Last week I attended the graduations of three of my grandchildren; one from kindergarten, one from Middle School, and one from High School. All three were well-planned and all produced a few, joyful tears, but the advice in the commencement address of Fr. Anthony McGinn, S.J. to the 2016 Class of Jesuit High School, New Orleans, is one I hope all ten of my grandchildren will live by.
For the past twenty years, Fr. McGinn has led Jesuit High. Because this was his final year, his address is particularly poignant and wise–not only for the young graduates, but each of us on our journey through life.
The Address, The Wisdom, and The Hope:
“My fellow graduates who are of the class of two thousand sixteen, this evening we join you in saying farewell to a stage of your life that has seen great personal growth amid hard-won victories and challenging obstacles.
Today you see yourself and the world differently from when you were a child. You have developed a more mature outlook.
Your perspective will continue to change throughout your life as you grow into the man God has planned you to become.
Life is a dance you learn as you go. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow. Don’t worry about what you don’t know as long you have a right frame of mind that will open you to learn in diverse and challenging circumstances.
Some mindsets help us to mature; others lead us to unhealthy places that turn out to be dead ends.
What is the basic mentality that will guide you in every encounter with reality?
Do you experience the world through a lens of self-pity?
If you absolve yourself of all responsibility, take the role of a victim, make excuses, and exaggerate obstacles, then you will live in a world where challenges are magnified into catastrophes.
Every disappointment will become devastating if you see yourself as entitled to every success, honor, and fulfillment.
I challenge you to avoid this toxic cocktail of self-pity, envy, and resentment which would enfeeble you and undermine your motivation to learn the dance.
On the other hand, do you view the world through a lens of control and dominance?
If you perceive any limitation on your choices as an injustice, then yours is a mentality of exaggerated autonomy. Do you feel entitled to have all of your desires and whims satisfied?
Unfortunately, we cannot love the truth and at the same time demand to have reality conform to our desires.
Healthy choices are always circumscribed by the truth. Making one’s own truth requires a distorted sense of self and a twisted view of the world.
Both of these attitudes are unhealthy because they distort the truth. Both self-pity and exaggerated control will prevent you from learning life’s dance as you should. Integrity should be your partner in the dance of life.
I suggest a third way which involves your looking at the world with a humble recognition that all you are and all you have is a gift. All is grace.
The gift may not always fit our plans. We may want someone else’s talent, someone else’s success, someone else’s gifts.
Part of learning the dance is understanding we are entitled to nothing. We have begun the dance when we can say that our situation is better than we deserve.
Be patient, be humble, be grateful, and be open to challenges because life is a dance you learn as you go.
Thank you for your years at Jesuit. Please make the effort to stay connected with one another. Thank you for the difference you will make.”