2014 CONVOCATION “THE GOOD LIFE”
Remarks of Rev. William J. Byron, SJ, Ph.D. September 4, 2014
WELCOME BY SISTER HELEN MARIE BURNS, RSM, PH.D.
Vice President of Mission Integration Good afternoon to all of you - and welcome trustees, faculty, staff, students, honored guests and friends, to this 75th Convocation in the life of Mount Aloysius College. Seventy-five years ago on September 24, 1939, Sisters Mary de Sales Farley and Mary Silverius Shields welcomed twenty-four young women to Mount Aloysius Junior College. We stand today on the shoulders and in the shadows of the educational leadership represented in those early women. As you will see in a few moments, when Mr. Frank Crouse introduces the Class of 2014, this educational enterprise has grown immensely since that September day. But some things remain the same: eager students, a dedicated faculty and staff and administration centered on quality education in the tradition of the Sisters of Mercy and
in its reflection of a Catholic, JudeoChristian heritage. We stand today also on the shoulders of many academic leaders who, literally over the centuries, have created this educational ritual we celebrate this afternoon: an opening convocation which gathers faculty in the full regalia of their academic attire (won through hard labor and perseverance), which welcomes the newest members to the academic setting (in our case, the Class of 2014), and whose formal presentation sets the tone for the academic year.
tions courses, our Speaker’s Series, and other college activities and events. Our theme this year is “The Good Life” – you have heard much about this theme already and you will hear much more as the year unfolds. I would add my contribution to that discussion by simply stating that a truly good life begins and, perhaps, ends with the profound realization that life is good. Life is good – your life, my life, our lives – because a benevolent and generous God, according to the Christian Scriptures, created and redeemed all life through an outpouring of infinite love.
We at Mount Aloysius College are growing accustomed to selecting a theme for each academic year. This theme guides our input/discussions in orientation programs, Connec-
“a truly good life begins and, perhaps, ends with the profound realization that life is good. – your life, my life, our lives”
REMARKS OF THOMAS P. FOLEY, JD
President, Mount Aloysius College Mount Aloysius is fairly unique in the ranks of higher education institutions in that we choose a theme each year and try to coordinate Orientation, the Connections courses, our Speakers Series and other events around that single idea. Our theme this year is a simple one, “The Good Life.” The Greek word Eudaimonia is commonly interpreted as “happiness.” Its root words are significant—“eu” for “good” and “daimon” for “spirit.” When Aristotle, Epictetus and the Stoics began parsing this notion of eudaimonia they aligned it with Greek words for character (“ethike arête”), and argued that eudaimonia signified not just “happiness” but the “highest human good.” Socrates pursued perhaps the most extreme definition of the idea, arguing that “life is not worth living if the soul is ruined by wrongdoing.” There is a long history of intellectual and moral thought on the idea, and we will be treated to a short course in it at our Fall Honors Lecture—“The Pursuit of Happiness: from Aristotle to Augustine” by Dr. Larry Jackson. There is an American history to this idea as well. The Declaration of Independence gave us a signature definition of the good life as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Whatever the intent in 1776, public policy discussions of the good life today tend to focus far more on metrics like “economic growth” and “average annual consumption” than on any values like happiness or the common good or even liberty.
