Simultaneously the most remarkable and most forgettable time in one’s young life, college commencement is a big deal, even if the speaker isn’t. Some graduates will be hard pressed to remember the speaker at all in six months time, much less a quarter century passed.
My commencement speaker was a South African poet. I have no memory of what was said, but we weren’t there for the talk, anyway. Graduation Day, 1984 marked two lasting images. First, it was the happiest I would ever see my father. Only a day removed from a particularly sharp chewing out over my sleeping through their breakfast at the Key Bridge Marriott (last call at Senior Ball was the unmentioned culprit), he nonetheless was sincerely happy to see me make it through college. I was only the second member of my extended family ever to graduate college, neither of my parents made it through a year after high school.
Simultaneously, it was among the saddest—three hours later, as friends and family had left and I was packing up the Village A dorm, the stark reality followed—this really was all over. The campus was deserted, and four years were done. Finished. They may tell you the class will all get together at Reunion, but once the ceremonies conclude, this will really be the last time you may ever see some of these people again. Some will lose touch with you, some won’t care, and for some, the end is sooner than we all know. A month after I graduated, one of our colleagues at the radio station died in a car crash. He was 21.
There is now a cottage industry in commencement speakers—actors, statesmen, journalists, humorists. Georgetown’s somewhat short-sighted policy on commencement contributes to this, in a way. For the 25th straight year, commencement will not be one speaker, but up to ten, where quantity does not always equal quality. The Class of 1981—all 1200 of them--heard from Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Impressive. Would it have been the same for the SLL to get the Assistant Undersecretary of the Interior that year instead and for the business school to get the CEO at Giant Food?
The official reason there is not one commencement speaker is that no facility is capable of holding 1200 graduates and three or four guests each. Funny, that approximates the expected capacity of the Multi-Sp….no, that couldn’t be. Yet, back in the 20th Century when this plan was hatched, the use of the MSF for commencement was a viable and worthwhile goal.
This weekend, the weeds grow a little taller at the Millions Short of Fundraising Field, but for those up top on the hill, congratulations and a few words of my own, directed at the newest members of the alumni family.
"If there are three things you take away from four years at Georgetown, what would they be, debt service notwithstanding? Three.
- Pay attention. So much of life is about those who are aware to the world around them and those who let it slide on by. A movie from your parents’ generation summed it thusly: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” So whether it’s grad school, raising a family, joining a community, or simply knowing when to cross the yellow light and when there’s a red light camera waiting around the bend, a Georgetown education should offer you the benefit being involved and active. Don’t fall for the adage that ninety percent of life is just showing up. If you do, you will die an unfulfilled man.
- Ask questions. Nothing in life isn’t made better by critical thinking. At the turn of the 20th century, the director of the U.S. Patent Office questioned his department’s legitimacy, saying “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” It’s easy to jump to the same conclusion today, and while we are not all inventors, we have the opportunity to be innovators in our chosen fields. I don’t care what you do it or how you do it, but make it better, and know that you can’t get to the answers without posing the questions.
- Lend a hand. In a time of such great bounty in our history, there are always those in need—in your neighborhood, in your church, in your nation, in your world. Remember those cards with the different-colored spots harkened back at Orientation? The spots indicating the number of people that do not have the opportunities you have had? Those haven’t gone away in four years and they won’t unless people of good will can offer to help. Closer to home, alma mater needs your help. Don’t turn your back on this place because you can’t afford to write a check. There are institutional needs that do not require a few zeroes behind your name, and young alumni can play a vital role in this. For starters, how about talking up the need to get these athletic facilities taken seriously by more people? It’s one thing to read about the woebegone MSF and the McDonough locker rooms, it’s another think to have lived it, as you have. Tell us what needs to be done. Lead by example. This is no longer an era where you must generationally wait your turn to take positions of authority. Step up and be counted. Now.
And for our athletic alumni out there, don’t put aside the mantle of competition as you put aside the jerseys and pads. Character is revealed in athletics, and for those who put their sweat equity into the program at a time of low expectations by friend and foe alike, do not lose that intensity to be a productive alumnus and a productive member of your community. Get involved with the University. Get involved with your class. And in three years time, when the program recognizes its 50 years of modern football, do not be afraid to lead the charge once again, to make the academic and athletic experience of Georgetown University all the better because you were a once part of it.
Or, as simple as this, from your fellow alumnus Joe Lonardo (B’69): “When you leave Georgetown, Georgetown doesn’t have to leave you.” Take the best of the place and use it every day going forward. You’ll find out you’ve learned more about life than you’ll ever know."
Now, on to the field.