Now that the month of June is upon us, we will be celebrating the graduation of many of our students in the Diocese, all the way from kindergarten through high school. It is wonderful to mark and to celebrate these important milestones in the lives of our young people.
I remember the excitement I felt that first time I climbed the stage at commencement to receive my high school diploma. I cannot believe that it’s been 42 years since I graduated from high school. Though I’ve never been to any of my high school class reunions, I will definitely show up for my 50th class reunion. I remember that in my high school yearbook I was voted “Most Likely to Become a Minister,” so why not show my classmates that they were right?
If you were the designated commencement speaker at a high school graduation, what advice might you offer the graduates as they prepare to march into the future?
I would tell them to discover the gifts that God has given them to make this world a better place, and to engage in service programs as students, such as NET. In any group of students there are future doctors, dentists, farmers, lawyers, plumbers, builders, counselors, administrators, business people, social workers, teachers, religious brothers and sisters, priests, deacons, and future lay leaders in the Church. What matters in life isn’t money, power, or fame, but doing work that you enjoy doing which in turn benefits others.
I would emphasize the importance of making friends with people who share their faith and values. When I was at Notre Dame and lived for a few years in the residence halls with students, I marveled at how quickly students made lifelong friends with those who shared life with them in the dorm, or who they met in class, on retreats, or through campus clubs. The great Roman philosopher and statesman, Cicero, once stated that, “Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joys, and dividing our grief.” In my own life, I have been most blessed by lifelong and faithful friends.
Of course, I would talk to them about the gift of faith, and especially about the gift of knowing Jesus Christ. Since all of them are seeking happiness and fulfillment, Christ is the faithful friend and companion who can lead them to genuine peace, happiness, joy, and ultimate fulfilment. I would remind them that to find Christ they need look no further than within their hearts where Christ dwells in light, stillness, and peace. And I would remind them that whenever they attend Mass, Christ comes to them in word and in sacrament, to satisfy their deepest human longings.
Lastly, I would tell them to pursue the kind of hobbies and activities that are naturally good and uplifting to the human spirit: being in nature, gardening, reading good literature, watching uplifting films, pursuing the arts, exercise, learning a foreign language, cooking, and playing sports. When life seems too much, these things keep us grounded in the good.
Above all, I would urge them to carry within themselves hearts a spirit of gratitude for all the daily blessings they enjoy. My final quote to share with them would be from Dag Hammarskjold’s book, Markings: “For all that has been, thanks; for all that will be, yes!”
Yours in Christ,
+Bishop Patrick Neary, C.S.C., the 10th Bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota.