From the President
As a college president, I have the good fortune to meet lots of people from all walks of life and backgrounds. My first semester on the job had me shaking hands with Pope Francis. Nothing will top that. But this past April, in the span of just 10 days, SJU hosted the last living member of Martin Luther King Jr.’s inner circle, Rep. John Lewis, and the former Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden.
If you were in the room for either or both of these talks, you no doubt have your own most memorable moments. The rich stories, lessons and appeals of these fine statesmen remained with me long after they left the stage, a testament to their ability to not just move and lead people, but to inspire them.
For me, the message of greatest magnitude both men shared was the idea that a single choice, no matter how risky, righteous, difficult or obvious, can lay a path before us we might never have imagined.
For Congressman Lewis, it was the choice he made to take pen to paper, secretly, as a young black man in the segregated south of the 1950s, and write to King. He asked the civil rights leader to support his desire to attend the all-white Troy State College. King answered Lewis, sending a round-trip Greyhound bus ticket to Montgomery, Alabama.
For Vice President Biden, it was the choice to put one foot in front of the other after the crushing tragedy of losing both his wife and daughter in a car accident, and with two injured sons at home in need of care, to move forward with an uncertain new career in the Senate.
Where might John Lewis be had he not boldly penned that letter to his hero? Who might have led our country alongside the first African American president of the United States had Joe Biden let heartbreak extinguish his calling?
Their messages were particularly important for the students who filled the room and are looking to make adult choices of greater consequence. From John Lewis, it was a rousing call to fulfill a “moral obligation to do the right thing.” From Joe Biden, a plea not “to give in to cynicism.”
As members of the Class of 2018 take their next steps in the wider world, I know they do so with the solid foundation of their Jesuit education, which, if fully embraced, has sharpened their intellect, opened their hearts, taught them greater compassion, deeper love, the value of service to others and the centrality of faith in a life well-lived.
In his remarks to our newest alumni at commencement, loyal alumnus and long-time athletics director Don DiJulia ’67 echoed the sentiments of Congressman Lewis and Vice President Biden, adding,
“The art of life lies in the constant readjustment to our own surroundings. ... Follow your head and your heart, the best educational possessions you have to do the right and ethical thing at any moment.”
Mark C. Reed, Ed.D.