Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton D. Gregory addressed the graduating class at the University's 142nd Commencement.
(Gary Wayne Gilbert)
On a day when the Boston College campus reverberated with expressions of praise, congratulations, and gratitude – formal, public, and private – Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton D. Gregory reminded the Class of 2018 that words have the power to unite or divide, uplift or discourage.
At the University's 142nd Commencement Exercises on May 21, he urged the graduates and others in attendance to “take careful watch over their words” and do their part to promote civility, whether in conversation, online, or via other forms of discourse. A “hostile language environment of hatred,” he said, can too easily turn violent words into violent acts such as those that have occurred during the past few years in Las Vegas, Charleston, Orlando, Parkland, and – only last week – Santa Fe, Tex.
“Our desired national identity is not that of a cruel or angry people,” said Archbishop Gregory, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from University President William P. Leahy, S.J., at Commencement. “We are startled and offended by brutal human behavior that recently seems to abound. Therefore, men and women of our nation must unite in calling us to our nobler selves, and the way that we speak about and to other people must lay the foundation for a much-needed and long overdue restoration of civility and respect.
“We must work together to address the causes that prompt and allow people to such acts of hatred and brutality,” he said.
Some 4,287 Boston College students received their undergraduate and graduate degrees at separate ceremonies held around campus after the main Commencement event.
In addition to Archbishop Gregory, the University presented honorary degrees to: retired Boston College administrator Joseph Duffy, S.J., '50, MA'51, STL'58; Drew Gilpin Faust, outgoing president of Harvard University; Kendall B. Reid '79, award-winning HBO documentary producer; and Alberto Vasallo III '89, president and CEO of El Mundo Boston.
(Read the honorary degree citations here.)
“Today is about gratitude, memories, and the future,” said Fr. Leahy in welcoming the graduates, along with their friends and families, to Alumni Stadium. He thanked BC’s newest alumni for enlivening and strengthening Boston College “with their talent, energy, commitment and generosity.”
As is his custom, Fr. Leahy invited family and friends to stand and be recognized for the support, encouragement, and challenge they have offered to the graduating class members. He also recognized BC faculty and administrators, as well as alumni and friends of the University, for their roles in the graduates’ intellectual and faith formation at BC.
Fr. Leahy said Boston College has never been “stronger, more confident and more capable” of helping contemporary society and the Catholic Church to address compelling challenges of the day and age. He exhorted the graduates to “give to others from the abundance that you have received, and to put into practice the principles, values, and beliefs of Jesuit education that continue to shape Boston College and that challenge its alumni."
Archbishop Gregory, former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, began his remarks by noting that spoken words are often inadequate to capture the depth of emotions, such as those experienced at the birth of a baby or loss of a loved one. In such situations, words can be “insipid,” he said: “'We send our thoughts and prayers,' to cite a useless contemporary phrase.”
On the other hand, there are words that “fuse the tongue to the human heart,” said Archbishop Gregory, such as “thank you” – a phrase, he added, that would no doubt be heard often on this day.
Some words and phrases can simultaneously inspire and enrage, he noted, especially in a world of pervasive social media: “Black Lives Matter” and “#MeToo” are examples of “words that some people find encouraging while some others only find them to be agitating if not threatening.”
Today, “debate and disagreement often have been reduced to defamation and denigration,” a circumstance Archbishop Gregory said is the polar opposite of Jesuit teachings.
“Disputes are best addressed to principles, ideas, and policies rather than to be used to demolish the reputation, dignity, and humanity of those with whom we may disagree,” he said. “I urge you to use words that may clearly voice your strong opinions but also shun the annihilation of another individual’s human dignity.”
The archbishop ended with a quote from Saint Paul – “No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear” – and left the lectern to sustained applause and a standing ovation.
The close of the ceremony provided a demonstration of how words can encourage camaraderie, as graduates and others in the audience sang along to a recording of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” punctuated with the now-popular “so good, so good!” catchphrase.
Commencement also included presentation of the Edward H. Finnegan, S.J., Award to Christopher Reynolds as the graduating senior best exemplifying Boston College’s motto “Ever to Excel,” and of the inaugural Saint Robert Bellarmine, S.J., Award to Thomas F. Rattigan Professor of English and Director of the Institute for the Liberal Arts Mary Crane. The new award honors a faculty member whose significant contributions have consistently and purposefully advanced the mission of Boston College.
Benediction was offered by Boston Archbishop Cardinal Seán O’Malley, OFM., Cap.
—Sean Smith | University Communications | May 21, 2018