A college graduation represents an important milestone in adult life, Chicago Archbishop Blase Joseph Cupich told the Boston College Class of 2015 at Monday’s Commencement Exercises, but he urged graduates to hold onto one important trait of childhood: the “innate appreciation of the givenness of life.”

“Children instinctively grasp that life is ever graced,” said Archbishop Cupich, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at Commencement. “They sense that more is always coming, and the more, because it is beyond their making, is inexhaustible, leaving them unafraid of their God-given thirsts.”

Retaining this childhood quality, he explained, is critical both for meeting personal and spiritual challenges throughout one’s life especially in early adulthood – and for serving wider societal needs.

Chicago Archbishop Blase Joseph Cupich speaks at Commencement
Chicago Archbishop Blase Joseph Cupich speaking at Monday's Commencement
Photo by Lee Pellegrini

“It will give you a generous and brave heart to speak for those who have no voice because they are too small, too poor, too old, too marginalized, too forgotten. It will prompt in you the strength to be patient as you respond to your God-given longing for intimacy by pursuing loving relationships that are both lasting and life-giving. It will make you wisely suspicious of the voices urging you to sell yourselves short by pursuing a frenetic life pace dotted by false intimacies that leave you empty or by the fever of acquiring more stuff, to the point that we become possessed by the things we try to possess.”

The world, he said, “needs the hope of those who know and are inspired by the givenness of life, the grace of life.”

Also presented with honorary degrees Monday were: Sister Marie Chin, a mainstay of the Sisters of Mercy in Jamaica; Lynch School of Education alumnus Michael Motyl ’01, president of the Guadalupe Regional Middle School in Texas; executive, writer and motivational speaker Steve Pemberton ’89; and Lee Woodruff, journalist, best-selling author and co-founder of a foundation to aid veterans.

Some 4,000 BC students received their undergraduate and graduate degrees following the main Commencement event at Alumni Stadium, fanning out to separate ceremonies held around campus, on a cool yet comfortable day that began under gray clouds but gave way to clear, sunny skies.

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Jesuit Community Rector Robert Keane, SJ, offered the invocation, and Boston Archbishop Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM, Cap. delivered the benediction.

University President William P. Leahy, SJ, in his welcoming remarks at Commencement, expressed gratitude to graduates and guests who were gathered for the ceremony: the former he praised for the “intellectual and personal gifts, commitment to service, and abundant energy” they had shared with Boston College; to the latter, he cited the “support, encouragement and guidance” they bestowed on graduates. Fr. Leahy also thanked BC faculty and administrators for their contributions to “the intellectual and personal development of today’s graduates” and alumni and friends of the University “whose generous gifts of time, advice, and financial resources made it possible for many to graduate today.”

Elizabeth Stief
"I have always been connected with my faith," says Elizabeth Stief '15, "but I would have never thought that my time at BC would deepen, strengthen, and clarify that connection."

Those receiving diplomas, he said, had witnessed important moments in Boston College history, including the opening of Stokes Hall and renovation of St. Mary’s Hall while enduring a record winter snowfall and the tragedy of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

Amidst all these and other changes, Fr. Leahy said, is the constancy of Boston College’s educational mission, challenging students to “learn in depth about a particular major or a graduate specialty, and to acquire the habits of an educated person that will last a lifetime”; to “discover the deeper meaning of their experience, to reflect on the kind of person they wish to become”; and “to use their talents to transform the world into God’s kingdom and to work for the greater glory of God.”

In a reference to Matthew’s Gospel, Fr. Leahy urged the 2015 graduates to follow the example of their predecessors at BC who led fulfilling lives: “those who used their education and talents in the service of society, who have given life and given it abundantly.”

Archbishop Cupich lauded BC’s efforts in service of society and the Catholic community, singling out the Church in the 21st Century initiative and the center established to carry on its work. He noted that, like the many families in attendance, his own had celebrated a college graduation: that of his niece Emily, whose childhood anecdotes served as a basis for his observations about children’s capacity to appreciate grace. Commencement, he said, should be viewed as a means “to spark in you a renewed sense of the givenness of life.”

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Recalling how Emily’s kindergarten classmates, upon seeing a photo of him in his vestments and miter, thought that he was a “ninja warrior,” Archbishop Cupich said cultural icons and symbols can have the power to undermine “our sense of the givenness, the grace of life,” especially those that distort human life and freedom, and champion the individual at the expense of others.

“The ripple effect of this indifference is already in full view as the numbers of people who are not just poor but trapped in poverty grow to staggering proportions around the world.  Global communications is becoming the game changer that should alarm us about how this will play out. Young people today and even more in the future, living on this flat earth with no hope yet tantalized by what they see in the world of opulence, will be challenged to deal with rising expectations in a non-violent way.”

Holding onto the givenness and grace of life, he told the graduates, will help them to become leaders who work for the common good, “advocate for inclusion and economic security for all,” are unafraid to “challenge models of governance that seek to maximize the freedom of markets and individual choice at the expense of all other moral considerations.”

For those times ahead when the new graduates might encounter setbacks and experience disappointment and doubt, Archbishop Cupich suggested they recapture that givenness and grace of life simply by teaching a new song to a five-year-old.
“Delight in her perceptiveness and swift ability to pick it up; marvel at his readiness to receive a new grace, and then be ready yourself to find new hope. For in all of this it will dawn on you that this child will always remember you as the person who taught them a new song.”