Saint Joseph’s University
Undergraduate Commencement Address, 2016
Daniel J. Hilferty III
Chairman Moneypenny, President Reed and the Board of Trustees: Good morning and thank you for inviting me to deliver this commencement address!
To the incredible faculty of our great University as well as the administration, thank you for all that you do to shape our leaders of tomorrow!
Parents and family members, good morning and congratulations to you on what I know is a proud moment.
To my fellow honorary degree recipients — Jane Golden, Paul and Margaret Hondros, and Fr. Tim Lannon — I say congratulations and thank you for all that you have done and continue to do in our mutual pursuit of the magis. To stand here today, among all of you, is the honor of a lifetime!
And, most importantly, good morning to you, graduates of the Class of 2016!
And Isaiah Miles, it’s good to have you back home with us today, because your journey embodies much of my message to the entire class.
Graduates, over the centuries, Jesuits of all nationalities, talents, political ideologies and differing world views have impacted the lives of millions of people through their commitment to Ignatian spirituality, intellectual curiosity, business ethics, social justice advocacy and service to others.
The Jesuits have a tradition of building bridges — finding common ground and mutual humanity. This was never more evident than when Pope Francis, during his first ever trip to the United States, visited our university to bless a statue. A statue dedicated to interfaith unity and dialogue between the Catholic and Jewish communities.
Always ahead of their time, the Jesuits of Saint Joseph’s are no different. During my affiliation, presidents from Fr. Terrance Toland to my mentor, Fr. Nicholas Rashford — without whose influence I would not be standing in front of you today — and more recently, Fr. Lannon and Fr. Kevin Gillespie, have transformed this campus and this University through their tremendous leadership.
Now, for the first time, the torch has been passed to a lay person, Mark Reed! Steeped in all things Jesuit, Dr. Reed is aggressively leading us into the heart of the 21st century. Mark, we applaud you.
So back to the Jesuits! Men like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Pedro Arrupe, our own Edward Brady, and, of course, Jorge Mario Bergolio — better known to us as Pope Francis — have left their mark on a world hungering for something more.
Graduates of the Class of 2016, it is among these great Jesuits that I seek to leave you with food for thought, with hope and optimism, as you embark on a lifetime of opportunity, accomplishment and equal measures of joy, challenge and, sometimes, sorrow.
I have asked myself: What should I say to you? What should I say?
You see, almost 38 years ago to the day, I sat where you now sit. As a popular song of my era noted, the time, I am sorry to say, passes much too quickly. I sat toward the rear with those who would be my best friends for a lifetime. Friends named Griffin, Haggerty, Willcox and many more. I donned my cap and gown having graduated … by the skin of my teeth.
Thank you, Dolores McCaughan, wherever you are!
So what should I say to you? Once again, I go back to the Jesuits.
During the pope’s visit to Philadelphia, my wife, Joan, and I, along with our five children and grandson were honored to bring the gifts to the altar at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, where Pope Francis celebrated Mass. During his sermon, the pope paused, pointed to the congregation, and said,
“What about you? What are you going to do?”
I felt a surge run through my body. It was as if he were looking into my very soul and asking: How are you going to change the world for the better? So, as a very, very poor substitute for our Holy Father, I say to you:
“What about you? What are you going to do?”
Pope Francis — his teachings, his lessons for us, how he lives his life — captures the key elements of our personal journeys to discern how we can contribute to changing the human condition.
A recent book about the pope provided this statement:
“In terms of public opinion, Francis is already on the cusp of achieving the iconic status of Nelson Mandela, a figure of unquestioned moral authority.” The author goes on to say, “This much is certainly true of both men … . Their leadership inspires others because of their self-leadership, and their respective paths to self-leadership involved deep introspective journeys. That inward journey is not always easy.”
Mandela himself said, and I quote, “My greatest enemy was not those who put or kept me in prison. It was myself. I was afraid to be who I am.”
Graduates, practice self-leadership! Allow yourself to embark on a deep introspective journey! Graduates, be who you are!
From that “authentic you” will emerge the best that you have to offer.
I think of our own alumna and University trustee, Sr. Mary Scullion, and her personal leadership journey. Honed through spiritual introspection and a call to action, Sr. Mary has changed the face of homelessness in our region through Project Home. Where there was no hope, many have found the physical, mental and spiritual place called “home.”
