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'Above All, Be Yourselves,' Kenny Tells Graduates

Irish prime minister, three others receive honorary degrees at Commencement

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny addresses the Class of 2013 during Monday's Commencement Exercises in Alumni Stadium. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: May 20, 2013

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny gave the Boston College Sesquicentennial Class of 2013 an unabashed vote of confidence at Monday’s Commencement Exercises, encouraging them to put to use their talents and skills, as well as the values shaped by their family life and their time at the Heights.

“Be successful, be well, be happy, and above all, be yourselves. Live long and deep and comfortably in your own skin,” said Kenny, who received a standing ovation from the nearly 4,400 graduates in Alumni Stadium.

“You’ve listened long enough. Strike your note, for yourselves, for your family, for Boston Strong and the United States of America.”

Kenny — who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the event — invested his speech with healthy doses of history, pop culture, science, literature, even mathematical principles, and included references ranging from Ignatius of Loyola to Albert Einstein to David Bowie.

Remarking on the University’s 150th anniversary milestone, Kenny affirmed the longstanding ties between Ireland and Boston College — created originally to educate the children of Irish immigrants — as well as America itself.

“Today, the Irish story is writ large across America right to Capitol Hill. The hands roughened in Irish soil were leathered in your mines, your scaffolding, your bridges, your railroads. Over the generations, our farmers-turned-laborers saw to it that their children went from the schoolhouse and the firehouse, right to the White House itself.”

BC, its students and alumni, he said, are “living proof of the power of imagining” among past generations who sought a better life for themselves and their descendants.

“To those generations, whether in the chaos of immigration, or the grip of a poverty that was ruthless and ecumenical, the sense of when this success might happen was largely immaterial. What mattered was that they dared to imagine it would.

“On this May morning, here on Chestnut Hill, it does.”

In addition to Kenny, BC presented honorary degrees to James A. Woods, SJ ’54, founding dean and namesake for the University’s Woods College of Advancing Studies (Doctor of Humane Letters); Wayne Budd ’63, former US attorney and long-time BC trustee (Doctor of Laws); Cornelia Kelley NC’69, headmaster emerita of Boston Latin School (Doctor of Humane Letters); and Mary Lou DeLong NC’71, who served in several key administrative roles at BC (Doctor of Humane Letters).

University President William P. Leahy, SJ, touched on the Sesquicentennial theme in his welcoming address, as he described the foundations of the BC experience — all characteristic of the Jesuit, Catholic educational heritage to which BC has dedicated itself for 150 years: provide students with a rigorous intellectual experience; foster their religious, ethical and personal formation; and prepare them for citizenship, service and leadership.

The ideal of Catholic, Jesuit education, Fr. Leahy said, was powerfully expressed in the homily given by Theology Professor Fr. Michael Himes at the Sesquicentennial Mass in Fenway Park last September that formally began the 150th anniversary celebration: “[Fr. Himes] pointed out that what unites us with God is our humanity, and what makes us more human and more like God is helping others to become more human.”

This conviction proposed by Fr. Himes lies at the heart of Jesuit education, said Fr. Leahy, “which [Fr. Himes] described as a gift only fully realized when given away to others.” Fr. Leahy urged the Class of 2013 to follow the example of the many BC alumni he said “have had the most fulfilling lives” because they chose to use their education and talents in the service of society.

“Be true to yourselves, complete the Jesuit education you have begun here at ‘the Heights’ by spending your lives giving it away, living and working as men and women for others,” said Fr. Leahy.

Other Commencement highlights included the awarding of the Rev. Edward H. Finnegan, SJ, Memorial Award to Claire Geruson as the graduate exemplifying the spirit of BC’s motto, “Ever to Excel” [see page 5]. On the Bapst Library Lawn, meanwhile, Carroll School of Management graduate students gave a standing ovation to classmates Brittany Loring, JD/MBA, and Liza Cherney, MBA, when Associate Dean for Graduate Programs Jeff Rinquest awarded their diplomas. The women, who were both injured during the Boston Marathon bombings, led the procession of students into the ceremony.

Kenny made reference to the marathon bombings — praising the “courage, dignity and compassion” of Boston and its people — as reflecting America’s propensity for “choosing strength” in pursuit and defense of liberty. It is one of many tasks that the Class of 2013 must now take up, he said, not just in the US but the world.

“Today, the sun shines on you. The Fibonacci numbers all add up. Today, the future you long imagined is here. I urge you to take possession and quickly. Because to you and your generation the torch has been passed. You are young America. While we might astonish ourselves — to hunt and even find the God particle, to look to set up outposts on Mars — as humans, our needs are fragile as ever: food, water, air. Compassion, peace, love, hope.”

As they contemplated their future, Kenny invited the graduates to consider the past, and the significance events take on in retrospect. He noted that on this day 492 years ago, the man who would become Jesuit founder Ignatius of Loyola was wounded in battle — the incident that spurred his devotion “to the life of the spirit through The Imitation of Christ.” It had been 57 years since then-US Senator John F. Kennedy spoke to BC graduates on “the value of politics, the challenge of public service.” And 140 years ago, the patent was approved for what some view as an improbable but prized symbol of freedom: blue jeans.

Kenny returned to the power-of-imagination idea in exhorting the graduates to work for the greater good, and in addressing critical human issues like pollution and global warming. Paraphrasing a line from the David Bowie song “Space Oddity,” he said, “Planet Earth is blue but there’s everything you can do.”

Imagination, Kenny said, can be found in “the everyday,” reciting what a little girl once wrote about her uncle’s cousin, Albert Einstein: “In America, he works as a scientist. When he comes here, he goes on the swing.”

“Graduates, buy one tomorrow. Take to the air. Because it is you, and the swing-set manufacturers, who could save the world,” said Kenny.

He added, “Today, you sit beside each other, in happiness, great joy. One day, you may cross cities, time zones, oceans, to sit beside each other again, in very different circumstances. As you do, make sure to pack this old advice: That it matters less what happens to us, than how we deal with it. That, in life, we can allow our experience to strengthen us or diminish us. The choice is ours. As graduates of Boston College, I know what yours will be.”