Burns challenged the Class of 2002 at Boston College's 126th Commencement Exercises May 20 to maintain "the spirit of optimism that is particularly American, the importance of being patriotic to support and defend our great country, and the inspiration that you might dare to do great things in the world."
Speaking as a Catholic layman, Burns defended the Church in America as an "enormous force for good," and urged that the depravities of a few not be allowed to stain the reputations of the honorable men who form the majority of priests.
R. Nicholas Burns, the American ambassador to NATO, addresses the graduates during Monday's Commencement Exercises in Alumni Stadium.
"The answer to [the problems] that confront us is the willingness of good people to act resolutely to defend the values on which our culture and country rest," he said.
"Like every other generation of Americans before you, you are today called to service and to greatness."
Degrees were awarded to 3,045 at the Commencement Exercises, held under clear skies at Alumni Stadium.
University President William P. Leahy, SJ, in his welcoming remarks, sounded a common theme in his description of Boston College. "We seek not only to educate students, but also to form them," he said, "to help young men and women identify and develop their talents so that they can go forth and help transform the world."
Burns received an honorary doctorate of laws at the ceremonies. Honorary degrees were also presented to: Rev. Robert Bowers '82, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Charlestown and president of the Chernobyl Children's Project USA; Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Emily Hargroves Fisher Professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education and newly-appointed chairwoman of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Sister Marie Santry, SND, principal of the nation's oldest African-American parochial school; Rev. John O'Malley, SJ, of Weston Jesuit School of Theology, noted historian of the early Jesuits, and Elisabeth Zweig MSW /MSP '77, executive director of Catholic Charities of Boston.
[Read the citations for the 2002 honorary degree recipients.]
In his invocation, Campus Ministry Director James Erps, SJ, captured the mood of sadness tempering the traditional joy of Commencement this year, recalling innocents lost Sept. 11 and in bloody strife since, and decrying a "betrayal of trust" by Catholic priests and bishops in the clergy sexual-abuse scandal. He asked blessings on graduates in the quest for "a New Jerusalem" as well as "a Church more open and honest and more observant of the Gospel."
Burns sounded echoes of the New Frontier in his summons to action.
"Thousands of BC alums have left here over the years, as you will today, having been imbued, whether we consciously realized it or not, with the Jesuit tradition of faith and service to others - to our families and friends, our communities, our country, the world," said Burns, who holds a bachelor's degree in history from BC.
"This is BC's distinguishing feature. It is the core belief that how we lead our lives should not be just about and for ourselves but about what we all can do, in the poet Tennyson's words, to 'seek a newer world' here on earth.
Rev. James A. Woods, SJ, dean of the newly-renamed Woods College of Advancing Studies (see page 3), presides over the college's graduation ceremony in O'Neill Plaza following the main Commencement Exercises. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Terrific upheavals have marked the college years of the Class of 2002, capped in senior year by "the successive shock waves of Sept. 11, the Enron scandal, the crisis in the Catholic Church and the savagery of violence in the Middle East," Burns noted.
"For those who may have thought that the worst of human history was behind us, Sept. 11 reminded us anew of the presence of evil in today's world," he said.
"We discovered something else, however, about Americans and the world we live in on Sept. 11. We found in the spontaneous outbursts of concern and compassion here at BC and in every town in our country an inner strength, a powerful determination and a basic goodness that are the attributes of the American people.
"We witnessed in the streets of lower Manhattan and at the Pentagon a thousand acts of human decency, the incredible bravery of public officials and citizens alike and the awe-inspiring sense of service and selflessness of the New York City fire and police departments.
"None of us will ever forget their sacrifice as they gave their lives for their fellow citizens. We won't forget the huge outpouring of support by Americans in 50 states for the victims and their families. We won't forget the example America set for the rest of the world when we practiced tolerance and respect for all religions here at home. We won't forget the powerful community against terrorism that has arisen in anger and resolve all across the globe."
Burns said the call to serve also applies to the crisis enveloping the Catholic Church, which along with Sept. 11 was the defining event of the graduates' senior year.
"I share with many of you a sense of profound sadness and real anger about the shameful and devastating revelations of the last few months. I think we can all agree that the abuse of children cannot be tolerated, swept under the rug or handled irresolutely. And it must be stopped.
"As in the Sept. 11 attacks against America, the answer to the crisis in our Church may depend, in large part, on our willingness to open up and face the challenge before us. A united community of Catholics can reach out to the victims to minister to them, and to accord them the respect and dignity they deserve."
Burns praised the leadership of Fr. Leahy, who last week announced a two-year program at Boston College to explore issues raised by the crisis in the Catholic Church [see related story]. He also lauded the many priests who "continue to live lives of extraordinary humility, poverty and goodness," singling out Fr. Bowers, University Chancellor J. Donald Monan, SJ, McIntyre Professor of English J. Robert Barth, SJ, and BC Chaplain Tony Penna, among others.
"So, as you leave Boston College today, think what you can do in government service or the non-profit sector to win the war on terrorism and to bring peace to the Middle East and other troubled parts of the globe. Think what you can do as business leaders to ensure integrity and fairness in the workplace and to prevent a future Enron crisis. Think what you can do in your private life to promote tolerance and understanding on our planet. Think what you can do as teachers, doctors, nurses and civic leaders to strengthen bodies, minds and communities."
[A full transcript of R. Nicholas Burns' Commencement address is available here.]
Margaret A. Felice '02 sang the national anthem with soaring clarity. The legendary dean for whom the College of Advancing Studies was recently named [see related story], Rev. James Woods, SJ, gave the Reading of the Degree in Latin.
Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties John J. Neuhauser read the degree citations, while Vice President for University Mission and Ministry Joseph A. Appleyard, SJ, offered the closing benediction.
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