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Abbot Matthew Commencement Address

The following address was presented by Abbot Matthew K. Leavy, Chancellor of Saint Anselm College on May 19, 2012 at the 119th Commencement before to the Class of 2012 on the grounds of Saint Anselm College.

Abbot MatthewThank you! What can I say but “thank you” for the honor of this doctoral degree.

Bishop Joseph, Bishop John, Fr. Jonathan, Bro. Prior and my Benedictine confreres, fellow Trustees, faculty, staff, alumni, fellow honorary degree recipients, guests, parents and families of the graduates, a warm welcome to Saint Anselm College for this very significant moment on a splendidly beautiful day. You should all be very proud. I know I am. Thank you all for being here to celebrate. Your presence means the world to your graduate.

And to you, members of the Class of 2012, actually my fellow classmates, now that I too have received an Anselmian degree, my sincere congratulations. I am honored to join you in receiving our Anselmian degrees together today. But remember, you received yours after only four short years of work, it has taken me 30 years of working here at Saint Anselm to get mine!

Ordinarily, commencement speakers are chosen from outside the life of the college. They are often famous for their work and their contributions to society. They typically speak about what it will take for you to be successful in the domains of work and life in the so-called “real world” you are about to enter. Sometimes the speaker is actually a celebrity of sorts. Exactly 35 years ago here at Saint Anselm it was Bob Hope who delivered the commencement address. Bob Hope?!! (Come on parents, bail me out!)

I am not famous nor a celebrity nor from outside the life of the college. I am from the inside of this institution. In fact, I have helped lead Saint Anselm College as the Chancellor, abbot, administrator, teacher and pastor for more than a quarter of a century.

So, what I have to say today comes from a very internal perspective, a personal perspective, an anselmian perspective, a long-term perspective of more than 30 years, drawing upon my experience with you and other students, and with generations of alumni who were educated here in this place which is Saint Anselm.

And it is quite a place – especially on a beautiful day like today. Our college anthem which we sang last night at the close of the baccalaureate Mass refers to Saint Anselm as “that fair place which steadfast stands upon the hill so high”.

“That fair place”, what does “fair” mean here? I don’t think it has to do with grading policies or procedures, but rather “fair” in terms of beautiful, balanced, well-proportioned, integral, harmonious, memorable and sacred, words you yourself have used in describing this place to me.

The list of why it has been a “fair place” for you could go on and on and might include: the beauty of the campus, the program of studies, the quality of the relationships you have made here with classmates, faculty, staff and monks, the quality of food in Davison Hall, sports (our baseball champions are playing as we speak), drama, choir,  volunteering, SBA, study abroad, campus ministry, and the list goes on.

But all these good things focus on externals, realities outside of yourselves. As I said, I am a so-called “internal” speaker and will reflect upon a more internal theme. We need to go beyond the details of this place to the essence of this place, it’s very identity and purpose, why it exists at all. What is this place really meant to do for you?

The purpose of education, especially in the Catholic, Benedictine Liberal Arts tradition is not just to delight your senses with geographic beauty or great friends or good food or good times. You can find all these things outside the field of higher education, and purchase them more economically. Imagine how may cruises to exotic places you could buy for more than $40,000 a year!

I propose that we take a look at a more unique and exotic place which is not far away at all.

What I am suggesting is that this fair place which is Saint Anselm exists for the purpose of forming and developing an interior space within each Anselmian which is every bit as fair, beautiful, well-proportioned, harmonious, balanced, memorable and yes, sacred.  This “inner space”, call it heart, soul, psyche, conscience or core is what makes you most human. It is to this space within that you return for processing what goes on outside of you and within you. It is from this inner, sacred space that you make sense out of things through deeper understanding.

It is in this space that you make choices about yourselves, about what you really believe and value.  From this space you make decisions that will affect you, your family, children, your parents, and far beyond. Decisions that are about matters personal, moral, political and practical. Alums report all the time that in times of critical decision making, they retreat into that space within to weigh options and discern what is the best course of action.

What your Anselmian education has helped you to realize is first: that such a space exists. It also assists you in making sure you have everything you need to make that space functional and fruitful. And finally it encourages you to continue to develop this space every day of your life.

What has Saint Anselm College contributed to that space?

-The accumulated knowledge and wisdom of others from the past and present;
-Tools to help you use that knowledge and wisdom in coming to wise decisions by weighing the truth and merit of all you encounter;
-And the ongoing support and example of others in learning to live well.

Mature adult life is essentially about making choices, deciding, based upon your values, beliefs and convictions, and objective truth.  If you do not choose to exercise this gift, this right, I would go so far as to say this “duty” of solid decision-making, then someone else will decide for you. Your humanity will be diminished; your “space within” will shrink.

Our college anthem further describes Saint Anselm as “A place where souls seek God and minds seek light and faith seeks understanding.” And acclaims “You our minds set free.”

