On Sunday, May 16, 330 members of Saint Anselm College’s Class of 2020 returned to the Hilltop for a long-awaited celebration of their graduation. the festivities fulfilled a promise made by the college’s president, Dr. Joseph A. Favazza, that commencement would be celebrated in person when the coronavirus has subsided to the point where a large gathering would be possible.
Abbott Mark, President Favazza, Benedictines, Trustees, Faculty and Staff, Friends, Families, and my fellow Anselmians, whether you're here with me outside Alumni Hall, or a little too socially distant, we made it! In spite of some... or a lot of... uncertainty, long nights of studying, a global pandemic, the daunting shift to online classes, being told a hundred times that our microphones are stuck on mute, and an extra year of wailing, graduation has arrived... again. Today is the long awaited celebration that we've been dreaming of, and also the fulfillment of something that we all undoubtedly worried about at some point... the idea that ii might take us a fifth year to graduate.
Needless to say, we've grown since those days as wide-eyed freshmen who danced The Wobble on our first day of Orientation... but I'm going to take you back to the year 2016 for just a little bit. It's the last Conversatio lecture of the first semester in the Dana Center. It's 12:30 and we're all plotting our run to get in line for lunch in Davison. But, I wrote a quote from the lecture that day on my copy of the Rule of Saint Benedict from John 4:18 that stuck with me "for I no longer fear God, but I love him. For love casts out fear." Is there anything that rings so true to what our current situation is more than that?
Class of 2020, it's an understatement to say that we've been through a lot this last year. 2020 was a year that got cut short in the worst way, but even though we missed our last games on the sports fields, senior days, and Senior formal to name a few things, the year gave us a chance to grow as people and as Anselmians. Now I'm going to ask you a question I'm sure that you haven't heard in a few years, "what is your Conversatio?" Or for our parents and family members playing along at home who werejust VERY confused by that, "what is your life's pilgrimage?" I promise you, no one included a global pandemic in their talk freshman year when we had our public speeches on what our Conversatios were... and if you did... well... you may want to go talk to health services and Maura Marshall. The fact of the matter is that, the world looks different than it did back then, our class looks different, and today's graduation is different, but I promise you, with that difference comes growth and lessons that we'll never forget.
Now, I know we like to talk a lot about what it means to be an Anselmian, and it's true that Anselmian is in holding the door for like... a million people outside of Davison, the Conversatio books which we read (and paid a small fortune for in the bookstore), Christmas feasts, and endless CAB T-shirts that still line my closet, and of course, your yearbooks, which I'm VERY proud of. But more important than all of that, Anselmian values were present even in this last year. Anselmian Values are the values of kindness, determination, and love that shine even in the darkest moments when we fear the most. Anselmian values are there when you watch all of our nurses pull their facemasks up... past their noses... and go to work fighting COVID-19. Anselmian values are present in the optimism of those who maybe should have spent a little more time working on assembling their resume with the CDC, but still apply for jobs in spite of the job market, because maybe this time they'll land that interview. And Anselmian Values are present in every one of us who didn't give up hope that we'd walk this stage because we knew... that deep down... President Favazza and Dean Cronin DID miss us. Being an Anselmian isn't just about the good times, it means being Anselmian, even when it's not easy to be.
Remember, our Conversatios aren't sprints. They're marathons through our whole lives. Who we are and all that we've learned from our time on this campus is something that will shape us in the long haul, and not just in the moments we're in. I'm pretty sure I one of those tee-shirts in my closet says, "Anselmian for Life." Well, so be ii.
Whether we knew it or not, we were formed just as much from those super awkward Graduation Receptions on Zoom as we were when we were here on campus laughing on the weekend with our friends in the pub and draining our meal plans on buffalo chicken calzones and house ranch cups from Terry. Being an Anselmian isn't a way we once lived, it's how we choose to live, and the choice to get up each day and use love to cast out fear in your own life and the lives those around you will be what getting to serve the Class of 2020 as your Yearbook editor and as Class Secretary these last four years. Second, Class of 2020, keep your head held high and walk proud, especially because as the only class to graduate from Saint Anselm College twice, we're back-to-back graduation champions. Remember, love casts out fear, and no matter where we go in life, or no matter what crazy obstacle the world decides to throw at us next, we're Anselmian always. Good bless you all, and GOD BLESS THECLASS OF 2020.
Dear Class of 2020,
Exactly one year ago today, we held a virtual commencement ceremony for you in the Abbey Church. I remember how strange it was to celebrate your accomplishments during your years on the Hilltop…only to not have you on the Hilltop to celebrate. We promised that we would bring you back to your home to give you the opportunity to walk across this platform, in front of (a few) family/friends just as thousands of Saint Anselm alumni have done. While it has taken longer than any of us could have imagined when you departed campus on March 15, 2020, I am so pleased that we could deliver on this promise. Welcome home!
I have a special place in my heart for your class. You taught me, a new President and new to the Hilltop, how to live as part of a community in this place. All of the joys, the traditions, the activities, the classes, and relationships that undergird the Saint Anselm experience. As if this wasn’t enough, by the end of the year, you taught me resilience, patience, kindness, and grace. Instead of focusing on what was taken away from you, you focused on what was given to you on the Hilltop as you launched into careers, graduate school, or service to others or to the nation.
Back one year ago today, I spoke to you (virtually) about five things to remember as you make your way through life. If you have trouble remembering what the five things were, don’t worry: you won’t have to take a pop quiz as your final, final exam! But with your permission, I share these with you again, not because I think they answer all of the questions of life but because, well, they are worth repeating. And since Plato says all knowledge is recollection, think of it knowing this…again. So here goes.
