Remarks by REv. Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., AT New StudeNt Convocation 2013
August 21, 2013
Families, friends, Marquette faculty and staff, Chitra Divakaruni, and most of all, the newest members of our university community, it is my honor and privilege to join you for this sacred ceremony, this sacred event in the life of Marquette.
It is a profound joy to welcome this distinguished group of new students today into full membership of the Class of 2017 at Marquette University. A sign of grace: there are 2013 of you joining Marquette in the year 2013. I think that is a propitious start.
I want to assure you that today, this campus, and tonight, this hall in particular, overflow with the promise that you bring with you to Marquette —the talents you have tended through your academic work, your extra-curricular activities and your community service.
Fortunately, you are bringing this vast promise and potential to a place that will help you realize it, and help you realize it for a noble purpose. You see since 1881, Marquette has never wavered in its mission: the honing of sharp minds, the enlarging of imaginations and, maybe most importantly, the opening of hearts to welcome what our ever-evolving world will send your way. Milwaukee’s first archbishop, John Henni, who labored for forty years to make this college a reality, he convinced the Jesuits to come here and to bring with them the transformative educational tradition of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Ignatius lit a spark that has burned so brightly ever since. And starting tonight, that spark is now yours to carry on your journey here, yours to keep for the lives that you will shape as daughters and sons of Marquette, women and men educated in this centuries-old Jesuit tradition.
Of course, Marquette can only build on the fine work of your first, best teachers —your parents, your families whose pride deservedly fills the McGuire Center this evening. Parents and families, thank you, thank your for entrusting your daughters and sons to Marquette. Know that tonight you too become a part of the Marquette community. We hope that you will return here often — but maybe not too often. We hope that you will encourage and you will expect much from your daughters and sons. Tonight, we celebrate that your investment in them and their Marquette education is a precious gift. Thank you for giving them that gift.
Although it’s always possible to find something timeless in convocation or commencement at Marquette, tonight I am more aware than ever of the here and now —the uniqueness of this moment.
As the class of 2017, you arrive here at what is not only a pivotal moment in your lives, but a historic time for world, and in a special way for the Catholic Church:the brave and heart-warming early months of the tenure of Pope Francis, our first Jesuit pope. We’re a little proud to have one of our own in that position. Francis has been nothing short of irrepressible — leaving aside ancient debates, wading into the poorest neighborhoods, bringing the church closer to the people, engaging with the marginalized and those most in need.
He has expressed special interest in young people, people like you. In fact, a Marquette senior, Jessica Bazan joined 8 classmates in traveling to Rio de Janeiro this summer for World Youth Day and had the experience of hearing Pope Francis speak from the heart to millions of young people. “Put on faith,” Jessica remembers him saying. Pope Francis said:
And so it is in our life, dear young friends: if we want it to have real meaning and fulfillment, as you want and as you deserve, I say to each one of you, “Put on faith”, and your life will take on a new flavor, it will have a compass to show you the way; “put on hope” and every one of your days will be enlightened and your horizon will no longer be dark, but luminous; “put on love”, and your life will be like a house built on rock, your journey will be joyful, because you will find many friends to journey with you. Put on faith, put on hope, put on love!
As you take the first steps in your Marquette journey, Jessica thought this was a good message to bring back to you. Whatever your personal faith tradition, I believe the Pope had special meaning for you this evening. My friends in the class of 2017, put on hope, put on love. My friends in the class of 2017, put on Marquette.
This week, you are joining a community explicitly dedicated to nurturing you as a unique individual —a community of people with a restless desire to help you realize your unique potential. That is education as Saint Ignatius first imagined it. And it means, in our faculty and staff, you have more than 2000 people —talented, wise people — dedicated selflessly to preparing you for meaningful lives in an increasingly complex world. But for your Marquette experience to be as transformative as promised, you need to invite our faculty and staff to accompany on your journey. You need to put on Marquette.
So please don’t hold back:
- Dive with all your energy into our core curriculum and wrestle with life’s biggest, sometimes most intractable questions, posed by some of the greatest thinkers in history. It will stretch you and help you unpack the boxes of thought you bring with you today. Our curriculum will change you. In fact, if it doesn’t change you over the course of your four years here, if you can look me in the face on graduation day in 2017 and say, “I’m the same person I was when I arrived four years ago,” if you can say that — I believe so deeply in Marquette, if you can say that — I’ll give you your money back. I can say that because the chief financial officer is not here tonight.