Our brand of liberal arts education is designed to set you free from ignorance, error, evil, deception, and from one of humanity’s greatest enemies: default, that is, not engaging your power to decide.

Fellow anselmians, life is about decision. Do not succumb to the subtle temptation to live by default. You deserve more, you are capable of more. You have been endowed with so much more. In fact, you have been given too much for you to use for yourself alone. What you have been given is meant to be shared, to be spread out among those whom you relate: family, friends, colleagues, and with those unknown to you who may be in need. Think back on your SBA experiences, how they changed your lives forever. Recall your mentoring and tutoring experiences with children, and the joy of sharing knowledge with others. This is part of the Anselmian way.

The education received here was expensive but is meant to be expansive. You “space within,” your heart, is meant to expand, as St. Benedict reminds us. It is meant to stretch not shrink, stretch in service to others.

Yes, life is about decisions, but it is even moreso about love, that highest, most noble and sacred of decisions, that which makes us not only fully human, but partly divine because God is love. As I mentioned last night at the Baccalaureate Mass, children measure love by how much they get; mature adults measure love by how much they give. Always love and give generously.

How, you might be asking, is all this going to take shape in my life?

I believe that education is more a matter of planting seeds than of picking fruit.  So when it comes to you and me realizing all of the above, we must admit that it is a process that doesn’t happen overnight, that doesn’t happen all at once. And certainly your four years are only the beginning of the Anselmian way. Be patient with yourselves and others, while never forgetting what you are ultimately called to.

When will the anselmian seeds start to grow in your life? Maybe they  already have. I hope that your being here for four years has nurtured and nourished those seeds, I know that for some of you your experiences here have challenged and even accelerated the growth of those seeds

But what if some seeds haven’t grown yet? Trust that they will someday and be prepared for that day. Be confident that what you have learned here and what you will continue to learn will enrich you and prepare you well for a life well-lived.  So that when those big questions and choices pop up unexpectedly in life and, trust me, they will, you will neither be clueless or despairing, or by default settle for somebody else’s easy solution.  You have the resources available within you and outside of you to help you grapple with whatever life brings. 

I, and others here, not infrequently receive calls like the following:
“Hi, Abbot Matthew! Remember me? I’m xyz for the class of whenever. Remember, you married me and my wife and you baptized our first child four years ago.”

“Of course, I remember. Great to hear from you. What can I do for you?”

“Well Father, its my daughter, there’s a problem.”

“What happened? Is she sick?”

“Well, sort of… it’s a spiritual problem.”

“Your daughter has a spiritual problem and she’s only 4 1/2?”

“Well, maybe its not really her problem.”

“Father, the problem is that she is asking me about God and going to Church and stuff. I don’t know what to tell her.”

“Well, what did you tell her?”

“Ask you mother.”

“And what does she say?”

“She said that I should talk to one of the people I am closest to about it. I asked her if she meant the bartender or the abbot.”

“She suggested I try the abbot first.  Can you help us?”

“Of course I can help you, but I am not talking to your daughter about God and the Church. You and your wife are. Remember that as part of the liturgy of Baptism for your daughter, I prayed a blessing over you and your wife which said. ‘You are the first teachers of your child in the faith. May you also be the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what you say and do’. Now’s your chance. You know and believe more than you think. You have just let the default position take over. This is a moment of grace.  Let’s get together and talk this out. You will do fine.”

And of course he, they, did, because they connected with the anselmian family and activated their own lives of faith, first for the sake of their daughter, but later for themselves. It was love for their daughter that brought this question to the fore and allowed their own seeds of faith to grow and flourish.

I can’t tell you how many times I am edified and humbled by the lived faith of Anselmians. It is overwhelming to me. And when I ponder how people on this campus witness to the anselmian way in ways great and small, in circumstances unexpected, I am edified and grateful. Just a small example. In the middle of last night I received a text message from one of our campus safety officers who just got out of a 5 hour surgery in Boston. He wanted to be sure that before they started him on pain meds, he wished us all a beautiful and successful graduation. That’s anselmian. Does that happen at Harvard or anywhere else?

Classmates, trust the anselmian way. It has been proven over and over again to work. Always stay connected with your alma mater, Saint Anselm, with your friends, and with your greatest of friends, the Lord himself, never doubting his love and providential care for you.

In whatever place in this global world you find yourselves, never forget this fair place from which you depart today. But more importantly never forget that fair inner space within you that was cultivated at this place “which stands upon the hill, no mountain more commanding where souls seek God and minds seek light and faith seeks understanding.”

Let us conclude with the final verse of our anthem:

“Saint Anselm be our patron true
And guide us in God’s ways,
Who calls us all to seek the truth
And orders all our days.
O, hear our prayer most gracious Lord
And mighty God of love,
And gather us to praise your name
With all the saints above.”

May God bless and love you all!