1. Remember: Be thankful every day, even on the bad ones.
a. At this moment particularly, take the time to thank your parents, guardians, and family. You simply would not be at this point without their support and love.
b. But you should be thankful not just when people do things for us or give us stuff. Why?
c. Everything we have is a gift and, as a gift, we should give back generously and freely. Being thankful reminds us of this lesson.
d. You will never fully know the sacrifices your parents, teachers, mentors, doctors, others, made for the sake of your well-being. You can never, ever pay them back. Just be thankful. And make sure you say it often.
2. Remember: You are not the center of the universe.
a. I have a friend who wakes up every morning and prays that God will give him the strength to live his live without the assumption that he is the center of the universe.
b. This is a hard prayer since the easiest assumption, given the way we experience the world, is that everything revolves around us. Literally.
c. Except that if doesn’t. But the only way we can ever know this is through reflection on our experience. This is the beginning of education and there is a close affinity to being educated and being humble.
d. After all, wasn’t it another Greek philosopher, Socrates, who said that if he was the wisest man in the world as some claimed, it was only because he knew that he wasn’t?
e. 99% of the world doesn’t care about you or the decisions you make. That’s OK. The challenge is: will you leave yourself behind and care about those 99% anyway?
3. Remember: Being smart is less important than being compassionate and kind.
a. I really hope this is a lesson that resonates more with you now after a year of “life” than it did a year ago.
b. If you wish to live and work as part of a community rather than as a hermit, whether that be a family, a group of roommates, or a company, being kind and compassionate is a non-negotiable.
c. As much as I admire really smart people, I know a few that I would prefer not to live with. Being smart does not give you a pass to treat others badly. While it might advance your career or your wealth, it will cost you your soul.
d. Relationships are built on simple lessons you learned in kindergarten. Be kind. Help others. If someone falls down, help them up even if it means you lose the race.
4. Remember: The mark of every great life is failure and yes, this applies to your life
a. Yes, the last 15 months have not been fun or easy. It is easy to hold a “pity me” party about what has happened to you, what you have missed, what you have lost. It would so easy to roll over and watch yet another episode of “The Office.”
b. You are doing the best you can to land on your feet and find your next big adventure.
c. I can guarantee you that you will make mistakes and you will fail. As a result, you will feel pain and you will not be happy.
d. What will be your response? You can hate yourself more for failing or you can realize that St. A’s made you a lifelong learner. So learn! Pick yourself up and learn.
5. Remember: In the end, there are but thing things that last: faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love (I stole this from St. Paul).
a. This is where Plato could be right. Just because we have faith in God or a higher power doesn’t mean we fully understand what faith is.
b. Just because we hope for the future doesn’t mean that we grasp the breadth and depth of hope.
c. And just because we love someone or someone loves us do we understand the transformative power of love.
d. Throughout the course of your life, you will be tempted to believe and hope for and love all sorts of things. Beware.
e. Remember, your St. A’s experience has taught you to figure what is worth believing in, hoping for, and loving…and what is not.
f. And no matter how much you have faith, how much you hope for, and how much you love, it will never be too much. Faith, hope and love are boundless.
So there you have it: the five things I hope you recall as you continue your life as a proud alum of Saint Anselm College. You have the knowledge: your job is to just to remember it and to allow others and new situations to assist you in recalling it. Plato would be so happy.
Before I conclude, I want to give a shout out to two people and a team. Amanda Conger, where are you? Amanda won the 2020 Hockey Humanitarian Award just after the pandemic struck. She selflessly donated a kidney to Cameron Ouellette, a local man she met in her native Vermont as an intern. She found out she was a donor match and never waived. If ever there was definition of Anselmian, Amanda would be right up there with…. Well, St. Anselm. Thank you, Amanda.
I also want to say thank you to Fr. Benet Phillips, OSB, for his incredible work to plan this event today along with the entire Alumni Affairs team. Fr. Benet planned my inauguration in 2019 (about 10 years ago) and I knew he was the one to pull this off today. Thank you, Benet, to you and the entire Alumni Affairs team for making this day so special to such a special group of newly minted alumni.
Finally, I hope you have discovered this year that though you away from the Hilltop, you always have the Hilltop with you. You have made us proud as students; you will make us proud as alums. May the Holy Spirit of love and wisdom continue to fill you each day to be a light for a weary world. As it has been for these past four plus one years, so it will be in the future.
Class of 2020! Congratulations and Welcome Home! As president of St. A’s Alumni Council and as a fellow Alum, I am so happy to be with you today and to be able to share a heartfelt congratulations on behalf of the entire Alumni Association.
When I graduated in… well, too long ago for me to admit to this crowd – I could not have fully appreciated how much my time here on campus would come to mean to me. The people I met, the work ethic, the values instilled in me and in all Anselmians – have stayed with me and formed the foundation of my personal and professional life.
When you hear Alumni call this place their home years and years after graduation – they mean it – and you’ll feel it too. Whether its returning to campus for an in-person Commencement, finally, or for Homecoming, a Reunions weekend or just for quick stop to see a favorite professor, staff member, or one of the monks, or by attending local events with fellow Alums, and keeping up on campus happenings by following the school and the alumni association on social media. You already know what I am talking about.
No matter how you choose to do it, I urge you to stay connected to the college, visit when you can, stay involved, and give back if you’re able – mentor those up and coming Anselmians – lend an ear, provide guidance and support – it’s what we Alumni do. You are one of us, and we are here for you.--together we are Anselmians. Never hesitate to reach out and talk to an Alum – there’s more than 22,000 of us – and it’s amazing what those kinds of connections can accomplish.
Last year, I inducted you virtually into the Alumni Association so today, I simply wish you a happy one-year anniversary Alums!