President Vincent D. Rougeau’s Remarks

2023 Commencement Remarks
May 26, 2023

Class of 2023, four years ago you arrived at Holy Cross filled with excitement, faith and a little uncertainty. As you prepare to embark on journeys that will undoubtedly change the world, I am sure that you are feeling similar emotions.

As first-year students, you said farewell to the familiar and started anew surrounded by strangers. They had different lived experiences and hailed from various states, regions and countries. Today, though, you assemble as one: the class of 2023. You’ve become classmates, teammates, friends, partners and soulmates.

How do these bonds form? We arrive as individuals but over time become woven into the fabric of Holy Cross’ ever-growing family. I know this from my own experiences over the past two years. I will treasure the opportunities I had to get to know so many of you in a deeper and more personal way. One of those ways was a sharing meals with so many of you that created moments where we had real opportunities to talk – at dinners at my home, at celebrations for our athletic teams and student-athletes, at cultural events and lectures like Noche Latina and Hanify-Howland, and at recognitions of your achievements as scholars, fellows and community leaders. 

We come from different backgrounds and beliefs. We have interests that don’t always align, and yet we find ourselves sharing Adirondack chairs on the Hoval; commiserating each Tuesday night at The Pub; venturing into Worcester to help build playgrounds; or batting a small yellow ball onto a circular net during our free time – before you all leave, someone must teach me how to play Spikeball. 

The unifying force behind it is the Jesuit and liberal arts traditions at Holy Cross. A group of athletes recently told me the Prior Performing Arts Center is their favorite building on campus. They’re not alone in this sentiment but beyond the architecture or the works of art, their appreciation came from the people within it. The gravity of the center pulled together classmates they normally wouldn’t interact with. The experiences prompted new ways of looking not only at others but at themselves. Opportunities emerge when a person reflects something to us we never would have encountered ourselves. The PAC, like every building on Mount St. James, acts as an incubator of friendships, providing a safe haven for individuals to leave their comfort zone and discover new passions. 

A professor shared a similar experience with me. She invited her students to attend an evening of selections from the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, “Omar”. Her invitation was met with eye rolls and sighs. Hours later, during a post-performance Q and A, the same students described the event as transformative. 

That is the gift of Holy Cross beyond academic excellence. We erase boundaries and borders entrenched in our lives and seek to build bridges through shared experiences and dialogues. We open doors to destinations not previously known. We draw strength from our unique qualities that bring us closer. 

The world you’re entering is one often painted as divisive and polarizing. Look beyond the walls others build. Reject them as permanent fixtures in our society. Instead, be the leaders that promote and foster inclusivity.  

Your generation is not blind to the problems we face. Climate change, racism, gun violence, the global pandemic, and a fragile democracy are intertwined with your most formative years. Yet you persevered, together. Those hurdles only bolstered your resolve to leave the world in better shape than you found it.

It’s an onerous task and one that calls for unification. Just as you did four years ago, seek the support of others. Live what you learned at Holy Cross. Create spaces that blur the boundaries between us. Inspiration and opportunity may come from someone very different than you. 

So, as you leave us today, do so embracing one another. Embody the strength you’ve gained through your differences. Carry the Jesuit ideals of compassion, understanding, and empathy with you. Don’t let the unknown scare you. Instead, pursue it. Even a small spark can ignite a fiery passion within you that will alter not only your life but others around you. 

There is little doubt in the change you’ll stir in communities across the globe once you leave Holy Cross. Remember, success is a journey mixed with experimentation, making choices and serendipity. 

Class of 2023, we’ll miss you. We are incredibly proud of you. Your Holy Cross family is excited to see what the future brings you and all that you will bring to the world.