Commencement Speech December 19, 2008On behalf of the entire Duquesne University community, I congratulate today’s graduates. I also offer my thanks to the parents, grandparents, and spouses of our graduates. You gave them the love, discipline, and encouragement that made this day possible. I would ask that all the parents, grandparents, and spouses of our graduates stand now and accept our recognition and applause.
There is another group here who’s professional and personal efforts made this day possible, an intentional community of some of the best, most dedicated teacher-scholars in the world. I would ask the faculty to stand now and accept our gratitude and applause.
This is a season of transformations. As we prepare for Christmas and the holidays, our homes and our streets are filled with lights and decorations. Our inner life is transformed as well as this is a deeply religious time of year. We think of others in a special way in this season, expressing gratitude in the gifts we give and receive.
It is a special grace to add graduation to the celebrations of the season. Now whenever you prepare for Christmas and the holidays in the future, you will enjoy the memory of your graduation and your time at Duquesne.
And this is an appropriate link, because Duquesne University has a special connection to the profound event we celebrate at Christmas. That world-historic moment was made possible by an offer of the Holy Spirit and an acceptance by Mary to become the mother of Christ.
That remarkable offer and acceptance is celebrated in Duquesne’s colors of red and blue. Red is the color of the Holy Spirit. It is a core belief of Christianity that God is a Trinity—expressed to us as a Creator, a Savior, and an on-going Inspiration. That Inspiration, the Holy Spirit, prompts us toward excellence, offers us the possibility of virtue and goodness, and makes a better world a real option.
Our founding and sponsoring religious order is the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, and our full name is Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit. So we believe that this University and all of its vast achievements for more than five generations is the work of the Holy Spirit—operating through the best efforts of Spiritans, faculty, staff, students, and alums since 1878. We celebrate that conviction in our University’s red, the color of the Holy Spirit.
But the joy of Christmas is only possible because Mary responded affirmatively to the offer of the Holy Spirit—an offer to ignore the social norms of her time and status and to believe not just the improbable but also the unfathomable. Yet Mary said yes—and Christmas became a fact for all of us.
Mary’s affirmation is the epitome of all human acceptances of the promptings of the Holy Spirit. We believe that the Holy Spirit has been active on our Bluff since 1878—and is present now—but only through the affirmations of men and women who have said yes and continue to say yes to make Duquesne University a better place, generation after generation, year after year, day after day.
So our other color is blue, the color of Mary. For Duquesne University blue means yes to the Holy Spirit. It means affirmation of our mission, commitment to academic excellence, dedication to serve one another.
So your achievement today, your graduation, is a celebration of our colors of red and blue. Through Duquesne University, you were offered a deeper more insightful self in our classrooms; you were offered engagement and leadership in our activities; you were offered a more caring, sensitive self in the friendships that opened to you here.
And you said yes. You mastered our academic challenges and made the classroom your own; you engaged in Duquesne’s activities and then you led them; you opened yourself to new friends and you made them yours. You have affirmed in your choices and achievements what the Holy Spirit offered you through Duquesne University.
You also said yes to our Bluff and the profound sense of place that has been created here. Just steps from all the opportunities of downtown Pittsburgh, we are nonetheless on our Bluff a world apart. Over the years, a special sense of intimacy has grown here. We have achieved an academic community that is insistent on the very highest standards and yet also deeply concerned for the development of every person. We are a welcoming place, a community of mutual respect and civility, a place that cares for the mind, heart, and spirit. This is a gift we have inherited from the hard work of generations who came before us on our Bluff and who built this special culture. It can never be taken for granted; each class of students must make it their own. And you did. You said yes to this unique community and not only preserved it but improved it for those who will follow. Your years here made our Bluff an even better place and our University an even better academic community.
For all of this, we thank you and offer congratulations to each of you. And our wish for you is a life of red and blue. We hope that the Holy Spirit fills your life with opportunities to become an ever better you—and that you consistently say yes. Then, we will be increasingly proud of your accomplishments as alumni and you will become increasingly appreciative of what you have become through your Alma Mater. And we hope that as Christmas approaches every year that you will remember this special time and the red and blue meaning of Duquesne.
We are also coming to the end of another year. There were important successes for us in 2008. It was our 130 birthday, a fact we celebrated by the installation of the powerful artwork “The Spirit of Duquesne” in the Locust Circle. The Power Center opened this year with its remarkable recreational and social facilities. Its ground floor retail outlets have brought new life to the front door of the University. And the whole complex is tied into the heart of campus with a stunning skywalk. Our athletic programs were recertified this year by the NCAA, assuring us that they meet the very highest standards of compliance and academic performance. Standard and Poor’s gave us an A- bond rating with a positive outlook. Moody also gave us a AA rating. The IRS showed up unannounced to inspect our books but left empty handed, confirming that we comply with all the norms of our non-profit status. We successfully completed our first-ever Board approved 5 year Strategic Plan, building into our institution structures that will continue to improve Duquesne for years to come. We had our major ten-year visit by our whole university accrediting commission this year. We passed all their standards and received high praise for the extraordinary and pervasive sense of mission they discovered here. We opened the public phase of our capital fund-raising campaign and announced that we are more than half way to our goal of 150 million. As if to underscore all these positive developments, the US News and World Report, for the first time, rated Duquesne University in their top tier of national universities. And most importantly for our alums of a certain age, our men’s basketball team had a winning season—its first in 14 years.
As important as these particular accomplishments are, they are small advances in comparison to the larger project that is Duquesne University. Our most important achievement, year in and year out, is serving God by serving students. We do this by providing an education for the mind, heart, and spirit to students who affirm the value of that kind of education. Our mission is captured by the phrase on our University seal: "It is the Spirit who gives life." And it is the generations of Spiritans, faculty, students, staff, and alumni who have said and who continue to say yes to the life the Spirit gives. They have made and continue to make Duquesne University the special, successful, and nationally prominent place that we are.
Now you graduates take your place in the unbroken line of loyal, engaged alums. You can help insure success for the next generations of Duquesne alumni by remembering your Alma Mater in your prayers. Ours is fundamentally a spiritual enterprise. We believe that prayer makes a difference and we ask for yours.
You can also help us by helping Duquesne students who will follow you, and whose skills and aspirations will be shaped on our Bluff just as yours have been. You can help another generation of Duquesne students find internships and jobs where you work. You can help us to keep Duquesne affordable through scholarship assistance and general support of the University and its programs. Duquesne generations of the past did this for you; now it is your turn to do it for Duquesne generations of the future.
But the way you can help us most is to live your lives in accord with our University’s values. Take the education you have gained and apply it in the service of others. Duquesne serves God by serving students. You complete that mission as alums by using our service to you on behalf of others.
So Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and congratulations on all you have accomplished. You are now graduates of an outstanding University that has a hundred and thirty year, red and blue, history of successfully transforming students. Now go and transform our world. Say yes to the Spirit, and make the world a better place because you are a graduate of Duquesne University.