We are honored today to bestow honorary degrees upon Luna Kaufman, Bill Raftery and P.J. Carlesimo. For allowing us to honor you, we thank you.
My friends, we all hear about higher education often in the media. Usually it’s about something exciting or something outrageous – perhaps a great Final Four basketball game, a controversial speaker, or even students taking over a president’s office. (God forbid!)
When I think of the American university today, I recall an old Chinese proverb: When a tree falls, it makes a lot of noise. But when a forest grows, no one hears it.
Think about it. We live amid noise and instant news and eye-catching stories: whether it’s a gripping election, a scary pandemic or a falling economy.
But when a university educates students and cultivates scholars, when ideas are understood and ideals are followed, few pay close attention.
The process of university education, though, is immensely powerful. The transformation of lives is awesome but often nearly silent. Until today. Graduation. Commencement. Celebration. And recognition.
As I look out at 29 years of Seton Hall graduations, honors ceremonies and commencement speakers, at the achievements of thousands of students and hundreds of professors, I am aware that higher education at Seton Hall is an immense forest – in all the work and growth that goes on, semester after semester. I never forget that, despite the occasional tree falling. (And, of course, it a tree falls, that’s what makes the Setonian cover!) I remain always focused on the growth that occurs within this remarkable forest of teaching and learning that is Seton Hall University.
Like the trees, graduates, you have grown up, you have absorbed the life-giving elements of knowledge, values and faith. You have done this quietly, usually in spurts, often unevenly, yet ultimately growing toward this moment of time on the cusp of an unknown and yet so promising future, of chapters in your lives yet to be written but already drafted because of what has happened on campus.
Graduates, my charge is simple: The challenges you face are not those that previous Seton Hall presidents have sent graduates out to face – that of Civil War, or depression, or of social upheaval – as was the case in my year of graduation, 1967. You have your own distinct risks and challenges. Never forget our motto, the motto of the Seton family, centuries old: Hazard Zet Forward. Though beleaguered, never give in though weary, never give up. Keep your eye on the prize.
It is worth the effort. It is well worth the prize.
Your education is priceless. Intelligence is obviously a key component in success. But as I never cease to note at orientations and at graduation, character always trumps intelligence. Intelligence without character will not get you far, and will probably get you into trouble. Intelligence and character, together, are precious commodities: treasure them both and keep them close together in your lives.
You are here today, to no small degree, because of the sacrifices of others around you.
Never forget the price that love has paid to bringing you to this step in your lives. Be servant leaders and give back what you have been so freely given.
Dear graduates, may you always have a great affection for Seton Hall as she does for each of you, and, my friends, wherever this great odyssey of life takes you, know that Seton Hall is there with you, and is there for you.
God – who gave you life – may he bless you and speed your journey, today and tomorrow.