World affairs hung like the mist over Boston College's 123rd Commencement Exercises Monday, as Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble was honored for his role in the Good Friday peace accord and United States Energy Secretary Bill Richardson touted NATO action in the Balkans.
Richardson, in the main address to graduates, said the NATO air campaign against the Serbs is necessary to protect the human rights of Albanian Kosovars.
"Today in Kosovo, the United States and our NATO allies are working to restore hope to a people who have been slaughtered by the thousands and terrorized by the tens of thousands, for no reason except their ethnicity and faith," said Richardson, a former US ambassador to the United Nations who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at Commencement.
"Their lives are at stake and so are the fundamental values of human rights and human decency, and the peace and stability of Europe," he continued. "Our objectives are clear: the withdrawal of the Serb military from Kosovo, the unconditional return of all refugees to their homes, and the development of an international security force to ensure peace in the region."
In his remarks to the 3,100 graduates and their more than 15,000 family and friends gathered in Alumni Stadium, University President William P. Leahy, SJ, said, "I hope you give thanks for the numerous ways God has blessed you since you started your first year at Boston College.
"I hope that in the years to come, you continue to grow in self-knowledge and in your relationship with God and other people," Fr. Leahy added. "I hope that you take time on a regular basis for reflection, prayer and worship with a faith community.
"I also urge you to keep developing your talents and sharing them with the community around you. Our world very much needs people who are both competent and compassionate, who desire to serve, not to be served. May God continue to bless you."
Outside of the ceremony, approximately 20 Irish-Americans opposed to BC's decision to present Nobel Peace Prize winner Trimble with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree protested quietly at the Beacon Street entrance to Alumni Stadium.
Honorary doctorates were given not only to the prominent Ulster Protestant but also to arguably the greatest Celtic, basketball legend Bill Russell, as well as to National Book Award-winning author Alice McDermott and Boston Foundation CEO Anna Faith Jones. Russell, McDermott and Jones each received honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees.
Richardson, noting that two out of three Boston College students are active in community service projects here and abroad, urged graduates to regard themselves as "residents of a global community whose actions can make a difference" in a world that remains a most perilous place.
The former New Mexico congressman counted among the nation's "most urgent tasks" preventing Russian nuclear weapons material from falling into the hands of "terrorists and tyrants," which he called "a matter of life and death for all of us."
Referring to happenings in Russia and Kosovo, Richardson said, "These events may be happening a world away, but they affect what happens in your own backyard, and in your neighborhood, and in your country. What you do as citizens matters and what you do can change the world.
"As the last graduating class of the 20th century, you have an opportunity to shape the events of the next millennium. Resist cynicism and carry with you and keep alive in yourselves the spirit of community service that is so powerful here at Boston College."
Prior to delivering the closing benediction at the Commencement Exercises, Boston Cardinal Bernard Law encouraged Trimble to see the Northern Irish peace process through to conclusion, and urged Richardson to work toward a peaceful resolution to the Kosovo crisis.
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