My First Commencement Speech

In all my prideful dreams, I don’t think I ever thought I would give a commencement speech. I’m still rather shocked at even being asked. I would hardly consider myself successful by any means, and I’m not all that inspirational either. Yet it did indeed happen. The Lord puts us in the most unexpected situations!

What an honor it was to be able to speak for an institution I personally respect so deeply. I homeschooled my daughters through the Kolbe Academy curriculum, so to be asked to speak for their day school graduation at Kolbe Trinity Prep was almost like a homecoming. How wonderful to be able to give back in some small way the blessings these people have given to me.

I wrote two speeches. When I went in, I asked the principal if I should give the hard one or the soft one. He said the deeper one, all the way. I love this place! Here it is for your pleasure…

Memento Mori.

Today is a kind of death. Every change in our lives is a small death, a change from one way of living and being to another. For your parents, I am sure they feel that change, that sense of loss most acutely today. For some of you, you move from your boisterous, fun filled lives of youth into a burgeoning adulthood that will be made manifest as you go through these next four years of high school. For others, this move is much more permanent as you sever the ties to your youth, and begin to make the move to be truly independent.

Remember death. This year, I buried two of my students, one from the high school I teach at, and one from the Newman Center at a college I minister to. Usually, this speech is supposed to be not unlike a motivational speech, a talk about just how successful you can be if you work hard enough, if you go out and follow your dreams. I cannot promise you that. Sometimes, we are simply not so lucky. Death is the only promise I can give.

I’m not trying to be morbid. I am hoping to give you wisdom. St. Thomas Aquinas said that wisdom is the view from the mountaintop, the ability to see all of your life, and how it is ordered. To look at each moment of your life with the whole of your life in mind. Part of that life that we must keep in mind is that end to which we all hope, to see truth and beauty not in the empty things of the world, but face to face as we see the world unfold, and true reality is made apparent to us all. If our lives are not ordered to that moment, then our lives truly lack the wisdom St. Thomas speaks of.

I should speak to you of success. I should speak of fulfilling your dreams, of grabbing life by the horns and living it to the fullest. If I do, I am scared you might make the mistake of thinking I mean the same thing the world means when they say it. I most certainly do not. I do believe in following your dreams, of living the fullest of lives, but only if your fullest dream is of eternal life in Christ, only if you can remember death, and thereby remember the purpose of this mortal journey.

There is so much that is about to change. This world is coated in sorrow, in loneliness, in defeat, in a culture of death. I do not wish that for you! I wish you to have peace, and joy, and life! I wish that it be full and abundant, I want you to live life filled to the brim. As you take these next steps, your have a choice before you. You can listen to the world, and it’s empty promises. You can believe that power, lust and money are what it’s all about. You can watch the music videos and actually believe that the stars are happy, despite the endless bouts of divorce and rehab you read in the tabloids. You can look at the fake and edited lives you see on instagram and facebook. You can listen to the world and believe that sin is what is really missing in your life.

Or, you can be happy. You can’t have both. I want you to be happy. I want you to live a life drenched in joy! I want you to wake up each morning and see the world anew, in the lives of your friends and family, in the lives of those in the world who do not yet know that they too are sons and daughters of God. I want you to be so full of life and peace that everyone who sees you cannot help but see what is missing in their own lives.

There is but one path to this kind of happiness, and that is a life of virtue. Don’t be afraid to be good! Don’t be afraid to be pure and holy! I don’t care if you are in elementary, high school, college, married, retired, it makes no difference! We are all children here. Be virtuous! Be holy! Be good! Don’t be good because you are supposed to, like it’s some rule you’re supposed to follow, be good because you know that is the only way you can be happy. Look at every moment of your life as you live it, and remember death.

There is a saying I sometimes hear my students say. You only live once. I think what they mean is you should do it now, even if you know it unwise, even if you know it will hurt you in the end, because, well, YOLO, right?

Let me tell you truly, they are very, very right, more right than they know. You do only live once. Make it a life worth living. Make it a happy life, make it a life filled with honor, loyalty, truth, respect, charity, hope, and every kind of love you can muster. Make your life count as one shining lamp amid so much darkness. You don’t really know just how much life you have.

So remember death! But not with sadness and sorrow, not with fear! Remember with hope! Live your whole life for THAT moment! Live your life ready to see your life’s meaning and purpose face to face! Live there with Him now! Long to be close to Him in prayer and most especially in His presence in the Eucharist! Pray every moment to our Blessed Mother that she help you on this brief journey to live a life worth living! Never tire of it, never succumb to fear. Never succumb to evil!

Don’t get me wrong! Life is not meant to be somber and droll, or an endless fight. Life is meant to be lived on the edge, full of risk and adventure. Life is a chance meeting between two people in a coffee shop that ends in romance, love and marriage. Life is the wind in your face as you sail the ocean for the first time. Life is the breathless gasp of a mountain vista you have climbed for hours to see. It is wild and dangerous, and if you don’t believe me, you will the first time you look into your child’s eyes the day she is born.

So I pray that today you live the full goodness of this day. I pray that you bask in the warmth of your family and friends. I pray that you look to your futures with brightness and hope. But most of all, I pray that you remember the light you are made for and live your life to it’s absolute full. That you live with wisdom, restraint, justice and courage. That you embrace goodness and holiness with all the might you can muster.

Memento Mori.

May God bless you and your families in all things, and may Mary’s guiding hand look after your every step. And thank you very much for letting me share this day with you, I appreciate it very much.

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