Faculty, staff and administration of Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy; family and friends of the graduates; and graduates of the Class of 2008: Congratulations to you all on this day of shared celebration.
Graduates, today is your commencement…your new beginning. Today is your graduation…the day you take a big step into your future.Both words…commencement and graduation…imply a journey. Neither actually means conclusion or completion, but each does require a parting from the past. You are ‘moving on’ – leaving some things behind, facing new challenges and opportunities. Partings are difficult; leaving things behind seems so final. But today is not about endings; it is about celebrating achievement and taking new paths in life’s journey. Today, your progress on this journey of your life is being celebrated with great joy by all here. Today, you are the focus of our attention, of our praise for what you have accomplished, and of our prayers for your emerging future.
It is my honor to have this special opportunity to offer a commencement message which you might carry with you on your journey. My message has three themes: others, continuity, and values.
Regarding others: Others have traveled with you to this point. I encourage you to think about others as they relate to your life’s journey and to where you are at this moment.
First, think about the others who have helped you get to where you are today – those who have been with you and for you, who have challenged and supported you, who have taught you and learned with you: your parents, family, faculty, staff, fellow students and friends. Today’s celebration is their celebration, too. Some of them are with us for today’s celebration; others could not join us for good reasons. Still others have gone before us to their promised reward, and await our reunion. We have learned through our Catholic faith that life is changed, not taken away; we have learned that resurrection and new life are our future. We especially include in our thoughts today Sister Catherine Marie who is with us in spirit at this final commencement of her beloved Academy. Her faith in the future led her to pass on to her students a faith in their future and in their ability as women to shape the future for others.
In thinking about others on this special day, you should think about those who will be with you as you take your next steps – those who will work or study with you, who will enter and exit your life as you journey. It is clear to us as humans that we were created to journey with others. Throughout life, you will be a member of many communities, and the key to living together with others is to seek the common good of all, to look beyond self-interest, and to work for the general conditions which contribute to everyone’s growth and advantage.
You have learned about such leadership and service at Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy. Leadership and service have already enriched your lives and the lives of others. You have demonstrated your understanding that living includes recognizing and respecting your relationships with others by seeking social justice and the good of all, especially the poor. Commitment to this moral social agenda brings out our better selves as we engage in kindness, compassion and service. As you journey from this place, be guided by your understanding of social responsibility which has been part of your education here.
Finding meaning in your life will always involve others. You will find that life is not about ‘me’ but about ‘us’. Your greatest joys, deepest sorrows, most noble deeds, greatest challenges, most satisfying achievement, even tragic failures, will always be linked to others either directly or indirectly. John Donne reminds us of this in his famous statement: “No man is an island; no man stands alone.” You know this and have responded. Your class has contributed many hours in volunteer service to others and in supporting causes to help those in need. You have understood that serving others is your mission, and that your lives will be judged on how well you fulfill that mission. In your Catholic education, you have studied the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy and the Beatitudes. You are well prepared to make this world a better place for all members of God’s family.
The second theme of my message is continuity. There is surely sadness today as we witness the end of the 160 year history of Mount de Chantal. While it is true that schools are buildings or places which can be vacated, it is also and more importantly true that what happens in these building endures. Lessons and values learned continue to shape our actions and influence our lives and the lives of those with whom we journey. Especially today as we celebrate this final commencement, we need to affirm that continuity is more important than longevity. Continuity is about quality of life and values, while longevity is about quantity of time allotted. What most matters is not how long buildings remain open, but how much what happens in these buildings empower women to empower others to carry on the institution’s traditions and values. Continuity is what will matter to you as alumnae of Mount de Chantal once the doors close on its long history. Continuity is what has mattered during these 160 years, as alumnae have closed their classroom doors and moved into the world to change it. Witness the relay racer, who accepts the baton and moves out, commits to doing her best for the short spurt of her time on the field, and finally passes on the baton to another. This is what has been done at the Academy throughout its history in the person of all its alumnae, and this is what you will continue to do after these buildings close. This will be your challenge: to pass on the baton of Mount de Chantal’s traditions and values to others, without looking back for a home base or for a secure and familiar shelter. You eleven graduates are now alumnae, and you join other who went before you, bringing a values-based Mount de Chantal experience to new places and to new people.
