Commencement Address delivered by Ms. Susan Baber at Loyola School’s Graduation, Friday, June 1, 2012 Thank you, Mr. Lyness, for the invitation to speak tonight. And thank you, too, to everyone here who has brought us to this wonderful occasion – to the trustees and all of my colleagues who give life to this work that we share, to the parents and friends of our graduates who have trusted us and supported us in that work, and to you, our graduates, who have, in the past four years, been such a gift to Loyola. What a blessing it has been to share this journey and what a blessing it is to share this night with all of you. I have always loved graduations. As a child, I loved the pageantry – Pomp and Circumstance, the fancy clothes, the applause, and the decorations. It was dramatic and exciting. As a teacher, though, what I treasure about graduation is the opportunity to look back in gratitude and look forward in hope; to look at each person who has helped to shape our collective experience and say “congratulations, thank you, and Godspeed.” During the prelude at the Baccalaureate Mass on Weds. evening, I was standing over there next to the high altar, looking out at the congregation; for a few moments I got lost in thoughts of this class as freshmen, thinking to myself “Who knew?” Who knew that the student whose older sister had made me promise to be nice to him and to never tease him about anything – “because Ms. Baber, he’s just too shy” – would become someone who would serve as a retreat leader? Not once, not twice, but three times this year, enduring far more teasing than his sister had, and contributing his own fair share to the mischief. And who knew 1
that the student who, on her first Camden trip fell asleep early on during the evening reflection – and spent the remainder of that reflection sound asleep on the shoulder a member of the Romero Center staff – would be one of the first students to commit to the Belize service trip that leaves on Sunday? Who knew that several students who came to Loyola as accomplished athletes would find a home not only in the athletic program, but also on stage? Who knew that it would be members of this class (with a little help from some friends) who would redefine Spirit Week – wearing your school pride very literally, not on your sleeves but on your chests? I could keep going on, but Halle, Halle, Halle wasn’t a long enough song! The more I think back on the terrific things that you’ve done here, the more I look forward to what you’re going to do with your future. You are a remarkable group of people – diverse in interest, in temperament, in personality, in talents. As the second reading on Wednesday night reminded us, there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. Each of you has brought and has been a different gift to Loyola. Sometimes your means of sharing those gifts has been smooth and joyful, and sometimes it has been noisy and messy. But I hope we can all agree that your presence at Loyola has been a gift. I know I am a better teacher, a better person, and a better aunt because of the time I’ve shared with you. So, congratulations and thank you. But now the question changes from “Who knew?” to “Who knows?” Who knows what it is that you’re going to do next? Who knows who you will become? Who knows how you will respond to the changes, the challenges, and the opportunities that life will present to you? You were born into a world in which iPods and iPads 2
didn’t exist, a world in which hybrid vehicles weren’t on the roads, a world in which the words “Skype” and “Google” had no meaning. In the span of your lifetime, how we access information, how we care for our planet, and how we communicate have changed dramatically. Even more dramatic have been some of the global shifts in the economic and political landscape of our world. Who knows what’s next and what your role in all of it will be? When talking about issues of justice, from time to time some of you have tried to convince me that I can’t really believe that significant change is possible or that a more just world is possible. After all, people who have power – political or economic – want to keep power and probably want to accrue more power. I think you’re right about the allure of greed – it’s really, really compelling. But just because some people are seduced by greed, I don’t believe we can underestimate the human capacity for good or the power of the human imagination. I could talk about changes on a grand and global scale, because human history is full of fabulous examples, but in truth, most of us aren’t called to be agents of global transformation. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all influence the local situation. In your time at Loyola, you’ve met people who have been local agents of change. You’ve met Fr. Greg Boyle. His gang intervention program in Los Angeles hasn’t changed the whole world, but it has transformed the lives of hundreds of people whom society had written off, and restored hope to them and their loved ones. You’ve met Mr. Bill Ford, whose aunt, Sr. Ita Ford was killed in El Salvador in 1980. Mr. Ford’s a school principal. His school provides not only an education, but also critical work skills and experience for a student population 3
that has historically been excluded from the workforce. You’ve met Mr. Abel Vargas, who took the risk of leaving a secure job in Belize to work with Hand in Hand Ministries – a risky proposition, with no guarantee of success. His organization to date has provided homes for over 170 families and health care services available nowhere else in the country. If you’ve gone to Camden you may have met Monsignor Bob McDermott, who had an empty convent on his parish property and had the vision to convert it into the retreat and justice education organization that we know as the Romero Center – providing thousands of young people with their first exposure to urban poverty and injustice. Have any of these people changed the global structures? No. But have they provided alternative realities on a local level? Absolutely. In my experience, your class has demonstrated a penchant for asking tough questions. I hope you never lose that. Some of them have been cosmic questions about faith, about justice, about why evil exists, about why sheep were more valuable than goats. Others have been painful questions, beginning with “how is it fair that…” or “how is it cura personalis if…”. One of my favorites started with the words “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but…” and concluded with “Ms. Baber, what does YOUR commitment to justice look like. I know that you go on service trips with us, but beyond that, what do you DO?” What a phenomenal question to ask of someone who howls the language of justice from the safety, comfort, and affluence of Park Avenue. As happens frequently in my office, though, the conversation got sidetracked, and I only gave a partial response. So, I’m hoping that you’ll indulge me in allowing 4
