purpose of higher education is to impart knowledge and awareness. Use it to make the world a better place for others, and it will be a better place for you as well.
- When the going gets tough, keep moving. There is an uncomfortable degree of uncertainty in life; all it takes is a pandemic to make that clear. Don’t let uncertainty become inertia. Do the best you can, keep going, and new doors will open up before you.
- Never forget that you are a beloved creation of God. Fundamental to the Jesuit way of proceeding is the belief that there is a God, we were created in the image and likeness of God, and God loves each and every one of us, just as we are. Human beings impose a lot of categories and conditions on themselves and each other, but God’s love is unconditional. Finding God in all things means to acknowledge that God is present in those around us, and within us as well. When someone challenges your sense of self-worth, remember that you are a God-made miracle of infinite worth.
Friends, alumni, families – those simple truths and timeless gifts are for all of us. Together, we help impact our communities and our world in positive ways. I am eternally grateful to have you involved in that work alongside us at Gonzaga. May God continue to bless us all in the months and years to come.
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.