Page calls on graduates to create a better future

Author: Dennis K. Brown


Justice Alan Pagethe former Notre Dame and professional football star and now a member of the Minnesota Supreme Courtspoke Sunday to the Universitys Class of 2004 as one concerned citizen to others, talking about hope and therole that each of us can play in making the future better and brighter.p. Speaking to a crowd of some 14,000, including more than 2,800 graduates, at the Joyce Center, Page used Notre Dames 159th Commencement exercises as a forum to draw particular attention to the importance of developing character and fighting racism.p. Character is not something we are born with, nor does it develop automaticallyit must be consciously developed,he said.p. Job title, past accomplishments, race, gender and other external attributes have nothing to do with our personal character, he added.p. The fact that I was once considered a great football player or that I am a Supreme Court Justice doesnt, by itself, mean that I am a man of good character,he said.The fact that the color of my skin is different from yours doesnt mean I am not a man of good character. The fact that your language or religion is different from mine doesnt make either one of our characters better or worse. The outward differences, which identify us as individuals, do not define the content of our character.p. Consequently, he said,People of character take responsibility for who they are and for what they do …. (and) each one of us has an obligation to act in a way that builds, rather than diminishes, our character and the character of those around us.p. On the day before the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Courts landmark civil rights decision Brown vs. Board of Education, Page said that, whilesome things have changed for the better in the last 50 years,much work remains. He took special note of problems in the criminal justice system, whichat times seems more interested in putting people of color in jail than helping them succeed.p. He asked:Is there active prejudice at work? Sometimes there is, sometimes not. Some of the policies and practices that lead to over-representation in our prison population and under-representation virtually everywhere else for people of color stem from well-intentioned, if naïve, efforts to demonstration that our society is ‘color blind.Other polices and practices seem to result more from indifference than from outright prejudice. But whatever the reason, the outcome remains the same. While we may be better at covering up our biases, making bias harder to detect is not the same as making it go away.p. Page said that in a world radically changed by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the need for understanding and acceptance of people different from ourselves never has been greater.p. If we as a nation, and as a world of nations, are going to survive, we need to learn to live with one another,he said.p. For all Notre Dame graduates, including himself, he said,We have an obligation to work to improve the lot of those who are less fortunate. Grabbing what we want for ourselves and ignoring everyone else is simply not acceptable. We can use the magic of this place to do good.p. When we put our hearts, our minds and our bodies to the task, when we act, we can improve the lives of those less fortunate, change both our personal and our national character, and begin to address the seemingly intractable problems of race. In the process, we can change the future.p. Quoting from the childrens bookThe Loraxby Dr. Seuss, Page concluded:Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. Its not.p. Previously the recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree from Notre Dame, Page was honored this year with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.p. The 2004 valedictorian, English major Sarah Streicher of Toledo, Ohio, lamented that, unlike University promotional material sent to her as an incoming freshman, there is no such material available now as she and her classmates enter the real world.p. Ive resolved not to end this address without sounding the traditional valedictory cry, so let this be said: Go boldly forth, and make the real world a better place. However, I feel less confident about telling you how to make that impact. If the real world ever did issue a handbook, thats the kind of information it would provide. Granted, it would be a lot less precise than Notre Dames …. But if I had to guess at the golden words on its cover, Id bet they read something like this: Come what will, do not let the uncertainty stop you from pursuing all of the many undertakings to which you feel called.p. Streicher, who compiled a 3.99 grade point average, added that she and her classmates must not let the lack of a future blueprint stop them from making a difference.p. We must vow not to let graduation be the end of our formative years,she said.If we make that promise to ourselves, when we contact each other years from now to exchange our life stories, these will be real, rich and multi-dimensional.p. The Laetare Medal, Notre Dames highest honor and the most prestigious award given to American Catholics, was presented to Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, president and treasurer of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Boston.p. The citation to Father Hehir read in part:In admiration of your commitment to Christs peace, in gratitude for your devotion to Gods people, and in confidence that the Spirit will continue to renew your good work, the University of Notre Dame is pleased to confer (upon him) its highest honor.p. Saying the award was atreasured honor from this special place,Father Hehir added that his life has beenenriched intellectually, spiritually and morallyon the scores of occasions on which he has visited Notre Dame during the past 30 years.p. In his closing remarks, Rev. Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C., president of the University, said to the graduates,You are Domers foreverand with thatcomes a responsibility in the way you live.p. He encouraged them to beopen to surprise and changeand to keep a place for God in their lives.p. In addition to Page, other honorary degree recipients recognized at the ceremony were: Judge José A. Cabranes; Sister Anita de Luna, MCDP, assistant professor of religious studies at Our Lady of the Lake University; John L. Hennessy, president of Stanford University; Elaine Kim, professor of Asian American studies at the University of California, Berkeley; Terrence McGlinn, University trustee; Rev. Jerome Murphy-OConnor, professor at the École Biblique et Archeologique Francaise; Homer Neal, high energy physicist at the University of Michigan; James Sinegal, founder, president and chief executive officer of Costco Wholesale Corp.; Roxanne Spillett, president of Boys&Girls Clubs of America; and Peter Tannock, vice chancellor of the University of Notre Dame Australia.

Link to Justice Page’s Commencement address p. Link to Sarah Streicher’s valedictory p.

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