121st Commencement Exercises

Reno Issues Public Service Call

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

United States Attorney General Janet Reno, speaking at Boston College's 121st Commencement Exercises in Conte Forum on Monday, urged graduates to uphold the Jesuit ideal of service to others, while striving to build a just society free of hatred and violence.

"The challenges you and the world will face will test all that you have learned here," Reno said. "But in case some of you may turn from the challenges of these next years, saying 'I'm just going to throw up my hands. The problems of the world are too complicated ...' Let me just tell you this: Each one of us can make a difference." [Click here for full text of Reno's remarks]

In his first Commencement address as Boston College president, William P. Leahy, SJ, congratulated the Class of 1997 on a personal note: "You will always be special for me, because you are the first to graduate since I became president," he said. [Click here for full text of Fr. Leahy's remarks]

United States Attorney General Janet Reno addresses the graduates. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Fr. Leahy also noted that the next stage in the graduates' lives will be uncertain, just as it was when they arrived on campus four years ago.

"Yet, just as you adapted to Boston College, I am confident you will adjust to life after graduation," Fr. Leahy said. "I hope that in the years to come you continue to grow in self-knowledge and in your relationships with God and others. I hope that you take time on a regular basis for reflection, prayer and worship with a faith community.

"I hope, too, that you keep developing your talents and sharing them with the community around you. I hope that you always keep in mind the motto of Boston College, that you strive 'Ever to Excel.'"

Reno, the first woman to serve as the nation's chief law-enforcement official, received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the Commencement Exercises, which were held indoors due to inclement weather. Conte Forum was filled with the approximately 3,300 degree recipients and about 7,000 guests of the graduates.

Receiving honorary degrees with Reno were: University Trustee John A. McNeice Jr., '54, retired chairman and chief executive officer of The Colonial Group Inc., who was named an honorary Doctor of Business Administration; Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, an advisor to Pope John Paul II on human rights issues, who was unable to attend, but whose honorary Doctor of Laws degree was awarded to him in absentia ; civil rights activist, singer and history professor Bernice Johnson Reagon, who was named an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters; and Peter Dervan, '67, a California Institute of Technology chemist, who was named an honorary Doctor of Science.

Reno, making reference to the slings and arrows that are the lot of the high-ranking Washington official, praised public service as an honorable calling and urged the graduates to stand forthrightly for causes in which they believe.

"Say what you believe is right and then stick with it," Reno said. "If you know you're right, don't let polls or criticism turn you away. When you lose or when you err, know that that happens. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move ahead. Don't be afraid to try."

Conte Forum was filled to capacity on Sunday for the annual baccalaureate Mass. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Referring to her career as attorney general in the sometimes turbulent Clinton Administration, Reno added, "These last four years have been the most wonderful that anyone could serve. Yes, it is true that you get cussed at, fussed at and figuratively beaten around the ears very regularly. But there is nothing more rewarding than public service."

The speech's most poignant passages dealt with the example set for Reno by her late mother, Jane, whose intrepid nature greatly inspired the future attorney general.

Reno told a story from her childhood in Florida, when her mother set out to build a new house for the family, undaunted by an utter lack of experience in the construction trade, but willing to learn.

Monsignor John Dillon Day, 84, receives his bachelor's degree in theology from College of Advancing Studies Dean James Woods, SJ (right), and Cardinal Bernard Law. Monsignor Day, a retired diocesan priest, left BC for the seminary in the 1930s and recently returned to complete his degree. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

"She built that foundation with her own hands," recalled Reno. "That house was a symbol to me that you can do anything you want to, if you work hard enough."

When Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, many of the surrounding homes were leveled, but the house her mother had built was so well crafted it "only lost a shingle," Reno said. The attorney general urged the graduates to put the same care into the construction of their futures. "Build your life the right way," she said.

Reno also urged a greater national commitment to the welfare of children. She praised the work done at Boston College to promote collaboration between health care professionals, educators and public policy makers to improve care for the young, calling it "a model for the nation."

Reno cited the example of her late father, Henry, an immigrant from Denmark who worked for 43 years as a reporter for the Miami Herald , as she offered a strong indictment of "a growing anti-immigrant sentiment" and other forms of intolerance she said are among America's most pressing current problems.

"We have to do all we can to heal the wounds caused by intolerance and bigotry. We must speak out against violence and hate whenever we find them," Reno said. "Hate, and the turmoil it causes, are everybody's problem in America."

Taking time out to read the Heights during Commencement. (Photo by Elana Vizvary)

In closing Reno said, "I hope you take the Jesuit commitment to service with you all the days of your life. Never give up trying to secure peace, liberty and justice for all."

The morning's exercises opened with the singing of the National Anthem by Mary Hubbell, '97, and an invocation by Gasson Professor Richard A. Blake, SJ.

Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, gave the closing benediction. In prefatory remarks, Cardinal Law expressed hope that the Catholic vision that has guided Boston College will continue to inspire the University - and through it, the society - in the future.

"We need to form a new revolutionary movement as we move into the next century that says every human being is to be valued," said Cardinal Law. "That means 'no' to physician-assisted suicide, 'no' to partial-birth abortion, 'no' to capital punishment, 'no' to anything that takes human life.

"We need a society that is in solidarity with the poor - with the poor immigrant, with the poor elderly person, with the poor young person - so that every poor person is valued and supported and given a chance," Cardinal Law said.

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