Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ken Neal - Commencement Speech
 St. Gregory's University
Approximately May 1991

Parents, faculty, administration, (Dr. Carmen Notaro) friends, honored guests, and students.
What an honor it is to be here with Tulsans like Henry Zarrow.

Bishop Slattery: I don't believe you can possibly know what a thrill  it is to have you introduce me----And you read what I wrote so well.

I fear that the bishop's introduction will be the high point of my talk. I would probably be ahead to simply say thank you and sit down. But don't get your hopes up.

You might think you are leaving St. Gregory's. But the truth is, you can't.

The good brothers here have grasped you in ways that you do not yet comprehend. And it is my judgment, knowing something of the nature of St. Gregory's and the men and women who run it and teach you, that this is a good thing.

You will find yourselves seized by the values that were put into you at St. Gregory's at the strangest times; you will remember things you learned here that you can not now bring to mind.

I am not talking only of knowledge gained from the classroom; in fact, I suspect that this might be the least important aspect of your education here.

One of my college professors once told me that the purpose of a college education was not to give one knowledge but to teach him where to go to find knowledge.

That was true 30 years ago but it is even more true today with the body of knowledge growing exponentially. Leonardo DaVinci might have been the last man to know everything that was known in his day.

No one can know everything that is known; no one can carry around all the knowledge that one needs in one's head. This has been true for many generations; in the computer age, the most useful knowledge is how to gain access to the total body of knowledge.

You leave St. Gregory's to travel many different paths, but you all share this: graduation from St.  Gregory's is not the end of learning for any of you.  You have only made a start on a lifetime of learning.

And St. Gregory's should have taught you how to learn. If it did, it succeeded in the secular goal of the institution.

But I know that St. Gregory's has insinuated more than classroom learning into you, perhaps while you were
unsuspecting, even innocent.

I have no doubt that the outward trappings of the faith that the brothers and instructors here have shown you has often has fallen on deaf ears; but I also have no doubt that the
deeper, more subtle values and attitudes they have demonstrated have become a part of your life with your hardly realizing it.

You will come to realize more and more as the years go by, and you will come to know that you were very fortunate to have had the St. Gregory's experience.

I say this not as a Roman Catholic but one who reveres the the common values of all the great religions as the
civilizing force of the past and the hope of the future.

Permit an aging idealist to paraphrase scripture to you. Not to prove some mystical theological point. Not to validate some religious theory. But to suggest practical application of the knowledge and the values you have obtained here.

To whom much is given, much is required. This is perhaps more curse than comfort.

It is the burden under which religious men and women of tremendous ability always labor, for whether it is learned from the Bible or elsewhere, it is a fundamental truth.

It is difficult not to see one's obligations and responsibility when one is blessed with intellect, education
and good fortune.

I leave it to you to decide what is to be required of you in what I hope will be long and happy lives ahead of you. I know that your education and your sense of duty will lead you to assume duties and responsibilities at which I could only guess.

Having attended a few exercises like this one before, I'm fully aware of my role here today. It is not to dispense great knowledge, words of wisdom, even an entertaining time. When Father Mike Roethler called to ask me to be your speaker, I stalled a bit and asked him what I could possibly say that would be of importance. Mike gave me some good advice that I'm trying to follow: He said, "I've heard a lot
of commencement addresses and I've never heard a bad short one."

With all due respect to the clergy and the faithful here today, my role is to simply put the benediction on your
efforts; to pronounce an Amen to your accomplishments here.

I do not flatter myself that what I say here will have much to do with your success in life.

But luckily, that is not my task. That job, while not complete, has already been started in your years here at St. Gregory.

Because you have been captured; you have been influenced; you have been indelibly imprinted.

And as the years draw on, you will realize how deeply you have been influenced by your teachers, your mentors, your peers, all that has gone into the St. Gregory's experience.

After all, they had 1,500 years of experience to bring to bear on you. All the knowledge, religious devotion and experience since the time of St. Benedict was on St. Gregory's side. Against that, you simply had to learn. You had no choice, you were over matched.

In my own experience, there were teachers who made the special connection with me. I did not fully realize the lasting impact on my life at the time. But as the years draw on, I am more and more aware of their impact on me.

I hope that this observation is of some value to the graduates here today and to those who taught them.

Graduates, my own experience tells me that you are not fully realize how lucky you are.

Like me, you will only fully realize it as the years draw on. But you will realize it. You will.

Because St. Gregory's is the kind of place that it is, your realization will fill you with pleasure and gratitude.

And what you have received here is a gift that will last a lifetime. There won't be many gifts like that; enjoy it and use it.

No comments:

Post a Comment