Our youngest son Andy is the mean age of this class. When I told him I would be speaking to you today, he sent me an email all the way from Santiago. He says that for your generation “what you engage in and how you engage in it can be far more important than a profitable result or even success judged by someone else’s mark.” I think, with that sentiment, that he—and you, his “co-generationists”—are on the right mark. The key here and now is that you do engage. It is our hope for you that you will ultimately decide that finding meaning in what you do is the highest goal—a life full of
meaning—rather than a search for a life full of “happiness” per se. At this early time in our approach to the theme, it may be far easier for us to identify what isn’t The Good Life, and I won’t resist the temptation. It’s not fame, or wealth, or celebrity or even “celebritude” (which apparently means being famous “for all the wrong reasons”). In Mahatma Gandhi’s pursuit of peace, he identified a litany of pernicious, problematic and destructive traits that he viewed as the polar opposite of The Good Life. His Seven Social Sins included: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, science
without humanity, knowledge without character, politics without principle, commerce without morality, and worship without sacrifice. You will have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of these giants in your classes, through our Speaker Series and through an exercise next semester when we try to define The Good Life by decade—what was The Good Life in the 50’s, 60’s, right up to the ought’s. You will work with faculty and staff as we apply our own imaginings about happiness and culture, liberty and morality to this seminal question. Two weekends ago, I saw the movie Groundhog Day, again, with Bill Murray in the lead role. It’s an entertaining morality play, as Murray fumbles his way through
a succession of do-overs—during which he relives his Groundhog Day in our own Punxsutawney PA over and over again. In the course of re-orchestrating this “day in his life,” Murray evolves from an egocentric jerk into a much more complete human being who appreciates the goodness of others and yearns to replicate it himself. I am not sure we will get many chances to replay anything in our lives until we get it perfect. But there is still a lesson here about The Good Life at Mount Aloysius. You’ll learn the campus well in these next few months—where the birds chirp earliest in the morning, where to best capture the beautiful sunsets, where to find the quiet spaces. You’ll learn familiar faces—faculty, staff, administrators, fellow students; you’ll learn
their unique stories as you share your own. I do believe there is a metaphor in the movie for all of us this year; I think the real point is that when Murray got the chance to hit that reset button over and over, he ultimately realized that his path to The Good Life is through goodness in a moral sense, not goods in the material way. Our oldest son Tom says that the lesson of Murray’s fable is that the more you give, the more you get. Part of the good life for each of us lies in our interactions with others and how much of our happiness we share. And maybe that is the calculus of happiness, a rationale well-known to ancient philosophers and familiar to founding fathers but distant to us as we speed ever faster into the future. You have had several “resets” already—your orientation discussions of the Ten Golden Rules on Living the Good Life; your first Connections class introduction to the theme. Some of you will have a chance to peruse Pope Francis’ Ten Secrets to Happiness and Thomas Jefferson’s Ten Rules for a Good Life. All of you will hear Father Byron’s thoughts on the topic in just a few moments. Well, we are going to let you hit that reset button each time we schedule an event that explores the idea of The Good Life. And it is up to us to take that discussion one step further, to plumb our own depths and find our way to if not true happiness, at least our own version of a good life and a meaningful existence. So, again welcome to this 75th Convocation. Your journey to the good life begins
“Finding meaning in what you do is the highest goal—a life full of meaning—rather than a search for a life full of “happiness” per se.”
“THE GOOD LIFE” Fall Convocation Address by William J. Byron, S.J. It is a joy for me to be back at Mount Aloysius in response to an invitation from your president, my old friend Tom Foley, who asked me to speak to you on the topic of “The Good Life.” That’s what you are all hoping to have but I suspect that not all of you would immediately agree on what constitutes the good life. So let me say it right here at the beginning by opening this Convocation Address with the simple assertion that the good life is, as I see it, a “life lived generously in the service of others.” The good life is the life lived generously in the service of others. That’s how I see it, and I’ll elaborate on that one-sentence summary of the good life in just a few minutes. I want also to acknowledge that each of you is the world’s leading expert on your own opinion; you may have a different view on this topic than I do and you are certainly entitled to hold it. Your view may stress wealth, or health, or fame as elements that are constitutive of the good life. And while I have nothing against health, wealth, and public recognition of personal achievement, I have observed that fame is fleeting, health sooner or later diminishes, and it is a great mistake to spell success with dollar signs—i.e., splitting the letter “s” with a vertical line when you spell the word “$ucce$$.” You may have a lot of money in the future, but you’ll never have enough. So if the accumulation of
