Marye Anne Fox Commencement Address

by Marye Anne Fox

It is a great privilege to speak today to the class who this year have earned graduate and professional degrees from one of the nation’s most outstanding universities, the University of Notre Dame.

It is highly probable that this is not your first commencement ceremony.Undoubtedly, you’ve had the chance to graduate, with pomp and circumstance, from pre-school, elementary school, middle school, high school, and/or an excellent undergraduate school.Even so, I’ll wager that you don’t remember more than snippets of the advice given at any of these impressive ceremonies.

So this is the last chance for most ofyou.Or at least most of your parents are hoping that this is their last ceremony, that it signals that you have fully attained the goals of a formal higher education and they are finished with tuition.

No, even though this is your last chance to assimilate formal words of wisdom, there will be no test today.You’ve been tested enough here and have shown mastery, or you wouldn’t be here today.You will, however, be tested elsewhere, in what is called real life.

Real life may be quite different from the life you’ve lived here.It is
more challenging, more ethnically diverse, less appreciative of the life of the mind. To the distress of some of you, you are likely to soon learn that although leprechauns may in fact exist, but they usually don’t present you with a pot of gold upon graduation, even in South Bend.

Today you will receive certification that you are indeed a graduate, in fact a special graduate, recognized as such by the faculty of one of the best universities anywhere.But what does it really mean to be a graduate?A quick perusal of the dictionary will show that there are two formal definitions of this term, graduate: either a recipient of a degree marking completion of studies; or a container divided into marked intervals used for measuring, as a graduated cylinder.Frankly, I think the second definition is more interesting.It asksus to think of the scholar as a vessel always pursuing truth and measuring her findings
against an ultimate standard.In this view, it requires the researcher to take in or generate new information, and to measure it against the ultimate standard, truth.

A quite appealing simile, it seems to me: this second definition
captures the skills you’ve assimilated in pursuing new knowledge so diligently over an extended period at Notre Dame. You’ve learned to identify an important problem, to collect data, and to determine whether or not it supports an intellectually inventive hyppothesis.In this pursuit of true knowledge, you were motivated by intellectual curiosity. Your work has increased the knowledge available to be used by society to improve the human condition, surely a substantial contribution.

So, that is my first piece of advice: don’t lose your intellectual
curiosity.It is the doorway to truth.And it will bring you personal dividends, as well as the conviction that the world is better off because of your contributions. Dorothy Parker, an American humorist once said, “The cure for boredom is curiosity.There is no cure for curiosity.”Once innoculated with intellectual curiosity, you will likely attain a broader perspective and a world vision, which will be essential for your future success.

My second admonition is that you keep the mid-Western work ethic you’ve acquired at Notre Dame.Working steadily and purposefullyalways pays off.Even a genius as brilliant as Beethoven had a motto:“Nulla dies sine linea,” No day without a written line.I am sure there were days in writing your dissertation in which your muse seemed to have abandoned you, when keystrokes would not come or if they did, seemed to produce
gibberish even to you, the world’s expert in that specific area.
Persist any way.A result too easily achieved is not likely to change the world.And as Ghandi said, it is a moral obligation to “become the change we want to see in the world.”

Finally, in your pursuit of truth, be prepared for adversity and
pushback and occasional failure, sometimes from the most unlikely
sources.“The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave,”
Thomas Jefferson taught us.In this highly globalized planet, we must be open to new levels of cultural understanding and steadfast conviction in the faith and principles you’ve learned here. In the community of scholars, truth and freedom must be actively pursued in a spirit of full adherence to the principles of disciplined inquiry.These are the values that have characterized your research work here.They will be at least equally important in your independent career.It must be our goal equally to promote freedom of inquiry among brother and sister scholars around the world.

In his recent visit with Pope Benedict, President Bush outlined this
challenge.He said, “In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this dictatorship of relativism. . . . In a world where some see freedom as simply the right to do as they wish, we need your message that true liberty requires us to live our freedom not just for ourselves, but in a spirit of mutual support.”

If you leave here carrying the joyful burdens of unbridaled curiosity, a strong, disciplined work ethic in the pursuit of truth, and full freedom of academic and religious inquiry, your Notre Dame education will have been more than an individual success.It will be a statement that your education here has prepared you to be a committed scholar.You will be able to work effectively in our remarkably diverse world,and you wil be able to contribute to the transforming of society to improve the quality of human life world-wide.

Congratulations.And Go Irish.

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