LeMoyne Commencement Address

LeMoyne College Commencement Address to Graduates May 19, 2013

Nancy Cantor Chancellor and President Syracuse University
Congratulations to the Class of 2013! It's wonderful to join your families, friends, professors, and members of the Le Moyne community in celebrating your accomplishments! And it is so uplifting to share your excitement about the places you’ll go and the things you’ll do! As I was thinking about your commencement, I remembered the words of the writer Alice Walker, that “all we own, at least for the short time we have it, is our life. With it we write what we come to know of the world.” In that world, with its multitude of cultures, traditions, and 6,000 different languages, we must think about the stories we are writing with our lives. Each of you has been working on that story at Le Moyne, drawing from the broadly inclusive traditions of Jesuit education that have sought to cultivate in you a disciplined and expansive intelligence that is profoundly attentive to the enduring human problem of injustice. You’ve been enriched by Le Moyne’s legacy of diversity----including its distinction as the first Jesuit college to welcome both men and women as students from the moment it opened its doors. You’ve been inspired by Le Moyne’s history of imaginative action in the cause of justice: its advocacy of social and governmental reform, its participation in peace-making, and its outreach to the communities that are your neighbors, as close as the Springfield Gardens Apartments and as far away as Ghana. All the while, you’ve been living in a region of upstate New York with an historic involvement in struggles for freedom---for abolition, for women’s suffrage, for Native American rights---that resonate with critical demands for social justice today, whether these involve the fate of the children in our city’s struggling schools, the future of veterans just back from war, or the survival of the planet that is our home. As the astronomer Father George Coyne—former Director of the Vatican Observatory and now Le Moyne’s own McDevitt Chair in Religious Philosophy—has observed, we’ve inherited a universe where the great thermonuclear furnaces we call stars continuously release so much carbon that “we are all literally born of stardust.” As you prepare to leave Le Moyne and close the circle by giving back to the world—maybe even the universe—it is worth a few moments of reflection on what it will take to chart your path from this campus on the Heights to the stars. First, you have to commit to being in the world! I’ve heard many commencement addresses in my years in higher education and so often they begin with something on the order of “now that you are ready to go out in the world.” And the best thing today is that I don’t have to say that because you have already been in the world – you have experienced an engaged education, jumping right in rather than watching the world from afar in some iconic ivory tower.

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Your education, whether constituted of hundreds of hours in the laboratory or projects on the ground from Baldwinsville to the Bahamas, has been anchored in the world, tuned to what needs solving. You’ve been engaged with critical social issues while you’ve been here. Many of you have worked as tutors and mentors to at-risk school children, so their rich talents and possibilities can be nurtured and grow. Others among you have joined the crusade for better health care or assisted migrant farm workers in navigating the maze of issues they confront in striving to build a better life. And you’ve seen Le Moyne as an institution take up the challenge of global warming in the design of your new science building, with walls that use energy from the sun, a living roof that saves water from storms, and other features that have won it a LEED Gold certification. But it’s the architecture of your own lives, the ones you create with others now and in the years to come, that can contribute more than you might ever imagine. In this, we can all learn from the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a nobleman and a soldier who hung up his sword, gave away his fine clothes, and set out on the road nearly 500 years ago with no idea, as he later said in his autobiography, what God would ask him to do next. As it turned out, his path led to the founding of the Jesuits, who became the first teaching order of the Catholic Church. It was, as you know well, a great collaboration that has established superb educational institutions all over the world, but it began with one person with a heart on fire. Each of us has the power to change the world, even though the path ahead may not always be clear. One of my heroes growing up, the peace activist, Father Daniel Berrigan, who taught at Le Moyne and whom you honor with the Peacemaker Lecture, said this as eloquently as anyone ever has: “One cannot level one’s moral lance at every evil in the universe. There are just too many of them. But you can do something, and the difference between doing something and doing nothing is everything.” The challenges are so huge we can’t solve them alone, but if we have that fire in our hearts, we can solve them with others. We can’t do it from a distance. We need to jump right in and realize how profoundly the way we think and see and live has been affected by others----our colleagues, fellow citizens, friends, family, heroes, heroines, and even our foes. A recent Le Moyne alum, Andrew Lunetta described how this happens. He described his time studying in Mexico as having: “taught me the importance of taking the time to listen to each and every person,” He wrote. “Understanding that I can learn from anyone, whether it be a 6-year-old child of an immigrant or a 70-year-old Mexican Jesuit priest, I have come away with a new understanding of how to interact with groups of like-minded, and not so like-minded, people.” As Lunetta realized, a deep reading of our world requires a commitment to listening, to speaking across difference, to reciprocity of interaction, and to rolling up our sleeves together. The good news is that precisely all the hard work you've done to prepare for today is just what you'll need to make your next place for yourself and for all of us. You've lived in a diverse community of scholars, and you've experienced living and working in a global context, inundated with information, where connections are instantaneous and sharing is critical.

