To first gen graduates: Remarks from Retired First Gen Faculty

Dr. John Pustejovsky, Retired Dean 

College of Arts and Sciences Commencement

Presented on May 18, 2008 

This is a wonderful day. I am grateful to share it with you, as a teacher and friend to a number of you, and as dean of the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences.

I wonder if you recall the first time you met a Marquette faculty member in a classroom. It might have been during the Manresa Book discussions that began several years ago. I remember one such meeting very well. The book was A Hope in the Unseen. It told the story of a young man from the most impoverished neighborhood of Washington D.C. He tries to excel academically, but finds the cynicism and resentment of those around him almost crippling. But even though he can’t risk appearing on stage to accept awards for his academic accomplishments, he perseveres. He is accepted to Brown University–and as he leaves his high school, he addresses his classmates, teachers and community, declaring, "There is nothing in the world that my God and I can’t do.” There is a spontaneous outpouring of enthusiasm.

In our discussion Kelly (my student discussion partner) and I asked each new Marquette student about their hopes–and about whose hopes they were bringing with them to Marquette. Some of the answers were what one might expect, some were astonishing.

I’m bringing my family’s hope, since I’m the oldest and the first to go off to college.

I’m bringing my mom and dad’s, because they are sacrificing a lot to send me to Marquette.

My grandmother’s hope, because she wanted to become a teacher, but had to quit college after a year to go to work.

My high school teacher, who recognized how much I love math and science. My uncles’. My grandparents’. My friends. My self.

All of you came here bringing much more than the suitcases and boxes and bags you hauled up the stairs in McCormick and Cobeen. Your being here–in college–matters to far more people than you know. Think of them for a moment. All those people who wished you well, who want to see you succeed at what you most want to do. Think of them. And make room for them here, today. Because seen or unseen, they are all here to celebrate this college commencement with you.

Because now at the end of your undergraduate career you are much closer than ever to making good the hopes of those who love you, those who know you by name and those who don’t, those who may have only seen you as they pass through Marquette’s campus.

How is this? How is it that your education can matter to so many? It’s quite simple. Education is a gateway to freedom. For you, and for those with whom you live.

You’ve been asked over and over for four years to explain your answers clearly, objectively, whether it was a question of physics, ethics, or genetics, a reading of survey data or a reading from Scripture. You’ve learned how to make sound judgments, and to explain them in terms of principle. This is reason for hope, for the same ability that got you through PHIL 104 or Comparative Politics takes on new meaning when you carry it into the world. When you yourself offer understanding, you can hope to set others free to understand.

You’ve studied theology, and have grasped the place of faith in your life, and in others. You’ve studied literature, and looked into the lives of others, lives as complex and contradictory as your own, and still as rich with the potential for happiness. You’ve studied culture and studied abroad, and differences of language, religion and culture are now an invitation to you. But now you will turn this understanding into a source of hope, because where you bring patience and compassion, you set others free to live without hatred.

When you studied history, you remembered that you are the children, grandchildren and great great grandchildren of immigrants, who took the lowest paying jobs and endured the meanest sort of abuse to be able to build free lives for themselves and their families. But this is not just your story, for wherever you bring this story of hope, you can set people free from despair. And no matter where you have given those uncounted hours of service–whether you were a tutor, a counselor, a teacher–or whether you pushed a wheelchair, read a newspaper aloud or just provided company to another person–you became an instrument of something greater than yourself, because when you give, you set others free to be generous. This sharing of your education will change you. Letting yourself be changed (and you have begun to believe this!) Is to change the world.

By now the hopes you brought with you have outgrown the room in Cobeen, O’Donnell, and McCormick. They reach past the classrooms, past the exams and grades. They reach into a city that you can love, and into lives that were strangers–or invisible–four years ago.

When you recognize that the greatest use of your learning and understanding is to live for others, even those who face life without ever understanding it–when Marquette is the reason you’ve fallen in love with the world beyond Marquette, then we have come as far together as we can go as teachers and students.

Know that all the people whose hopes you brought with you, who said “I believe in you,” and all of us who came to recognize your promise, all those who love you because you have given them a measure of your own freedom–all of us are grateful to see this day. As you walk across the stage and leave this college behind, know that we place our greatest hopes in you. We believe in you.

On behalf of the faculty who have taught you and guided you, the deans, advisers, and staff of the Helen Way Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, let me offer you this scrap of Shakespeare as our benediction:

Look, what is best, that best I wish in thee; this wish I have, then ten times happy me!

God bless you all.