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Commencement Address - Mount Saint Mary’s University

Mount Saint Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, Maryland

I. Introduction
President Powell, Members of the Board of Trustees and of the faculty, fellow priests, family members, friends, honored guests, and most importantly, Members of the Class of 2013!

What a joy it is for me to be with you today, particularly since Mary’s Mountain is my alma mater too! I truly want to thank you, President Powell and the Board of Trustees for bestowing on me today an honorary doctorate. My Mom and Dad thank you also because they are happy to know that their son finally amounted to something!

And before we do anything else, let me ask all the graduates today to join me in thanking those women without whom we would not be here today: so to all the Moms out there, and Grandmothers, Great grandmothers, & Godmothers, Happy Mother’s Day!

II. The Memorable Class of 2013
So, let me focus my attention on you, the Class of 2013. Like every commencement speaker, I would like to say something memorable on this, the day of your graduation from Mount Saint Mary’s University – something you’ll not only remember but also something you’ll put into practice throughout your life. Like most graduation speakers, however, I know that’s a tall order.

So let me begin with why you are a memorable class and let me also suggest some of the reasons why all of us hope that you will always remember Mount Saint Mary’s University.

You, the Class of 2013 here at Mt. St. Mary’s University, have lived your faith by serving others, especially those in need:

  • You pitched in to help the people of New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.
  • You sent volunteers to schools in the area; you served those in need in urban neighborhoods, including Baltimore.
  • You volunteered to help impoverished people in places like Belize and Appalachia.
  • You were there for the kids in Special Olympics This year alone you contributed 22,000 hours of service!

But it doesn’t stop there. In a great example of student leadership which will set a high standard for the students who come after you, you were the first class to sign the student-developed honor pledge, a pledge which spells out the virtues you want to live by, the virtues that will serve you well whatever vocation you embrace or career path you pursue.

And you also did something extremely important, at least in my book. You introduced us all to the Mount’s new mascot, Emmit S. Burg!

III. Memorable Events 2009-13
During your years at Mount St. Mary’s you also witnessed some memorable events:

  • You witnessed the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis
  • You saw the renovation of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception
  • You saw the development and opening of the Mount’s Solar Farm, not on mention the rope course and zip line, and the creation of the PNC Sports Complex

And, during your time here, when you were sophomores, actually, this nifty yellow book was published. It’s called “YouCat” and it was published by the Church for people of your generation. It sums up the Catholic faith in a way that is meant to speak to your concerns, to your culture, to your hopes and dreams – so that you can really know, love, and live your faith in all the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. . . . Incidentally, if anyone needs any last-minute gift ideas . . .

And this book is filled with all kinds of quotes, really words to live by, words that will resonate in your hearts in part because of your years here at Mount St. Mary’s University.

IV. “Mastery of the moment is mastery over life”
So, on page 221 of YouCat, there is an especially noteworthy quote by a 19th Century German writer named Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (we may be the only people in the Western Hemisphere thinking of her right now) – At any rate, this is what she said & this is the message I want to leave with you today: “Mastery of the moment is mastery over life. . .” . . . “Mastery of the moment is mastery over life.”

Think about it: every day you are faced with many decisions – some big, some small. Decisions can’t be made in the past or in the future, only in the present. The matter at hand, the matter before, must be decided, for good or ill, right now.

And all these individual decisions form a pattern and this pattern is what shapes our character – it determines what kind of people we are becoming. Your education at Mount St. Mary’s has given you the tools to be men and women of virtuous character, so as to inherit everlasting life. But whether and how we use those tools is, of course, up to you.

A person’s character doesn’t come out of nowhere. It is built up over the course of years. It is a composite of numberless, individual decisions, made minute by minute. And the beginning of our character, dear graduates, begins with our thoughts. This is because our thoughts lead to actions, and repeated actions become habits, and habits form our character. And it our character that determines our destiny!

V. In Authentic Virtue
A person who lives by morally good habits, or virtues, is – a virtuous person. And a person who lives by morally bad habits, or vices, is – a vicious person. Virtue or vice is being built up in us at every moment in our lives, in all our decisions. Deep down we know that what brings us true happiness and satisfaction are not passing diversions but living lives of authentic virtue.

Indeed, “Mastery of the moment is mastery over life!” And the One who came into the world that you might have life and have it to the full – is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. If you want to know who you are and who you can become, know Jesus! If you want to know what real virtue is, follow Him!

VI. Getting Lost in the Shuffle
My dear young friends: this is a time in your lives when you are busy making plans, when you are mapping out your future . . . you are thinking ahead . . . as well you should. In thinking ahead, don’t let the present moment get lost in the shuffle.

You may be familiar with these famous words: “First, I was dying to finish high school and start college. And then I was dying to finish college and start working. And then I was dying to get married and have children. And then I was dying for my children to get married and get out of the house. And then I was dying to retire. And now, I am dying…and suddenly I realized I had forgotten to live.”

The moral of the story is – ‘don’t let this happen to you!’ As St. Augustine once put it so beautifully: “The past we entrust to God’s mercy. The future we entrust to His Providence. The present we entrust to His love.”

VII. Conclusion
“Mastery of the moment,” dear friends, “is mastery over life.” So as this venerable university now sends you forth into the world, your lives will be filled with countless moments. You ability to decide in those moments – to opt for what is coherent, true, good, and beautiful – will enable you to shine as bright lights in a world that sometimes seems in danger of being overcome by the darkness of falsehood and the duplicity of vice.

So, on this Mother’s Day, we turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and our Mother, the Patroness of this University. Her golden statue has looked down on you for these four years and she will always pray with you and for you, wherever you go, whatever you do.

In every circumstance of her life, in every single moment, Mary chose what was good and true and beautiful – and conceived in her womb the Author of goodness, truth and beauty. In the Hail Mary we ask her intercession at those two critical points in our life: now – the present moment – and at the hour of our death.

So on this day of joy let us call upon Our Lady and ask her intercession for all of you. She knew better than anyone else that “Mastery of the moment is mastery over life.”

Hail Mary ...

Thank you and congratulations, Class of 2013!