Fr. Jenkins, Archbishop Gudziak, Mrs. Sharon Lavigne, faculty and staff, and visitors: welcome to the University of Notre Dame and thank you for joining us here today to celebrate the Class of 2022. To my fellow graduates: welcome to the culmination of these last four years at Notre Dame. Today, we remember the moments that brought us here: the laughs, the challenges overcome, and the growth into who we are at this very moment. We celebrate all that is to come in the future and reflect on the lessons learned through our time here.
Class of 2022, I invite you to think back to one of the many football games we spent here in this very stadium. On this screen behind me, the words “Make Some Noise” shone brightly, calling us to give our strongest support to the Fighting Irish. We screamed from the top of our lungs and filled this stadium with a deafening roar of our small but mighty student body. Loud behavior like this is typically only welcomed in stadiums or arenas, but today, I push you to continue to make noise as we leave Notre Dame. As graduates of Our Lady’s University, we have a responsibility. A responsibility to use the power of our education to stand up for what we believe, to amplify the voices of those who go unheard, and to support one another as we pursue our hearts’ passions. These actions do not happen quietly.
Modeling those who have come before us, we have built up the Notre Dame community by speaking up for our beliefs. This year, for the first time in University history, we had a full day of no classes on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This change did not merely happen, but rather was the result of our student body—namely a student coalition led by Cassidy Ferrell and Eliza Smith—insisting that time be set aside for us to reflect on our nation’s history of inequality. Fifty years ago, Fr. Hesburgh spoke up and led the university to admit women to the undergraduate student body, recognizing education is not complete unless it embraces all perspectives, regardless of race, religion, status, and gender. What seems commonplace for us today only came about through radical steps against the status quo, the courage to raise one’s voice against an intimidating majority. That is making noise—taking a stand for your beliefs to better the world around us. As we enter our new roles after graduation, we are going to face challenges of new environments, new rules. It is easy to stay quiet, but I challenge you to bring attention to issues that need addressing. Notre Dame has equipped us with the tools to do so—to think critically, to question, to debate, to synthesize our knowledge with creativity and ethics. Draw on these lessons, and speak up for issues that matter.
As graduates of a Catholic institution, we are called not only to stand up for our own rights but to advocate for the vulnerable, to lift up the voices of those who do not have the same platform we do. We must recognize the inherent dignity in all of our lives and aim our education to elevate concerns beyond our own experience. In the summer of 2019, I traveled to Ghana to research healthcare accessibility for families with cerebral palsy. For two months, I went from home to home, conducting interviews with mothers on the challenges they faced in seeking care for their children. Initially, I was nervous: why would these families share anything, let alone their personal struggles, with me? To my surprise, I was met with intimate outpourings of the details and struggles that these families faced. Schools that refused to take their children, a reluctance to travel to the hospital due to social stigma, an inability to pay for treatment. When thinking about why I was met with such an open response, the answer became clear the more conversations I had: these stories had gone unheard, and this was these mothers’ chance to finally share the hardships they endured, with the hope that improvements can come. We published and presented our findings to the Regional Health Director and finally, the stories of these families were shared. As we have heard several times these past four years, “the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart.” Blessed Basil Moreau is saying that our education must be more than acquiring knowledge or becoming experts in our fields. It must look beyond ourselves and ask how can we best serve those around us? Using our influence as Notre Dame graduates to elevate the concerns of others is exactly what we are called to do, and we are no strangers to doing so—through Show Some Skin highlighting the unspoken experiences on our campus, by advocating for just wages for our University workers, through research on vulnerable populations. The Catholic nature of Notre Dame has pushed us to universally embrace our neighbors and put solidarity into action. Lift up and create space for the voices of others.
And finally, what brings us here today: to use our voices to support one another and to celebrate. Think again of us here in this stadium last fall, singing our alma mater. Notre Dame, Our Mother; Tender, strong, & true. Last fall, thousands of students, fans and alums donned the words “Strong & True” on their chests as they wore Notre Dame’s annual “The Shirt.” Having led the project, the words “Strong & True” hold deep significance to me and to our class. These are more than just words on a shirt. We have lived these words and embody their meaning.
