On Saturday, May 16, 483 students were recognized for completing the necessary requirements to graduate from Saint Anselm College. Although the in-person, traditional commencement was postponed, the college celebrated the Class of 2020 with a special event streamed live from the Abbey Church. 

Though on one level, you leave the Hilltop as students in this most unusual way, at another level, you take the Hilltop with you. You have made us proud as students; you will make us proud as alums.

— Dr. Joseph A. Favazza

Video:Mosaic Slideshow

Video:Drone Walk

Video:Well-wishes Video

Video:Senior Send-off Video

Video:Livestream Recording of Baccalaureate 

Video:Livestream Recording of the Sunrise

Video:Livestream Recording of Celebration

Video:Orientation Leaders Celebrate the Class of 2020

Video:Class of 2020 Photo Slideshow

Speeches and Remarks

Dear Graduates,

Every morning my wife Paddy gets an email from CNN of five things you should know.

She shares them with me regardless if I want to know them or not!  There is something about five that seems right. Ten is too many, three is too simple. But five, you can digest five things without feeling overwhelmed. 

So today I am sharing five things that you should recall as you begin the next phase of your life journey.  Notice that I said five things to recall, not to know.  I say this because what I share with you today you already know.  As an Anselmian, it is deep within you.  But sometimes we just need to be reminded to remember. 

When I was teaching full-time, I had the dubious honor each year to teach first year students Plato’s theory of the Forms.  While I minored in Philosophy in college, and took a few more courses in grad school, I am not trained as a philosopher.  So this was a big lift for me to teach students about Plato’s Forms.  Here is Plato’s insight: the physical world is not as real or true as absolute and unchanging Forms. Such Forms are the non-physical essences of all things, of which objects and matter in the physical world, the world you can see, remind us of these unchanging Forms but do not full embody them.  So, I can look around the Abbey Church and say that it is beautiful, but, according to Plato, the Abbey Church only reminds me of what beauty is and is not beauty itself.  It can only point to the unchanging Form of beauty. 

So why this very long introduction to Plato’s theory of Forms? (I am confident that all of the philosophy majors in this class could do a better job than me with this explanation!) Because it is the basis for Plato’s insight that all knowledge is recollection; that is, when we encounter something new, it reminds us of the Form of the idea or object already inside of us.  Learning about this new thing is the process of simply reminding us that we already know it. So today, I am doing the same thing: simply reminding you about knowledge that you already possess.  

So here are the five things that you know but I now remind you to remember.

  1. Remember:  Be thankful every day, even on the bad ones.
    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. But you should be thankful not just when people do things for us or give us stuff. Why? Everything we have is a gift and, as a gift, we should give back generously and freely. Being thankful reminds us of this lesson. 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.
    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. This is a hard prayer since the easiest assumption, given the way we experience the world, is that everything revolves around us.  Literally. 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. 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?  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 the world? 
  3. Remember:  Being smart is less important than being compassionate and kind. This may sound surprising to you, having just completed final exams where being smart was important to get you to this point.  But 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. 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. 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.
    Yes, the last couple of 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.” And now on top of everything, many of you are entering a very challenging job market. There is a lot to fear right now, not the least of which is getting sick or getting others sick. 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.  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). 
    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. Just because we hope for the future doesn’t mean that we grasp the breadth and depth of hope. And just because we love someone or someone loves us do we understand the transformative power of love. Throughout the course of your life, you will be tempted to believe and hope for and love all sorts of things.  Beware.  Remember, your St. A’s experience has taught you to figure what is worth believing in, hoping for, and loving…and what is not. 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 begin 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.

On a personal note, one year ago today, I received a life-changing phone call from Abbot Mark and Board Chair Ann Catino, asking me to become the 11th President of Saint Anselm College. In saying yes to this gracious invitation, who could have predicted all of the challenges of this year?  First I had to learn to say “Anselmian” and then I had to learn how to be Anselmian.  I am still learning, but you, Class of 2020, played an important role in reminding me about Anselmian values.  Particularly these difficult last two months, I have witnessed your resilience, patience, kindness, and grace. In the face of it, I can only take my own advice and say thank you.    

Though on one level, you leave the Hilltop as students in this most unusual way, at another level, you take 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 years, so it will be in the future.