But you may ask “How do I do this?” I propose in my third theme that you will find the answer in a short list of values: fidelity, bravery, integrity. We might call these the “FBI: Most Wanted Values”.
Fidelity comes from the latin word for ‘faith’: ‘fides’. In passing on Mount de Chantel’s traditions and values, you must first have faith in them and faith in your mission to be the bearer of these values. You must also have faith in yourself to be able to do this, and faith in those others who have shared this experience with you and who are also sent on this mission. People are sent to change the world one person at a time, and you are among those alumnae who now and in the past have been sent forth from this place called the Mount. Places are the sacred shrines to what happened once to us there, and which we hold in our memories. But we fulfill our mission to make a difference in the world by using what we learned in those sacred places to serve others. Such is now your charge. You have learned here about the meaning of life and the principles of your faith. You believe that you have been given life with all its potential to give it back; to share with others; to continuously grow in wisdom, grace and gracefulness; to see what is and change it into what ought to be; to live in peace with your brothers and sisters; to seek justice for all; and to live daily in faith, hope and love. Your diplomas decree that you have learned these values and lived this faith at Mount de Chantal. The fidelity of your lives will demonstrate that you have learned these lessons well.
Yet the world you now enter does not universally proclaim these values. You eleven new alumnae must become the leaven to change that world one piece at a time in the places where you will find yourselves and for those people you will encounter as you journey. As with alumnae before you, you will be the yeast to raise the world to a new and re-newed reality by being faithful to your Mount de Chantal heritage, and by passing that heritage on with gratitude while cherishing it in your minds and hearts.
Bravery will be required to put your faithfulness -your fidelity- into action. You must accept this mission with the confidence that you have the ability to achieve what is asked of you, and that you are not alone. Others have gone before you, and others will accompany you. Bravery flows from faith in something larger than yourselves. True belief in a cause or deep commitment to a value is demonstrated by willingness to sacrifice. Bravery is active, not passive. Bravery does not let you settle for being observers of life who let things happen. Rather, bravery leads you to change the unacceptable, influence history, and make a difference.
The connection between fidelity and bravery is completed by integrity. Integrity is about wholeness of person, perspective and principle. A person of integrity is one who “has it together”. Genuine education and self-fulfillment is the actualization of the whole person: the physical, the rational, the spiritual and the moral. Your education both in and outside the classroom has engaged, embraced and enhanced these four aspects of living: body, mind, soul and conscience. Integrity is present when these factors are balanced and result in a harmonious oneness. A person of integrity is an ethical person, grounded in reason and guided by conscience. This requires openness to knowledge and dialogue, commitment to values, courage in times of challenge, compassion in working with others, and respect for the differences and contributions of all. You have well learned that understanding, commitment, courage, compassion and respect are characteristics which Mount de Chantal has always embodied and expected of its students, which are exemplified in the lives of its alumnae, and which you will now carry forth.
Remember this short but powerful “FBI” List of Wanted Virtues: fidelity, bravery, integrity. These virtues were present 160 years ago in the founders of Mount de Chantal, who believed in their vision and in their God, and who had the bravery to take necessary risks to accomplish their mission of providing a holistic education to those whom they served. These virtues were present four years ago when you entered the Academy, as your parents demonstrated their faith in your future and their courage in taking the risk of investing in that future. Their faith and bravery are fulfilled today as their daughters prepared to enter the world as potential ethical and serving leaders who have the capacity to ‘get it together’ for a better world.
The three themes I have presented to you today are clearly linked: serve others; continue living and sharing the values you have learned at the Mount; and do so with faith, bravery and integrity. I congratulate you on your commencement, and I pray for you as you step into your future.
-- Dr. Mary Hines, President, Carlow University