We are strong. It would be an understatement to say that these past four years did not come without challenges. Whether it was dealing with our first failed exam, fighting against a polar vortex, deciphering our identities and values, or even finding a date to SYR—we have been challenged. As Notre Dame students, we are, by definition, driven and committed to the many roles we take on, sometimes to our own detriment. My sophomore year, I fell victim to this. Overcommitted, my days were dictated by my schedule: from meetings to class to lab to homework to emails—no time to just be. Life was starting to lose its color, and the Dome just didn’t seem to shine the way it used to. What raised me out of this rut was recognizing my personhood and need for connection. For me, that meant joining an intramural sports team, pushing the limit on how long it’s acceptable to sit in North Dining Hall with just the company of my friends, and daring to open up to people that life was not easy. For you, it may mean something completely different. We were even further reminded of our need for connection due to the unique hardship our class faced in the COVID-19 pandemic. Study abroad our junior year no longer involved travel to London or Singapore but instead became something very different: logging in to Zoom from the Embassy Suites on Eddy Street. Distance from our friends so close we call family became months of separation without a clear end in sight. Despite all these hardships, we persevered, and here we are today. How? We loved each other and this place. Not love as in the sentimental feeling in our chests, but love as the radical commitment to be there for each other in the good times and the bad. It is that love that allows us to be here today, that gave us strength through hardship. If I have learned anything these past four years, it is that relationships are at the core of our human experience, and they cannot be neglected. As we prepare to enter a world with heightened responsibilities where we once again will be separated by distance, I remind you of the strength that comes from a loving community.
Not only are we strong, but we have stood true to the values that Notre Dame has instilled in us. It would be hard to leave this school without asking the questions: What are my moral obligations? What makes my life meaningful? Should I practice religion? How do I choose what to believe? While we may not have these answers yet, we explored, lived, and learned with classmates from all over the world with different backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs. In encountering new perspectives, we have either challenged or strengthened previous beliefs, or changed them altogether. And guiding all of this is the idea that we have been educated as a whole person—mind, body, and spirit. No matter what was thrown at us, we have remained true to the Notre Dame education we have been blessed to receive. In the face of uncertainty, we served as the lifeblood of treasured traditions: the Keenan Revue, the Holy Half, Senior Week, the 100 (or 86) Days Dance, to name a few. If it were not for our class, these traditions could have been lost in 2019, but instead, they returned in full force for future classes to continue. We stood strong in the face of adversity and true to our ideals.
Today, we use our voices to celebrate all that we have and will accomplish. We did not get here alone. To Notre Dame, thank you for nurturing within us a sensitivity towards injustice and a concern for the common good. For providing us with a community where we can live and learn from one another, and question our roles within the larger scheme of life. To our faculty and staff, for revealing to us what a relentless pursuit of the truth looks like and igniting the fire of inquiry within us. For pushing us to think larger than what we previously believed was possible. To our families and friends—for all of the sacrifices and support that go unseen, for the love that fuels us in times of excitement and despair. Thank you all for supporting us on our journey to this point. You have witnessed us grow from the first-year students who were nervous for Welcome Weekend or to raise their hands in Debart 101 to agents of change, ready to serve the world as our education becomes service to justice.
We are entering a time filled with war, genocide, inequality, and hunger. It is not the time to be quiet. It is on us to stand up for our beliefs, to lift others’ voices, and to build community. Wear Notre Dame on your sleeves by letting your heart be filled with the passion to use your gifts for others. Dr. Nancy Michael, professor of neuroscience and mentor of mine, preaches that we are how we repeatedly spend our time. I hope you make time to find strength in your relationships, to live truth through your actions, and to be loud for what is important. Change does not occur with complacency. It requires vulnerability and the courage to speak up when you may not be asked to do so. Class of 2022, it has been an honor to learn and grow beside you. Time after time, you have instilled in me a faith in tomorrow as we work to be a collective force for good. Although we are about to embark on our separate paths, I know that our legacy will live on, strong and true. And so I ask you: What statements will you make? Whose voices will you amplify? What message will your work embody? Class of 2022, the world is listening. Let’s make some noise.