Dr. Paul Farmer gives a thumbs-up to the Class of 2005 after finishing his remarks at Monday's Commencement Exercises. (Below) Lynch School of Education grad Kelly Arnstein sought warmth and comfort from the cloudy, unseasonably cool weather. (Photos by Lee Pellegrini)
'Act Affirmatively, by Making Things Happen'
Farmer urges graduates to turn 'road angst into hope and action'
By Mark Sullivan
Haiti humanitarian Dr. Paul Farmer urged action against the world's
suffering and injustice on a chilly Commencement Day on which 3,300
Boston College graduates were urged: "Go set the world aflame."
With that exhortation, famously made by Jesuit founder St. Ignatius to
the missionary St. Francis Xavier, and reprised this day by BC deans,
the Class of 2005 stepped off in a grand opening procession from Linden
Lane to Alumni Stadium, in a show of pomp and circumstance that is meant
to become a Commencement tradition.
The mission theme likewise was sounded by Dr. Farmer, the physician to
the Haitian poor profiled in the book Mountains Beyond Mountains, who
keynoted the opening Academic Convocation at BC this past fall, and
returned to give the Commencement address and receive an honorary
Farmer cited the examples of 18th-century British abolitionist Thomas
Clarkson and of fellow honorary degree recipient Lt. Gen. Romeo
Dallaire, who as commander of the United Nations Observer Mission to
Rwanda tried unsuccessfully to marshal world response to genocide. As
they learned, Farmer said, "to do nothing is also to act.
"So act affirmatively, by making things happen, not just letting things
happen," he said.
Also receiving honorary degrees at the 129th Commencement Exercises were
Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, OFM, Cap.; Emmanuel College
President Sister Janet Eisner, SND, MA'69; Xavier University of
Louisiana President Norman C. Francis; and Sara Martinez Tucker,
president and CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. [See related item.]
The day's prevailing theme resonated in opening remarks by University
President William P. Leahy, SJ.
"Today is...about mission, about looking at our lives and asking if we are
responding to God's call as we should, about reviewing our goals in
light of our values and beliefs, about making sure that our priorities
are appropriate," Fr. Leahy said.
"We live in a world that very much needs people who have developed their
talents, who desire to serve, whose lives are marked by faith, hope and
"Since its founding in 1863, Boston College has sought to be the best
possible university it can be, and to remain faithful to our Jesuit,
Catholic heritage. It has held steadfastly to its mission not only to
educate students, but also to form them; to help young men and women
identify and develop their talents so that they could go forth and help
transform the world.
"It seeks to be a place where people can come together to learn and to
be nourished by one another, to give to others and wider society. It
especially strives to integrate intellectual excellence and religious
commitment. Its Jesuit tradition stresses the call and value of working
for the greater glory of God.
"Each of us is invited to live with purpose and conviction, to have a
mission. This graduation ceremony reminds us to consider the mission,
the purpose that guides and sustains our lives."
Dr. Farmer, whose service to the poorest of the poor as a health-clinic
founder in rural Haiti was chronicled by Pulitzer-winning author Tracy
Kidder in the book Mountains Beyond Mountains, opened and closed this
academic year at Boston College.
This past September, Farmer gave the keynote address at the First Year
Academic Convocation for the entering Class of '08. He now returned to
give the Commencement Address to the departing Class of '05.
His speech to graduates recalled the British abolitionist Clarkson
(1760-1845), who at Cambridge wrote a prize-winning essay against
slavery, and subsequently was inspired to devote his life to the
anti-slavery cause, following a St. Paul-like epiphany while on the road
to London to take up a career as an Anglican clergyman.
In a case of "road angst," the evils of slavery that he had described in
his paper engrossed Clarkson's thoughts, said Farmer. "If the contents
of his essay were true," he said Clarkson told himself, "some person
should see these calamities to an end."
And so there, on the side of the road, Clarkson decided to take a
detour, and take up the abolitionist's calling.
"Haiti was my own road to Damascus," said Farmer, whose commitment to
the Caribbean nation and its people began when he visited as a Harvard
medical student. "Going to Haiti, I could identify with Thomas
Clarkson's 'road angst.'"
He urged graduates: "Try to turn your 'road angst' into hope and action."
The day began with a new tradition, an academic procession of graduates
in gowns and mortarboards and deans in medieval finery that began on
Linden Lane and wound through campus to Alumni Stadium, as Gasson's
bells rang and thousands of parental cameras clicked.
Gray skies threatened showers which didn't materialize, and the
ceremonies proceeded undampened, if under chilly conditions. Coffee and
cocoa sales at the concession booths under the stands were as brisk as
the weather. "I'll make this brief," Farmer said as he opened his
address, "before it starts snowing heavily."
The National Anthem was sung by Michael V. Sangalang '05. Rev. Paul F.
Harman, SJ, rector of the Boston College Jesuit Community, gave the
The Reading of the Degree was done in Latin by Rev. Thomas O'Malley, SJ,
adjunct professor in the College of Arts and Sciences Honors Program and
former president of John Carroll and Loyola Marymount universities.
Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties John J. Neuhauser read the
honorary degree citations.
Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley, who joined his predecessors, Cardinals
William O'Connell, Richard Cushing, Humberto Medeiros and Bernard Law,
in having been awarded an honorary degree by Boston College, pronounced
the closing Benediction.
Streaming video and other highlights of the 2005 Commencement Exercises are available via the Web at www.bc.edu/commencement.