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Winona Undergraduate Commencement Address

Delivered May 9, 2009 on the Winona campus

Brother William Mann, FSC

I want you to know how delighted I am for you today. Feelings of joy and admiration well up in me as I stand before you as witness to what you have accomplished. It really is from my heart that I offer you our most sincere congratulations and best wishes.

As I spent time informally these past few days with any number of graduating seniors, it was clear that you are concerned about a future that seems, for all of us, a bit uncertain. I found myself thinking of one of my nieces, who not so long ago brought my attention to the song “Angels among Us” by Alabama. This is a song about a man, who as a youngster was one evening lost and terribly frightened, unable to find his way back home. He believed that someone met him. A kindly stranger came up to him and took him, as it were, by the hand and led him home. Even though no one else admits to having seen the person, he remains convinced – even to this day – that there are angels among us.

As she shared that story, that song with me, I found myself thinking of a story about the Castle Sant’Angelo in the city of Rome. This is the big circular fortress right near the Vatican, once the tomb of the Emperor Hadrian. The story goes that centuries ago during a time of the great plague, the Pope led the people on procession from the Basilica of Saint John Lateran on one side of the city to the Basilica of Saint Peter on the other side. He was interceding and pleading with God when over the tomb of Hadrian was seen a great light. The Archangel Michael – the champion, protector, and defender of the heavenly host – appeared as a sign, or so the story goes.

Now I don’t know if they actually saw the great Holy Angel. But I do believe that there was probably something or someone – some reminder, some inspiration – that gave hope, that assured them that they were not alone. Things would get better. They had not only what it took to get through this, but they were themselves going together, capable and confident, in the loving care and protection of God and of one another toward a new tomorrow.

As a Brother and as a Lasallian, I believe with Saint John Baptist de La Salle that there are angels among us, visible angels – parents, guardians, loved ones, teachers, strangers, friends – people God puts into our lives to inspire and shine like light in the moments of greatest need. And I invite you, as graduates of this Lasallian Catholic university, to commit to be both inspiration and light in the lives of others. Make a difference in the lives of others. Help make a difference in our world.

Lay claim to your own educational accomplishments, the wisdom and the competence evidenced and publically witnessed and proclaimed today by us as you graduate from Saint Mary’s University. But know that with ownership comes opportunity, and with education comes responsibility, and with the accumulation of experience and competence and talent and wisdom comes the awesome responsibility to share with others what you have received. You must become, as it were, the “rich man” of the gospel parable of the talents, the one who intentionally and hopefully uses wisely the gifts received. Be the one who invests in others the gifts and talents and learning accumulated, sharing joyfully and re-investing all that we have and all that we are in the well-being of others, so that they, too, “might have life and have it in abundance” (Jn 10:10). You must be the one who invests in the lives of those with whom you work and serve, of loved ones at home and in community, of friends, perhaps even strangers, in your sphere of influence who find themselves poor in talent or lacking in opportunity.

Strive as educated graduates of our Lasallian institution of higher education – well-informed, clear-thinking, faith-filled, morally upright, compassionate, just, entrepreneurially creative, and socially responsible citizens – to guarantee that no member of society should ever believe that they have been forgotten, left out, or left behind.

Invest professionally and emotionally and intellectually and spiritually in others. Give them a chance to know what you know, to rejoice in the glow of success because somebody – you – reached out in compassion, in joy, and in solidarity and gave them an opportunity to be successful.

And so, on this most significant day – a day of discovery and new beginnings – as you walk through our doors, through the portal between yesterday and tomorrow I want you to know that Saint Mary’s University has confidence in you. We believe that it is ordinary people – just like you – who have the capacity to make our world a better place. We know what you are capable of, and we have great confidence in your determination and your ability to make a difference in our world by sharing lavishly and joyfully the abilities and abundant talent you have for the common good of all.

Therefore, in the name of all of the people of Saint Mary’s University, I offer my most sincere congratulations. We are proud of you and delight that you are part of us. God bless and protect you. God bless your families and your loved ones. God bless and protect Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota!