This past weekend my wife and I attended (2) college graduation ceremonies. I apologize if I sound like the proud father but I guess that’s what I am. One of my sons graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York City and our oldest son received a PhD from Notre Dame.
It was quite hectic traveling to New York on Friday for the afternoon ceremony at Parsons and then catching a 6:00 a.m. flight to South Bend for the Graduate School ceremony held Saturday Morning. But it was definitely worth the trouble. Both of these sons (we have four of them) made us very proud and we feel blessed to have them. (And if the other two are reading this, or even if they’re not, I need to say that we are proud of them as well.)
At the commencement exercise for the entire university held Sunday afternoon at Note Dame, several distinguished guests were awarded honorary doctorate degrees and the commencement speaker was Cardinal Theodore McCarrick who is the Emeritus Arch Bishop of Washington DC. Since we are residents of the DC metro area we were very familiar with Cardinal McCarrick – his pleasant nature and his good heart – and he gave a wonderful address.
Another speaker was the actor Martin Sheen who was awarded Notre Dame’s highest honor called the Laetare Medal, given for his activism and for his contribution as an actor. Sheen is a somewhat controversial figure to some, because of his non-violent activism for peace and for his support of worker’s right. But without getting into taking sides on those issues, let me just say that his address was inspiring.
He told a short story that was particularly touching for me. He said it was an old Irish folk tale about a man who appeared at the gates of heaven asking to be admitted. St. Peter greeted him there and said, “Show me your scars” to which the man replied, “I have no scars.” Then Peter said, “What a shame. Was there nothing there worth fighting for?”
As we approach Memorial Day our thoughts will, of course, turn to those who have fought and died in battle so that we might live better lives. And I suppose for most of us, Memorial Day is not just to remember and honor fallen soldiers but to remember all those who came before us and paved the way for our lives today. I think of my own father who willingly joined the army in 1938 when he graduated from high school as a means of bettering himself and getting away from the limited opportunities in a small town during the final days of the Great Depression. Just four years later he found himself in the midst of a World War and he served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and France. In 1946 he took off the uniform and became a civilian citizen but he found ways to continue serving his country and his community even then for the next four decades. He has served his family as a good and honest man with a devotion to the principle of fairness for all.
Then I think of the countless others, some of them members of my family but most of them nameless and faceless to me, who have done so much to make my life better. And I realize that I owe a debt of gratitude that I will never be able to repay. But the least I can do is attempt to repay that debt and the best way to do that is with the life I live and with my willingness to fight for those things I think are right. And so I ask each of you, “What are the things that you think are worth fighting for?”