Congressman Mark DeSaulnier Addresses SMC's Class of 2019

 

Mr. President, faculty, staff, family, friends, moms and dads, graduates of the Saint Mary’s Class of 2019…CONGRATULATIONS! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If, as Emerson said, “The Days Are Gods,” then today is Olympian—savor it, enjoy it, and hold onto its memory. I am grateful, honored, and astounded to be asked to offer a few words on this occasion. After all, I am a member of an institution that has a 9 percent approval rating. 

Forty-five years ago when I was at my commencement, Stephen King published his first book, Carrie; Patty Hearst had been kidnapped; and the Cleveland Indians did a 10 cent beer night promotion that led to them forfeiting that night’s game to the Texas Rangers because of multiple fights spilling onto the field. And the country was in a Constitutional Crisis because the president of the United States refused to turn over material to Congress. Richard Nixon resigned on August 8th. 

As I look out and wonder where you will be in 45 years and what your world will look like, I can’t help but reflect on the fact that President Donahue and I never would—in our wildest dreams—have imagined ourselves here in Moraga, California, in our roles today, when we left a very similar Catholic College (Holy Cross) on our life’s journey 45 to 50 years ago. But one thing I know is that the spiritual training we received and the call to serving others was with us every day since—as yours from Saint Mary’s will be with you. 

Four years ago, you entered Saint Mary’s to Learn; now you Leave to Serve! You enter into a world that deeply needs your service. It is a world divided and discordant. It is a world in transformation with unbelievable breakthroughs that could and should serve humankind and our planet—technology, travel, medical research. But it is a time of great risk of climate change, inequality, authoritarianism, housing costs, student debt, and decreasing opportunity.

All of this you must face in a world where the quality of information is both at your fingertips and used to manipulate you. To get you to be something you are not. In the world of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), FOBO (Fear of Better Offer), FOMOMO (Fear of the Mystery of Missing Out), FODA (Fear of Doing Anything), and my favorite, JOMO (Joy of Missing Out)—there is still the JOKO (Joy of Knowing Oneself). 

In another time of great anxiety, shortly before he was murdered, President Lincoln was told he was in danger of losing all of his friends because of his conciliatory attitude toward the South. Lincoln replied, “I desire to so conduct the affairs of the administration that if, at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on Earth, I shall have at least one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me.” 

Lincoln had survived a life marked with tragedy, turmoil, and depression. He overcame because of a deep spiritual persistence, intellectual intensity, and a hard won discovery of who he was. His friend deep down inside.

All of us have our own sometimes painful path to that friend. It will determine our fates. Your world needs you to find your friend deep down inside and hold onto that friend. Your success will lead you to, as Nietzsche said, amor fati, or “love of one's fate.” 

Jesus Christ says in the Gospel of Thomas, “When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known…But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.”

Dante was like Lincoln—a deeply reflective human, a great writer, and a politician. In my office in Washington is a quote that I purchased years ago in the Dante Museum in Florence. The museum is where his home was—not far from the Church of the Holy Cross where, to this day, sits Dante’s empty crypt. The quote is from the opening lines of The Divine Comedy. As I am sure you all know, it begins, “Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.”

Dante was a respected politician of Florence in a discordant time. He was betrayed, falsely accused, and banished. If not for this, he would not have written one of the great works of literature. He would be unknown to us today. There would be no Dante Hall. Like Lincoln five centuries later, he overcame because of spiritual persistence, intellectual intensity, and pursued the internal journey to discover his place in a discordant world. He told us “that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” 

You enter into such a world. You will be challenged to be someone you are not. Do not be neutral; search for and hold onto your friend. Lastly, I want to leave you with words from the Vatican Council II that I have carried with me since I graduated: “Human Freedom is often crippled when a man falls into extreme poverty just as it withers when he indulges in too many of life’s comforts and imprisons himself in a kind of splendid isolation.” 

Freedom acquires new strength by contrast when we consent to the unavoidable requirements of social life, take on the manifold demands of human partnership, and commit ourselves to the service of human community. 

Thank you, and congratulations!