Graduates, I now turn to you.
Life is a blank page,” someone once said to me. “You go to it to write one story, but you write another.” When you came to Notre Dame, the story you intended to write may have included a particular major, an uninterrupted string of successes, the image of someone who would be your best friend at school, Commencement on a sunny day in the stadium with a well-planned career ahead and, of course, a national championship in football.
The story you wrote, though, included failures as well as successes, the acceptance of a disappointing weakness as well as the discovery of unknown talents, unlikely but profound friendships, a job search in the worst economy in a century and, of course, a national championship in women’s basketball. Life is full of surprises, and the surprises make our story interesting—if we can embrace them.
You have heard of the greatest generation—those who grew up in the great depression of the 1930’s and, when they were about your age, dealt with the disruption and destruction of the Second World War. What set them up for greatness was the adversity in which they were reared and the challenges that shaped them. Hardship has a way of calling out what is highest and best in us.
Class of 2020, your story will include the massive social, economic and public health challenges that face us all. I’m sorry for these hardships, but they are your opportunity. You see, you cannot be the Fighting Irish if you have never had to fight through anything. You have your fight. Seize it.
My charge to you is this: make this story, the story you may not have intended to write, a tale of resilience and hope, of friendship and solidarity and of the kind of courage and persistence that conquers despair and disappointment.
Make it too a story of generosity and goodness. Whatever your hardships, someone else is suffering much more. Be a sister or brother to them. In your family life, your professional life and your spiritual life, every day of your life, never forget that your charge as a Notre Dame graduate is to be a force for good.
Keep alive the friendships you formed here, for they will provide joy, strength and comfort in years ahead. Support one another, and let others support you.
One of my true joys as President is to meet alumni of Notre Dame all around the world and hear of their remarkable accomplishments and of their dedicated service. I look forward to the time, years ahead, when I will meet you and feel proud that you are a graduate of Notre Dame. As graduates of the class of 2020, you will always have a special place in my heart, for you had to overcome special challenges.
Remember always that you are in our prayers here. Remember this too: wherever you go, and whatever happens in your life, you will always have a home at Notre Dame to renew your heart and refresh your spirit.