Let’s look at paleontologist and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who followed a unique path to his understanding of the Almighty. It was his desire to combine Christian thought with modern science and philosophy to help each of us gain perspective on the universe and our unique place in it.
Those of you who choose to pursue the sciences: Do it with the curiosity of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
- Challenge the status quo.
- Push the boundaries of current thinking as a physician, nurse, or healthcare professional.
- Dedicate yourself to the pursuit of a cure for an incurable disease.
I feel fortunate to be a participant in President Obama and Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot 2020 — the effort to cure cancer by the year 2020. A tall order, indeed, but one worth pursuing. In this role, I have sat with the greatest minds in this epic battle. I have encountered brilliant men and women who have identified the value of the whole human genome in delivering highly targeted and effective cancer treatments.
Graduates, be the next generation of these brilliant scientists.
Here at Saint Joseph’s, we are fortunate to have the Pedro Arrupe Center for Business Ethics. If you are pursuing an interest in business, I can tell you from experience that you can “do good while doing well.” And not only can you do good, it is an imperative. Pedro Arrupe was well-known for his commitment to justice and service to others.
His belief in justice was the foundation of his understanding of what a Jesuit education is all about. He said, “… our prime educational objective must be to form men and women for others; men and women who will live not for themselves but for God.” If we, as business leaders, can incorporate Father Arrupe’s legacy of service and justice into our leadership of ourselves and others, we will accomplish great things. You will accomplish great things.
It is this dream of “doing good while doing well” that inspired Margaret and Paul Hondros to create the Kinney Center, which prepares professionals as well as family members to care for those with autism. It is also why Paul Hondros, after multiple business successes, has started a fund that will focus on green investments! There is a message there for you, Class of 2016!
Many of us were blessed to have known Fr. Ed Brady, the founder of the Faith-Justice Institute here at Saint Joseph’s. The Institute seeks to critically analyze the sources and reasons for injustices and to actively fashion more just communities at the local, national and international levels. Fr. Brady knew the efforts must be rooted in a spirituality that takes seriously the world as it unjustly exists. He left Hawk Hill in 1979 to serve those in need around the globe. More than 30 years after leaving our campus, and almost 10 years after his death, Fr. Brady continues to influence how we think about our society and our faith.
Be that person who strives to make the community you live in a welcoming, safe and just community!
Most importantly, graduates, regardless of your chosen path in life — regardless if you serve as a Jesuit volunteer in one of the many inner cities of our nation, or a Peace Corps volunteer somewhere around the world, or if you choose to pursue an advanced degree in the arts, sciences or business — carry forth this call to be men and women for others. Whether you classify yourself as capitalist or socialist, conservative or progressive, straight or gay — regardless of any of these self-defined labels — I implore you:
- Be the one who smiles at a woman in foreign dress while riding on an elevator at work, just as the pope shows us through his actions that there are no outcasts in society.
- Be the one who works not to build walls, but to break them down. Always remember Lady Liberty’s resounding call, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
- Be the one who confidently supports the agenda to shatter glass ceilings in the workplace, guaranteeing equal pay and opportunity for women and all minorities.
- Be the one who reaches across rigid ideological divides to find goodness in your adversary and maybe even some common ground. Aggressively and respectfully argue your point but win or lose with grace and dignity.
- Be the one who pursues questions with curiosity and persistence — the knowledge you gain will benefit others. Never let that intellectual curiosity wane. Nurture it. Test it. Vigorously apply it!
- Be the one who stands out in a crowd — not because of the loudness of your voice or the aggressiveness of your posture, but because you stand on the shoulders of these great professors, be they Jesuit, religious or lay, who set you upon the journey of discovering your authentic voice.
- Be the one who, as you hone your personal skills and gifts, stands ready to answer the call to change the course of our collective history.
- Be the one who never stops learning, never stops caring, and never, ever, stops trying to make the world a better place.
So as you depart from these hallowed halls and begin your own journey, graduates, I leave you with the words of Pope Francis, those words that shook me to the core:
“What about you? What are you going to do? What are you going to do?”
Thank you and Congratulations to the Class of 2016!