2012 Valedictory Address

By Mark Weyland '12

By Mark C.G. Weyland '12

Good morning Dr. Farmer, Bishop McManus, President Boroughs, Senior Vice President Vellaccio, Dean Austin, Dean Jarret, Members of the Board of Trustees, Honored Guests, Faculty and Staff, Parents, Relatives and Friends, Fellow Members of the Class of 2012,

Three years, eight months, twenty-three days (plus one leap day), and seventeen-and-a-half hours ago, at 5 PM on September 1, 2008, we gathered at our freshman convocation in St. Joseph Memorial Chapel, together as a class for the first time. Anxious, we sat among new faces we had never seen before. Each of us had been given a small stone upon entering, and we turned them over nervously in our hands as we learned about each other. We hailed from schools as far away as Hong Kong and as near as Worcester. We came from families that had never sent a child to college and from families that traveled to America on the Mayflower. We had played concerts at Carnegie Hall and scaled mountains. Now, all of us had come together to climb another mountain — the one we affectionately call Mount Saint James.

As convocation drew to a close, Fr. Michael McFarland — our beloved, now former, President — invited each of us to come forward and stack the small stones at the altar. With them, we were asked to leave behind a burden that we hoped to give up, a challenge that we hoped to overcome, as we began our time on the Hill.

I cannot recall what I left with my rock, but thinking back, I already knew one struggle that would confront me in the coming years: stairs. As anyone who has spent five minutes here can tell you, the incline of Mount Saint James is steep enough to strain both lungs and limbs. Up stairs to Dinand, down stairs to Stein, up stairs to Hogan, down stairs to Williams, repeated daily and sometimes with the exhilarating bonus of powdery snow or glossy ice. For those of you unfamiliar with the daily endurance test our campus offers, imagine the following scenario I know all too well. While sitting in Cool Beans on upper campus sipping a good luck iced chai before a cryptography test, it hits you. The graphing calculator crucial to your success sits in your apartment near the bottom of the hill, but your test is all the way back up in O'Neill at the top of the hill in six minutes. Enough time to get there and back again, but not without arriving in a huff of heaving exhaustion. And there is, of course, always the risk of falling. Tread without care, and one minute you're on the steps up to Wheeler, and the next you're on your back with a whole new view of your dorm above you (this only happened to me twice).

Those granite steps so impressive to freshman eyes were only the beginning of our years of endeavor at the College of the Holy Cross. Behind beautiful brick walls, we reasoned through the steps of Euclidean proofs, we sketched out the steps of conceptual wall drawings, we adhered to the steps of the scientific method, we mapped out the steps of history's greatest warriors and peacemakers. Still, our school demanded more, insisting always that we consider the next step, that we ponder what it meant, what it means, to be men and women "of the Cross." It pushed us to transcend the limits of what we believed we knew, what we thought possible. It encouraged us to do nothing less than follow in the footsteps of the man whose own journey brought him to the summit of a different hill, under the shadow of the cross from which our school takes its name.

But what does this mission mean to us as students, as human beings? For those are no easy steps to follow.

As an art history major, I have been trained to look at a work of art, to recognize its form and its context, to understand how it speaks of its own historical moment and to consider how it affects me intellectually, emotionally, physically. Art, like physics, or literature, or economics, thus becomes a means to perceive and engage the world more fully. What we have studied, then, all of us, no matter what our majors, minors, concentrations, programs, is not, cannot be, merely an end unto itself. What we have come to understand is that the disciplines we have adopted, and the skills we have gained, must always be informed by a spirit of faith seeking understanding. What we have learned is a way of proceeding in a perilous and broken world that is desperately in need of us.

So, in these four years, we took our first steps together. We shared notes with our classmates and shared smiles with strangers. We passed the ball to our Best Buddies and passed the bread at Rachel's Table. We listened; we considered; we stood in solidarity. We marched for what is just, and we ran to raise money for a cure. We hammered nails into two-by-fours for Habitat for Humanity and hammered chemical structures into our best friend's brain for P-Chem exams. We left our dorm room doors open so friends could wander in, and we left the light on, so our roommate wouldn't stumble in the dark. We shared jokes, jackets, pretzels and stories.

Our education has taught us to think critically, to engage meaningfully, and to walk into the world intentionally. It has taught us to question and reminded us that it's okay to not always know the answer. Taught us that ambiguity is, in fact, a necessary condition for complex thought. Coaches and chaplains and counselors reminded us that it is vital to take time to think and to discern. Walking in the footsteps of our professors and our parents most of all, who labored for us more than we will ever know, we learned the value of inspiring joy in others without them knowing we were responsible for it. We learned that this will sometimes require hardship - and always require humility - on our part. We learned to accompany those who are different from ourselves, to speak for those who do not have a voice, to stand with those whom the world has overlooked.

Following the way of the Cross means not taking a single step into the world without discernment, without conviction, and, above all, without love. Thomas Aquinas once said, "Since one who loves another looks upon his friend as another self, he counts his friend's hurt as his own, so that he grieves for his friend's hurt as though he were hurt himself." The mission of Holy Cross, forming us into men and women for — and with — others, has impelled us to find the worth and dignity in each person we meet - whether they be students we tutored in Worcester, neighbors whose homes we helped build in New Orleans, or families we lived with in El Salvador. And in these encounters, we learned to find our own selves.

As different as we all are, in our faiths, politics, races, classes, genders, orientations, we share the call to follow the way into the world that Holy Cross has shown us.  Elie Wiesel reminds us that "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference." So let us not live indifferently. Let us live differently. Let us integrate ourselves into the world at its heart, taking care of ourselves even as we take care of those around us. Let us live with intelligence, humility, deliberation, courage, wonder, love.

Today, our new President, Fr. Philip Boroughs, handed us our diplomas. In doing so, he asked us to again leave something behind. This time, though, what we give up is more substantial than a stone. It is a pile of stones, or bricks to be precise — those bricks that stack up towards the sky in pointed towers that touch the clouds. This, the silhouette of our Holy Cross, is what we are called to leave behind; but it is not meant to be forgotten. It is meant to be our rock, a stone we can carry not with our hands, but in our hearts. The shadow of the Cross on the Hill will remain a constant reminder throughout our lives, calling us to live more fully and joyfully in the world. So step out now with clear eyes and full hearts toward what awaits beyond the gates of Mount Saint James. Worry no more about these stairs, for they have brought us to today, and to all that tomorrow promises.

Congratulations my friends. I wish you all sincere joy, lasting friendships, and abounding success. Thank you.


The valedictory speech is available in MP3 format for download to your computer or MP3 player.