money is your goal in life, you will come up short, you will never have enough. Of that you can be sure. You simply cannot count on money to deliver happiness. And without happiness, which, of course, is not to be confused with pleasure, hilarity, and fun, there is no good life for you. This is not to say that fun and pleasure are not out there in front of you; it is simply to say that there is a lot more to life than having fun. Make a mental note right now. Say it to yourself. This is my idea of the good life. Go ahead; say it, at least to yourself. And remember what you’ve said at least until I get to the end of this presentation. The good life is… Go ahead now, say it to yourself. Surely happiness will be there in your response. Family will be there, I suspect. An occupation or profession will be part of that picture. So may be a location—a city or town, a country of origin or choice. If you haven’t thought of other persons—a spouse, unborn children, as-yet unknown workplace associates or companions on this way—you are missing a critically important element in this picture. If you agree with my point that the good life is a life lived generously in the service of others, you have to give some thought now to who those others might be—starting closest to home and stretching on out into an unknown future. Who are those others? What are their unmet needs? Where will you meet them? How will you help them? What kind of a companion are you going to be for them? There are a lot of options out there in front of you. A lot of choices to be made. Drift and purposelessness won’t help you get there. Passivity certainly will not help. You may have noticed that you can’t steer a parked car; you’ve got to get rolling. But in
what direction and at what speed? How’s your sense of direction? Do you have any kind of a map? I’m sure you do, although you may not be thinking of it at the moment as a map. A dream can be a map; so let yourself dream. I recall being of assistance some years ago to a young woman who found herself at a career crossroads, an important decision point in her life. She sought my help in trying to figure things out. So I encouraged her to focus on her feelings and deepest desires. I gave her an idea drawn from the Hindu faith tradition, an ancient saying from the Upanishads. She carries it now, years later, tucked in her address book; it put her on the path to the good life. Here it is: “You are what your deep driving desire is, as your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so
is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.” That’s another way of saying: get in touch with your deepest-down dream, and follow it. This requires, of course, a lot of common sense and no small amount of maturity. You have to be realistic. Sober assessment of your dreams can help you keep your feet on the ground; it can also assist you in getting those feet moving in the right direction— through deeds toward destiny. Have respect for your feelings. How do you feel about the future? What is your gut telling you that you really want to be and do? What do you like doing? Are you drawn toward mathematics and science, or are you drawn toward history and literature. Do you enjoy music and appreciate art? Or are sports and tinkering with automobiles your thing? Where are you inclinations pointing you?
I have a friend who is an executive search consultant. He is often asked to advise clients as they face the challenge of making a good job choice. He tells them, “If your head says ‘go’ and your heart says ‘no,’ don’t go. But if your heart says ‘go’ and your head says “no,’ give it a whirl.” I mention this simply to point out that you should listen to your tummy; you should read the feelings in your gut. That is one way of discovering the will of God for you. God chooses at times to communicate with you through your gut—drawing you this way or that by the push or pull you experience through your feelings. Your faith can be and should be a map guiding you into the future. I’m assuming that most of you are Christians and I suspect all of you will agree that signposts to the good life can be found in the life of teaching of Jesus Christ. You have
“...be guided by The Spirit... The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Now surely some echo of that should find its way into your idea of the good life.”
no doubt heard of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) and I hope you see them as happiness principles. That’s what beatitude means—happiness. The Scriptures—God’s inspired word to you, both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and, for Muslims, the Quran—can be an enormous help in mapping out your way toward the good life. Permit me to open up for you a few verses of St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. That letter, as you may know, was written to help the Galatians exercise their new found freedom “in the Spirit,” freedom from the restrictions of the Old Law through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Let yourselves be “guided by the spirit,” said St. Paul; and I say the same to you today: be guided by the Spirit—the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. Paul speaks of the “fruit” of the Spirit—evidence, if you will, of the presence of the Holy Spirit in a human life. Nine values, or principles, constitute evidence that the Holy Spirit is there within you. I call these nine values the “Pauline criteria” for detecting the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life, in your home, your workplace, in the very environment in which you move and have your being. “For you were called for freedom,” Paul writes to the Galatians and derivatively to you. “But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself ” (Gal. 5:13-14). He then continues: “I say, then, live by the Spirit…[and] “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness [and] self-control” (Gal.
