2008 Commencement Address
joseph m. o’keefe, s.j.
First of all, let me congratulate all of you, brand-new graduates of the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. You join the ranks of more than 20,000 women and men who are setting the world aflame with enthusiasm and hope. Relatives, friends, and colleagues, let us give a round of applause for our illustrious new alumni!
We had a chance to applaud parents and family members earlier at the main ceremony. On behalf of our graduating students, and on behalf of the staff and faculty of the Lynch School, let me once again congratulate you and honor you for the support and encouragement you have shown to these graduates who are your children, your siblings, your spouses, your friends—and your parents.
And I want to take a moment, and I am sure that I speak for everyone here, to acknowledge the faculty and staff of the Lynch School of Education, without whom we would never have come to this day. I ask my esteemed colleagues in the Lynch School to stand and to be acknowledged.
A short while back, someone sent me the Web text of a talk given by Taylor Mali. In it, he described a conversation with one of his friends. The friend said, “I mean, you’re a teacher, Taylor. Be honest. What do you make?”
“You want to know what I make?” he responded. “I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor, and an A– feel like a slap in the face. How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best. You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder. I make them question. I make them criticize. I make them apologize and mean it. I make them write, write, write. And then I make them read. I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful over and over and over again, until they will never misspell either one of those words again.”
Many of you are today embarking on the wondrous, marvelous career of teaching. Never, ever underestimate the importance of being a teacher.
And I wonder here today, for those of you who are psychologists. What do you make? You make people recognize their own goodness. You make them aware of who they are in the eyes of others. You make them see that their deepest fears might not be as fearful as they imagine. You make them face the contours of their own history.
You make them capable of being healed, and whole, and happy. Never, ever forget that there is no more noble work than healing the human heart and the human psyche.
And for those going into academia and research careers—What do you make?
You make simplistic, sound-bite answers complex. You make the familiar strange; so that people see the everyday in a new way. You make us stretch the boundaries of conventional thinking. You make students discover their untapped potential for rigorous research. You make us accountable for the claims we make, “Where’s the evidence?” Don’t ever underestimate the importance of the challenge you give us all—that we be meticulous in our inquiry and relentlessly honest about the knowledge we produce.
For those going into leadership, what do you make? You make hard-nosed, tough decisions with compassion and fairness. You make people aware of the gifts they have, and you create the conditions in which they can use those gifts to the max. You make your people look beyond everyday routines as you humbly remind them of the mission they share. You make it possible, as a true leader, for others to take the glory, not you.
You make our schools and universities places that are accessible to all, places of peace and possibility. To our current and aspiring administrators, never forget that your most important work is often unnoticed, from the extinguishing of fires to the quiet help you give to a colleague in trouble; you, as leaders, humanize what can become so easily institutions without a heart or soul.
So, all of you, our graduates, what do you make? If virtue were measured in dollars, I have to say, most of you don’t make much. So, what do you make? All of you, each of you, do and will make an enormous difference in our world. THAT is what you make. And for that, you have today and always my warm congratulations and my profound gratitude.