me to finish the response now. I could talk about how I choose to invest my money or how I try to manage my own consumerism, how I vote, or how I decide what organizations I offer my financial support or my time to, or how I try to keep myself well‐informed about the world around me. All of that is important, but they’re not my most significant contributions to the work of justice. There are different gifts, right? What’s my gift? It’s certainly not the creativity or the genius to come up with “solutions” to the world’s problems. Nor is it the oratorical skill to get people to come along with me. My gift is the ability to really and truly believe in you – to believe in your talent, to believe in your goodness and to believe that you have the heart and the ability to transform the world if you so choose. As the Romero Prayer reminds us, “no one can do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in knowing that. That enables us to do something, and to do it very well.” And so, accompanying young people as you start to explore issues of faith and of justice is my “something.” It’s what I am called, at this point in my life, to do. Believing in you is something I can do, and do reasonably well. I am constantly humbled, challenged, and inspired by your willingness to move beyond your comfort zone and to care for others. When I’ve gotten frustrated with you, it has been because you have refused to see that potential and that goodness in yourself and in others, or because you’ve let yourselves be limited by complacency instead of empowered by love. So that’s what I can do – you’ll have to figure out what YOU can do. St. Ignatius repeatedly identified the mission of the Society of Jesus as that of “helping souls.” You share in that legacy now. Who knows if or how you will 5
choose to “help souls”? Some of you may be called to do the direct work of justice “out in the field.” Some of you may be called to advocacy work. Most of you, though, will probably be called to a life in which the direct opportunity to effect change is a little less clear. But if each one of you, wherever you end up, keeps asking the hard questions ‐‐ “Are our practices just?”; “Are we behaving in an environmentally sustainable way?”; “What opportunities do we have to do and be better?” you just might find other people who share your concerns. That’s a pretty exciting possibility. I’m not going to pretend that I know what your future will hold. I don’t. I’m not going to pretend that I know how the world of your adulthood will compare to the world of your adolescence. I’m not going to try to give you sage advice about any of it. What I will off is two hopes and an image. I’m going to start by stealing the words of Sr. Ita Ford. You’ve heard them before at prayer services, but I think they’re “keepers” and worth repeating now. “I hope that you come to find that which gives life deep meaning for you. Something worth living for. Maybe even something worth dying for. Something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what that might be – that’s for you to find, to choose, to love. I just encourage you to start looking and support you in the search.” Now back to my words! I also hope that you find people who will believe in you, work with you, and challenge you to be the best person you can be. Ignatius needed those early companions to start the Society of Jesus – it was great for him 6
while he was alone in the cave at Manresa, but it became great for the world when the others joined him. When I was a senior in college, a well‐intentioned professor suggested that I give up the idea of teaching as a career. In his assessment, I didn’t have the temperament for the work. During my first year of teaching, every time I felt insecure or unsuccessful – which was virtually every day – I heard his voice saying “you just can’t do it” until I found people who believed in me, worked with me, and who continue to challenge me to be the person God created me to become. Quite a few of you, ranging in age from 18 to well‐beyond 18, are sitting around me right now. So, young friends, I hope you, too, are blessed with such companions on your journey. And finally, I offer you an image. My commute includes a ferry ride. Most days, the view is simply spectacular – passing by the Statue of Liberty, watching the sun rise over Brooklyn or glisten off the water, marveling at the juxtaposition of God’s creation and human construction. But in the past few months there have been a lot of really foggy, murky days. On those days, it’s been impossible to see much beyond the boat. Everything that I know is out there became invisible. The Statue of Liberty – gone. Brooklyn – nowhere to be seen. The Staten Island Ferry – out there somewhere, hopefully not too close. Without wearing a watch and without clear sightlines, it became difficult to tell what kind of progress the ferry was making towards our destination. I had to trust that all the instruments were working correctly and that the pilot’s judgment was sound. I’ve been using my ferry ride as a metaphor for faith and for life. There are moments in our lives of stunning clarity – when we know exactly what we should do and exactly who we want to be, and we know exactly how to make that 7
happen. There are other times when things are less clear – when it’s harder to focus on things beyond the immediate moment or to see much beyond ourselves, when it’s impossible to be sure of our progress or even our direction. But the murkiness doesn’t last forever. Each of us is created in the image and likeness of God – a God who loves us and has great hopes and dreams for us. Just because it’s not clear to us doesn’t mean it’s not clear to God. It just means we may have to trust a little more and “know” a little less. As the Baccalaureate Mass was ending on Wednesday, I again got caught up in the music. This time it was “your song” – the song you selected and that we’ve used every time we celebrated liturgy together this year. Listening to those words, and imagining a world in which you choose to live them was a moment of incredible hope. “Call us to be your compassion. Give us hearts that sing, give us deeds that ring. Give us hearts that feel, give us hands that heal.” With each of you being God’s compassion, having hearts that feel and hands that heal, who knows what’s possible? So, class of 2012, congratulations, thank you and Godspeed.