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President Vincent D. Rougeau’s remarks

2022 Commencement Remarks
May 27, 2022

As prepared

Graduates of the Class of 2022, I invite you now to stand, turn to the audience, find your families, and give them a hearty round of applause to thank them for supporting you on this magnificent journey. 

Thank you and please be seated.

My fellow Crusaders, before I arrived at Holy Cross this past July, I had heard many times about a time-honored College tradition—the holding of doors for others.

Now, I have worked at Catholic universities before. I have worked at Jesuit institutions before. And each campus offered an impressive assortment of doors—the vast majority of which opened.

So I thought, what exactly was everyone talking about?

And then I came to Holy Cross. On my very first day, I watched a student, on campus for a summer research project, wait nearly a full minute for me to traverse the brick pathway leading to Hogan. She held the door, enthusiastically introduced herself, and sprinted off. 

Since those early days, you’ve held open the heavy wooden doors leading to Fenwick Porch; the sleek glass portals at the Jo, and the towering gateways to St. Joseph Memorial Chapel.

You’ve wedged your arms into elevator doors to pry them open, shunning the “open doors” button on the inside panel that, frankly, no one ever remembers is there.

You’ve even held open the silver-framed doors leading into Smith, just outside Rehm Library. And those doors are automated! You just give them a small tug and they spring open, and remain that way for some time. And yet … you still hold.

Now why this curious obsession with holding doors at Holy Cross? I’ve thought about this for nearly a year now. I’ll give you three observations, in less than eight minutes, so we can get on with the program. 

The first is good manners. Yes, it’s as simple as that; our Holy Cross community is unfailingly polite.

Four years ago, armed with impressive academic resumes and sterling teacher recommendation, you had choices as to where you would attend college. And you chose Holy Cross. 

Of course, you valued close faculty-student mentoring, the opportunity to do complex research, or participate in our acclaimed study abroad programs. Perhaps you were recruited to play Division I sports, or captivated by SPUD, drama or debate. But you also felt a kinship when you first arrived on campus or visited virtually. These were your people. Here, amiability is valued. You respect each other in class, thank your professors, and greet the dining and custodial staff by name. You certainly made me feel at home and for that I am most grateful (and, like you, I’m eternally glad I chose Holy Cross).

As you begin your professional lives, continue to seek out those who are charitable and kind; and who treat you, and others, in the manner that you deserve and demand. Reject the notion that you need to be selfish to get ahead. You don’t, and it’s a lesson you’ve already learned at Holy Cross.

The second observation is that holding the door represents a moment of uncomplicated humanity. There is you and there is another, and behind them, perhaps another. It’s a chain of connectedness that links us in one seamless and benevolent act. I may offer a “thank you;” you may say “you’re welcome.” Some days we won’t exchange words, but perhaps make eye contact. And some days we won’t do either, yet we will value that we are together, in this shared space, for this one fleeting moment.

The world is a particularly complicated place, for reasons you don’t need me to enumerate. But how much of it is caused by our failure as a society to see one another as equals? As cogs in a shared humanity focused on the common good? 

At Holy Cross, you’ve never lost your interconnectedness, even when the pandemic tried to steal it from you. Sent home, unceremoniously midway through your academic careers, you found new ways to learn, volunteer and cohere behind causes that matter to you. Throughout your four years, you sustained great loss and comforted one another through shared grief. You’ve been classmates, soulmates, partners and friends—giving and taking from one another in equal measure.

Take this glorious spirit of reciprocity with you when you leave us. Remember our Jesuit values to be people for and with others, cultivate a new community of altruists, and show others what it means to persevere with generosity, optimism and humanity. 

My last observation is that every person who holds a door has their gaze simultaneously focused on what lies ahead, and what lies behind. It’s a unique vantage point from which we can see the failures of yesterday, the needs of today, and the promise of tomorrow.

 

Graduates, you will leave this arena with a bachelor’s degree from one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the nation. You are nimble, gifted and prepared. You can stroll confidently into your future, with nary a glance backwards. 

But please don’t. Rather, continue to put yourself at the epicenter of this messy, complicated, wonderful world we all share. Identify problems that trouble you—poverty, racism, war, climate change, gun violence, political infighting, or health inequities—and get to work. Lead, as you are destined to do, by inviting others on your journey. Continue to compromise, take risks, celebrate triumphs, and apologize when you are wrong. 

Embrace your Faith—in God, in progress, and in humankind. Laugh heartily and cry freely and be equally adept at consoling and receiving consolation. Never lose sight of the marginalized—those among us who desperately need your courage, wisdom and compassion. And from whom you will always learn. Continue to be the people you were at Holy Cross. 

Graduates, we are proud of you. We will miss you. Come back and see us; our doors will forever remain open to you. 

And above all, as Dr. Abraham Verghese wrote in his critically acclaimed novel Cutting for Stone, “make something beautiful of your life.”

Thank you, God Bless and Godspeed.