“The good life is the life lived generously in the service of others.” 5:16; 22-23). There you have a word portrait, a nine-word portrait of what Jesus revealed as authentic human existence. Now surely some echo of that should find its way into your idea of the good life. As you map out your understanding of the good life, take a bit of time to ponder the meaning of each of those nine values. What is your understanding of love? It has to be big and broad enough to make room for sacrifice. How mature is your appreciation of joy? It is a lot more than hilarity. Are you perceptive enough to recognize peace when you see it, and are you at peace with yourself and others? And although patience may not be your strong suit, do you realize that the root meaning of the word patience is suffering? Are you prepared to suffer when the good of others requires it? Kindness
is easy to recognize and understand; the question is with what frequency does kindness appear in your words and actions? Generosity is not hard to define, but the trick is to let generosity become habitual and characteristic of you. Faithfulness means you can be counted on, that dependability and reliability are part of your make-up. Gentleness is often confused with timidity, which is a vice, but gentleness is virtue; it is a form of courage and strength. Surely, being gentle has something to do with leading a good life. And the ninth of Paul’s criteria for the presence of the Spirit in your life— self-control—is an admirable characteristic, a sign that you have yourself well in hand. Notice how all nine are imitable human virtues, each within your reach, and notice how in combina-
tion they shape you into an attractive person with all makings of a leader, a really good person. And doesn’t being a good person have more than a little to do with finding and leading the good life? As you consider these nine Pauline criteria today, as you ponder the meaning of these principles, let me suggest that you also consider wrapping yourself in them as in so many bands that hold you together for your journey through life. If you can manage that and if you associate yourself with others similarly bound, you are going to find yourself leading
the good life. And you will, I think, agree with me that the good life is a life lived generously in the service of others. Now as this academic year begins, remind yourself that every course you will take has something to contribute to that toolkit you will need to navigate your way in and through the good life, and resolve to invest the needed effort now to gain the unseen rewards that await each one of you.
good life. I could run on with a lot of examples and stories; I could try to sell you on the wisdom of what I am proposing. But I will spare you all that. I will simple say get moving, get on with it. It is the beginning of an academic year that might well be the best of all the years you have yet experienced. Take a moment now to make a promise to yourself that you are going to give this year your very best. And don’t be surprised to find that the very best will come to you in return.
Well, here we are at the end of a reflection on what constitutes the
“As you consider these nine Pauline criteria let me suggest that you also consider wrapping yourself in them as in so many bands that hold you together for your journey through life.”
DR. THOMAS COAKLEY’S INTRODUCTION TO REV. WILIAM J. BYRON, SJ Besides being a personal pleasure, it is a real honor to welcome Father Bill Byron back to Mount Aloysius College. He is a man of extraordinary accomplishments. From serving as an army paratrooper, to earning degrees in philosophy, theology, and economics, including a doctorate in the latter, to a distinguished teaching record at major universities across the country, to leadership positions of ever increasing responsibility, culminating in service as the President of Loyola University in New Orleans, as President of Scranton University, and from 1982 to 1992, as the first Jesuit
President of The Catholic University in Washington D.C. Along the way during his 53 years as a Jesuit priest, Father Bill has managed to publish over 20 books, hundreds of articles, and essays, and a nationally syndicated column, appropriately entitled “Looking Around.” He has also earned more than 30 honorary doctorates, including one from Mount Aloysius. Father Bill Byron is a highly accomplished man but he is much more than that. Like Chaucer’s scholarly cleric, Father Bill is a man who will gladly learn and gladly teach. But if one examines closely what Father Byron has done
and taught and written, it becomes very obvious that this is someone who is fully engaged with the real world, with the challenges facing real women and men. So add to the characteristics of the scholarly cleric, a great heart, a courage to lead, and an insatiable hunger for social justice, and you have Father Bill Byron, who through all his years, has been not only teaching the world about the good life, but demonstrating that life through his own example. Ladies and gentlemen, Father Bill Byron.
“Like Chaucer’s scholarly cleric, Father Bill is a man who will gladly learn and will gladly teach.”
“Students, we thank you most especially for being here with us. We are grateful for the energy and the youthful fervor with which you imbue these ancient rituals of the academic season. And we look forward with anticipation to the personal insights and to the spirit of community that we are confident you will bring to these endeavors.
I encourage you to be bold and connect with the faculty and staff. Each of them has an interesting story. The magic of Mount Aloysius is how we intertwine the stories of our faculty and staff with the education that takes place, not just when those faculty members are standing behind the podium, but from when they come out in front of it and engage with you personally--whether in the classroom or in some other venue on this campus. I encourage you to get to know their stories because they too will inspire you.
So I encourage you to be inspired by those who come to this campus, by those who help teach and run this campus, by those who become your friends on this campus. I also want to challenge you to
‘Watch your thoughts; they become your words. Watch your words; they become your actions. Watch your actions; they become your habits. Watch your habits; they become your character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.’
Again, welcome to this 75th convocation. Your journey to the good life begins.”
Words of President Thomas P. Foley to the incoming class of 2014.
Published on Sep 22, 2014