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Fr. Jonathan DeFelice, O.S.B. Presidential Remarks to Class of 2011

May 21, 2011

Fr. Jonathan DeFelice
President, Saint Anselm College

Your Excellency Archbishop Lacroix, Your Excellencies Bishop McCormack and Bishop Joseph, Abbot Matthew, Members of Board and Trustees, Distinguished Honorary Degree Recipients past and present, Members of the Graduating Class of Twenty Eleven, Parents and families, my Benedictine confreres, faculty and staff, guests, and friends: I welcome you to Saint Anselm College's 118th Commencement Exercises.

To our honorary degree recipients, I extend a special welcome and the thanks of the entire Saint Anselm College Community for honoring us with your presence. Certainly all of you have distinguished yourselves in your careers and in service to your communities. And most importantly, you have distinguished yourselves in the way you have chosen to live your lives.  For all of this, we are very grateful.

In a very special way, I welcome our Commencement speaker, Archbishop Lacroix, the Archbishop of Quebec and Primate Canada, and I thank him for accepting our invitation to be here today.  His life of service to the Church and his ministry of leadership are something for which we all give thanks.

To the parents and families of the class of 2011, my greetings and congratulations!  We at Saint Anselm realize that the success of our graduates is in large part due to their own good work and choices combined with the guidance and expertise of our faculty.  That said, however, we also realize that the sacrifices and support of family and friends contribute immeasurably to the accomplishment we celebrate today.  Members of the Class of 2011, please stand up, turn around, and applaud with me your families and friends.

Annually I take a moment at Commencement to recognize those members of our College Community who will be retiring this summer. Today I offer congratulations for a job well done and our thanks first of all to Professor William Farrell who has, for 54 years been a member of our Sociology Department.  He has the distinction of being the longest-serving member of the Saint Anselm College faculty ever.  Congratulations, Professor Farrell.

I also want to recognize one of my Benedictine confreres who will be making a transition in his service to the College next year.  In addition to his long service in the Theology department Father Peter Guerin also served as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College for a remarkable 25 years during which time he continued his faithful presence in the classroom.  While his service to the College is not ending today, he will be making the transition to part-time teaching and ministry that deserves our recognition and gratitude.  Congratulations, Father Peter.

Every graduating class at Saint Anselm has some marks of distinction and this one is no exception.  I will mention just a few. With the extraordinary number of Summa cum Laude graduates, I salute this class's academic accomplishments that have set a new bar of excellence for all who follow you.  One of your members has and continues to deal with a very serious health issue and we assure her of our prayers.  This class is also the first class in memory to have triplets become Saint Anselm graduates, having followed in the footsteps of their parents.  So a special greeting to the Suglia triplets:  Kara, John, and Will.   Many members of this class had to combine work with study to be able to accomplish their goal.  Acknowledging everyone who carried that burden, I do want to mention just one who combined full-time work as a member of our campus safety team with year-round study as sociology major and still found the time to volunteer with refugees at Marsden mills and become the city's expert in eliminating the problem of bedbugs in the living quarters of the poor.  So a very big thank you for all you've done for us and congratulations to Kelly McDonough.

Dear Members of the Class of Twenty-Eleven, it is a pleasure for me to offer you a few final thoughts from what will soon be your alma mater.

Every year I struggle a bit with what I would like to say to our graduating seniors.  I wonder what will make sense to you on this day, but even more, as you reflect on this day months from now.

There are so many thoughts that run through my mind - hoping that you will stay connected to the College as your lives take a new course; hoping that the education you worked so hard to achieve will pay off for you not just in the short term but over the course of time; hoping that you have found friends and mentors here that will be with you though some of life's more challenging moments.

What I am sure of at this point is that you are no longer the wide-eyed, apprehensive freshman that sat on the quad four years and heard me announce the day of your graduation - a day that I assured you would come before you knew it.  Many of you thought I was crazy to say that, but here it is.

What I am sure of too, is that you are leaving Saint Anselm College with a level of intellectual and hopefully spiritual maturity that you did not have just four years ago.

And so today, as you celebrate the completion of your career here I want to remind you of just one fundamental Benedictine value that I hope and pray you will take with you - and that is the strength to Listen attentively.  You may recall that Saint Benedict used that word "Listen" as the very first word of his Rule.  And you may think that you have listened to enough lectures and homilies and speeches to satisfy you for a lifetime.  But Listening is not a "one and done" proposition.  Rather, it means that you intentionally create the circumstances in your life where you can truly be silent enough to hear the other both literally and figuratively. 

It means that you can listen to the great texts you have studied and that have guided you to an understanding of who you and are and who you can become.  It means that you can listen to methodologies of your major fields of study and understand why they are important and how they contribute to human learning.  It means that you can listen to the stirrings of love for another and understand what love will truly demand from you.  Listening means an openness, too, to all the ways that God is present in your life whether you may first hear Him or not - in the beauty of nature, of music and art, of science and poetry, in the concern and compassion of your family and friends. 

What true listening enables you to do is to get beyond the obvious, to the true meaning and value of all that God has created and inspired, including the unique and wonderful person that you are.

If you listen in that way you will bring to your life and work beyond this campus a value that is so much needed in our world that is daily complicated by technology, global economy, and the real threat of terrorism.  If you listen, it will help you to be the nurse whose is attentive not only to the physical reality you confront in the sick but also to the spiritual reality of every person who suffers.  It will help you be the business person who understands that some practices are unacceptable, that there is a right and wrong way to pursue profit and wealth.   It will help you be the educator who can truly respect and value every student as truly made in the image of God.  Truly attentive listening will help you find your vocation as wife or husband or parent; or will help you discover that the Lord may be calling you to serve him in a different way as a single person or priest or religious.

Truly attentive listening to what is going on, listening to what can still be learned will lead you to its companion strength:  and that is the ability to discern what is best.  Discernment means that you can sort out the listening, separating what is worthy of your consideration and what is not, what is truly beautiful from what is not, what is truly good from what is not.  Discernment can lead you to do something about your own prejudices or lack of respect, it can help you to understand that no religion should ever be perverted into an excuse for war or prejudice or intolerance, it can help you to become the fully human person that God intended you to be and for whom Christ himself became a human being.

From the moment you arrived on this campus, we have spoken of the great Catholic and Benedictine tradition of liberal arts education that is meant to nurture first of all your own soul, by helping you to understand the life-long task of seeking the truth by attentive listening and careful discernment.  I hope that as you begin this next chapter of your young lives, you will remember these lessons and will never hesitate or falter in your search for the truth.

Members of the Class of Twenty-Eleven, today I salute your accomplishments and offer the congratulations of the entire College community.  As I know it is for you, it is always a bit sad for me to bid farewell to another class.   I will truly miss the many of you that I have gotten to know well and I certainly will pray for all of you that the grace of God who loves you in Christ will sustain and support you all the days of your lives. 

God love you all!