- Learn your professors’ academic passions. Ask them about their research pursuits. Feel the thrill of pushing out beyond the bounds of knowledge that you have today. Imagine the knowledge that can be yours tomorrow if you work, if you partner with our faculty.
- Interact with the city around you. Get off campus. Explore Milwaukee. Take advantage of internships, service learning opportunities. Partner in the work of finding solutions to Marquette’s biggest challenges. When spring break comes, join your classmates on one of their legendary trips to rebuild housing, to improve public health.
- And when it comes time for the opportunity for international study… Now don’t get me wrong: I have great admiration for countries like England and Ireland and Australia. They are wonderful places, with rich histories. Go there on your honeymoons or a summer vacation. But the “golf and Guinness” approach to study abroad will only get you so far. Your international experience will grow richer —and will stay with you longer —the further you get from your own language and your own culture. Start thinking about study abroad today.
We are so fortunate to be joined by Chitra, this gifted author, whose remarks earlier kept us as entranced and delighted as One Amazing Thing. Chitra reminds us of how invaluable it can be to stop drifting through life — to dive deeper, to retrieve what’s remarkable in our days and our works in our world around us.
As an English professor, I admired Chitra’s modern-day fable for the inspiration it drew from one of the works that I love to teach, The Canterbury Tales. In tracking 9 disparate characters trapped together by rubble from an earthquake, it’s a fine example of literature that mines the rich ore of something called the “liminal situation.”
These liminal situations in our lives offer often sharp breaks from routine, when typical societal norms and relationships no longer apply. The Canterbury Tales and other “road stories” fit this bill.
Trapped in a basement visa office as it slowly fills with water, Chitra’s characters also have to learn how to survive together. Even more remarkably, confined with others they have never seen before and may never see again, they find and share amazing things about themselves never before articulated.
Guess what? Class of 2017, I don’t know if you are aware of this quite yet, but you are about to become characters in something very much like a liminal situation. No, you won’t be trapped here on campus, far from it. But think about this. You hardly know, in most cases, the people to your left and right, in front of you and behind you, yet you are about to plunge into the experience of your lives with them.
In high school, you were deservedly well known, I suspect, by almost everyone in your environment. Here today, you are practically blank slates. With the help of these strangers on this stage and across this campus, and these people around you tonight, you are ready to begin writing the story of your life.
So take a good long look. Some of these people are going to become your lifelong friends. They will dance at your wedding. They’ll be there to watch your children grow up. It’s a good bet that your future spouse is in this room right now. That got you thinking —that’s good. As Chitra has said, “I want my readers to search through their own lives to find their own amazing thing, and to appreciate it — and their unique, wonder-filled lives.” That is what we want for you at Marquette —to find your one amazing thing, your unique, wonder-filled lives, to appreciate the amazing, unique and wonder-filled transformation that lies ahead of you. The next time you will all be together in one place will be graduation and you will be very different people by then.
Fifty years ago, give or take a week, a great moral leader of our country spoke to hundreds of thousands from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In some of the most memorable words ever spoken on American soil, Martin Luther King Jr. described the dream he had for this country and helped move a country to make good on the justice and equality enshrined in our Constitution.
In that speech, Dr. King spoke of the “fierce urgency of Now.” The fierce urgency of now. Fifty years later, I urge you to feel some of that urgency. Embrace this coming experience for everything it is worth: Use it to change yourself, to touch others and to make a difference in this world – to be the difference. In the words of St. Ignatius, use these years at Marquette to prepare to “go and set the world on fire.”
On his trip to Rio last month, Pope Francis also spoke urgently of the importance of the current moment. “God is real and shows himself in the ‘today,’” he said. “The ‘today’ is closest to eternity. Even more: The ‘today’ is a flash of eternity. In the ‘today,” eternal life is in play.”
In the waning light of this day, in this room, on this campus, God joins us and offers a “flash” of the future that awaits you, a future you cannot fully imagine today. So seize this moment. Step into the future. Put on Marquette.
God bless you, God bless Catholic and Jesuit education and God Bless Marquette University.
Rev. Robert A. Wild, S.J., is interim president
Rev. Robert A. Wild, S.J., is the interim president of Marquette University. From 1996 to 2011 he served as the 22nd president of Marquette University. Under his leadership, Marquette has improved academic quality, increased and stabilized enrollment, and enhanced partnerships with the City of Milwaukee and community groups and in 2005 completed the most successful comprehensive campaign in the history of the university with a total of $357 million. Read more...