Having attended at least one — and sometimes two or three — commencement ceremonies every year for the past 30 years, and having heard at least one — and sometimes two or three (or four!) — speeches at each of those ceremonies, I consider myself something of a commencement speech connoisseur about what works, what doesn’t, what is memorable, and what isn’t.
I have heard government officials from President Bill Clinton to Chief Justice John Roberts, entertainers from Billy Joel to Aaron Sorkin, media mavens from Bob Woodruff to Donald New- house, and even from the master wordsmith himself, Bill Safire (twice).
Among all these speeches — including the six or eight speeches I myself have given — the single most compelling charge to graduating students came from civil rights leader and master orator Thomas Nathaniel Todd.
His charge — his challenge, in fact — is more fitting for graduates from the University of Dayton than any other college or university, in my opinion. And it is more fitting now than at any other time in our nation’s history.
At spring commencement, I shared his words as a challenge to the Class of 2018:
“Do not use your degree just to make a living. Use your degree to make a difference.”
This is the responsibility a UD diploma carries with it. Our alumni know that. Our alumni live that. As our newly minted graduates leave the comfort zone of campus, they’re entering a world hungry for their gifts.
Our world is hungry for innovative solutions for closing the growing gap between the rich and the poor.
Our world is hungry for imaginative ways for improving a public education system that fails too many students and families.
Our world is hungry for the responsible, moral harnessing of technology to improve our lives.
Our world is hungry for respectful dialogue and behavior, for hearts that reject bigotry, and eyes that look with empathy and compassion on all people as children of God.
As I looked out over the sea of joyous faces at the University of Dayton Arena, I saw more than the largest graduating class in our history.
I glimpsed the future.
After living and learning at our Catholic, Marianist university with its dedication to social justice, with its special focus on building community, with its commitment to preparing students to work across differences, these graduates will enter the world prepared to change it.
They will make more than just a living. They will make a difference.