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You're capable of doing the hard work – social work – required to open up opportunity. That's the good news. The caution – and there always is one -- is this: "connectivity” alone, even in our facile cyber world, “does not guarantee communication," to paraphrase Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation. Or as Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas, but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate."1 So, you have the tools – the wiring or infrastructure so to speak – to build the next great network of connections. Just make sure it's used to forge the best and strongest communications, the kind that carry meaning through a sea of information overload. Our analytical skills, our experience, our energy, and our imagination work best in collaboration. Our possibilities and our lives will expand if we can appreciate the best qualities of others and realize that excellence has many faces. When we really see and hear and collaborate, we can create what I like to call “third spaces” of exchange where hope and success can truly begin. As the remarkable Indigenous Australian activist, artist, and academic, Lilla Watson, once said, attributing her wisdom to the Aboriginal activist group, Queensland, 1970s: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” And now is the time to work together. When conditions are changing, when they are strange or extreme or we aren’t sure exactly where we are or where we’re going, third spaces of collaboration can serve as zones of support to make things happen. Just ask the citizens of Alaska and the ship captains in the Arctic who over the years have turned for advice, analysis, and new technology to Le Moyne Professor Martha Grabowski and her many students – perhaps some in this audience today – who’ve accompanied her on a trip to Alaska. She might live in Cazenovia, but she also leads the National Academy of Sciences Arctic Oil Spill Response Committee. Her skills and her partnerships cover a lot of territory, and so does the story she and you are writing with the citizens of that magical place, trying to shield from damage one of the most fragile and important zones on earth. This too is part of the larger, longer story that Le Moyne faculty and students are writing, every year, with your lives. No one can predict how these stories will turn out, but we do know for sure that you can’t rest in the present. As Wayne Gretsky said, when asked what made him a great hockey player, “I skate to where the puck is going, not where it’s been.” At this point, as you begin again, it’s natural to feel a bit uncertain. When we think about the magnitude of the challenges we face and that the world faces, it can be very intimidating. But by both being here at Le Moyne and getting out into the world while you’ve been here—whether in our local schools, a Caribbean lagoon, or the shores of Alaska—you’ve been able to get a glimpse of where the puck is going and you’ve begun to skate there. Covering the ice doesn’t happen all at once, it happens step by step. And if that approach sounds familiar, maybe it’s because it resonates so powerfully with the Jesuit tradition. Indeed, one of the earliest Jesuits, Blessed Peter Faber, captured this in
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Vartan Gregorian, "The Pursuit of Knowledge: Grounding Technology in Both Science and Significance," The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec. 9., 2005, B5

LeMoyne College Commencement language reflecting a humility that continues to echo here at Le Moyne, with which I will leave you today: “Seek grace in the smallest things and you will find also grace to accomplish, to believe in, and to hope for the greatest things.” Congratulations, and Go Dolphins!

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