May 27, 2004 • Volume 12 Number 18

"Meet the Press" host Tim Russert addresses the Class of 2004 at Monday's Commencement Exercises, held in Conte Forum. (Photo by Justin Knight)

Russert Talk Stresses Values, Jesuit Education

Fr. Leahy urges 2004 grads to be 'forces for good' in life and work

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

It was a Jesuit homecoming for "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert at Boston College's 128th Commencement Exercises on May 24.

The Jesuit-educated NBC newsman, a BC parent-to-be who closed his address to some 3,000 graduates by donning a Maroon and Gold ball cap and exclaiming "Go Eagles!" had the crowd in Conte Forum on its feet with a speech that mixed humorous anecdotes from sports and politics with a call to service delivered from the heart of Catholic social teaching.

"Please do this world one small favor - remember the people struggling alongside you and below you," Russert urged the Class of 2004 at ceremonies moved indoors by rain.

"No matter what profession you choose, you must try, even in the smallest ways, to improve the quality of life of children in this country," Russert said.

"The best commencement speech I ever heard was all of 16 words: 'No exercise is better for the human heart than reaching down to lift up another person.'"

Russert, a product of Jesuit schooling at Canisius High School in Buffalo and John Carroll University in Cleveland, and whose son Luke will be a BC freshman this fall, was presented with an honorary Doctorate of Laws.

Others receiving honorary degrees were Thomas Busch '69, general manager of award-winning KNOM of Nome, Alaska, the oldest Catholic radio station in the country; Rev. Raymond Hammond, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain and co-founder of the Ten Point Coalition; Sister Katarina Schuth, OSF, an expert on theological education and seminary reform; and Blenda Wilson PhD '79, president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Foundation [see story].

University President William P. Leahy, SJ, in welcoming remarks, urged graduates to put their intellectual gifts toward bettering the community in which they live and work.

"May you be forces for good and signs of faith and hope for those around you," Fr. Leahy said.

"We send you forth with our prayers and best wishes. We are confident that we can rely on your generosity, willingness to lead and to serve, and your desire to be men and women for others. May God continue to bless you."

Russert's address was an ode to blue-collar democratic values and Jesuit education.

The author of the best-selling book Big Russ & Me recalled the "true lessons of life" he had learned from the "quiet eloquence" and decency of his World War II veteran father, a truck driver and sanitation man who worked two jobs for 30 years and "never complained."

Russert became the first in his family to go to college when he went to John Carroll, where, he said, he received a "superb education.

"And so, too, with you," he said. "You chose a school that was different and you made the choice deliberately...

"You've been given an education that says it's not enough to have a skill. Not enough to have read all the books or know all the facts. Values really do matter.

"Boston College...a Catholic university founded by the Jesuits: Its only justification for existing is because it has a special mission - training young men and women to help shape and influence the moral tone and fiber of our nation and our society. And that means now you have a special obligation and responsibility...

"You have something others would give almost anything for! You believe in your God, in your country, in your family, in your school, in yourself, in your values...

"The values you have been taught, the struggles you have survived and the diploma you are about to receive, have prepared you to compete with anybody, anywhere.

"People with backgrounds like yours and mine can and have made a difference.

"In Poland, it was a young electrician named Lech Walesa, the son of a carpenter, who transformed a nation from communism to democracy.

"In South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who became President Nelson Mandela, a brave black man who worked his way through law school as a police office, spent 28 years in prison to make one central point - we indeed are all created equal.

"And on Sept. 11, at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and in the fields of Pennsylvania, it was our brother and sister police, fire and rescue workers who properly redefined modern-day heroism.

Monday's cool, rainy weather forced Commencement Exercises inside Conte Forum, but didn't dampen the enthusiasm of 2004 graduates.

"All these men and women have one thing in common with you: Like the past, the future leaders of this country and this world will be born not to the blood of kings and queens, but to the blood of immigrants and pioneers."

Russert, speaking two weeks before the 60th anniversary of D-Day, urged graduates to "remember it is your grandparents, and your parents, who defended this country, who built this country, who brought you into this world and a chance to live the American dream.

"Will your generation do as much for your children?" he asked. "You know you must. Every generation is tested. Every generation is given the opportunity to be the 'Greatest Generation.'"

He hailed the "generous spirit of service" shown by the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and the Boston College Appalachia Volunteers.

And he cited BC tutors at the West End House, in Allston, "where the community room is now called the Boston College Room [see page 6], and where a young nine-year-old girl named Adrienne Andry was mentored for 16 years by BC students. She is now attending BC herself, saying simply, 'I feel like I want to give back because I've been helped so much by BC students.'

"What a lesson for all of us! No matter what your political philosophy, reach down from that proverbial ladder and see if there isn't some child we can't pull up a rung or two - some are sick, some are lonely, some are uneducated. Most have little control over their fate. Give them a hand. Give them a chance. Give them their dignity...

"For the good of all of us, please build a future we can be proud of."

Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley, OFM Cap., gave the Benediction, and was thanked by Russert for his leadership on addressing the clergy abuse crisis.

Fr. Leahy and Trustees Chairman John Connors '63 also were praised by Russert for "extraordinary leadership and vision" in initiating the Church in the 21st Century Project in response to the abuse crisis.

"Like them, I believe it is imperative our bishops continue to work tirelessly to bring about a healing and reconciliation with all those who have been harmed, and [that] they vigorously enforce measures that insure the illegal and immoral abuse of our young will never ever be tolerated by our Church again," said Russert, commenting, he said, as a "respectful servant in the laity of the Church I love."

Russert left the crowd laughing with anecdotes from the worlds of sports, journalism and politics.

"In preparing for today, I had thought about presenting a scholarly treatise on the Bush-Kerry presidential race, but I thought better of it," he said. "I guess I'm like that noted philosopher, Yogi Berra: I get it eventually. After Yogi had flunked [an] exam, his teacher came down the aisle, shook him and said, 'You don't know anything.' Yogi looked up and said, 'I don't even suspect anything.'"

Russert described the occasion of receiving an honorary degree from BC as the "second most humbling day" of his life, after an audience he had with Pope John Paul II in 1985.

"As the Vicar of Christ approached me, you heard this tough, no-nonsense, hard-hitting moderator of 'Meet the Press' begin our conversation by saying, 'Bless me, Father.'

"He took my arm and whispered, 'You are the man called Timothy from NBC...They tell me you are a very important man.'

"Somewhat taken aback, I said, 'Your Holiness, with all due respect, there are only two of us in this room, and I am certainly a distant second.'

"He put his hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye, and said, 'Right.'" -Office of Public Affairs

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