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A Valedictory Address

By Charles S. Meyer ’00

Charles S. Meyer ’00 and Fr. LaBranAs I look out today, my eyes see two thousand stories, two thousand struggles, and two thousand memories that have filled our four years together. If I had but the talent and time, I should like to recount some of those tales, amusing, heart-warming, enlightening. Yet, with only a few brief minutes at my summons, I would like to speak of something else I see before me, something that shines forward from each of you this day. It is something that fuses our two thousand memories into one. You see, my friends, when I gaze outwards today, I cannot help but marvel at the amazing gifts present in this Class of the Millennium. 

Before me this fine May morning I see an abundance of wonderful minds filled with new ideas, teeming with yet unasked questions. I recognize young men and women who have lit up the stage with shows such as Guys and Dolls, and Joseph. I see men and women whose athletic ability and tenacious hard work have carried the Holy Cross tradition to competitive venues throughout our nation. I behold volunteers whose concern for the city and world around them has challenged them to give hours of time and effort teaching, building, sharing and healing. I see jokesters and comedians whose light-hearted sensibilities have brought smiles and laughter to our darkest days. I see those in student government who have patiently listened and tirelessly worked to make our time on this hill a little more rewarding. I see writers whose gilded words have filled the columns of our Friday Crusader. I see musicians whose angelic concerts, a cappella evenings, Crossroads jams and choir music have delighted our ears and stirred our hearts with emotion. I see readers, greeters, liturgical coordinators and Eucharistic ministers who have inspirited our campus liturgies and welcomed us to worship. I see among you many quiet confidantes, R.A.s, roommates, and precious companions who were never too busy to patiently abide by a suffering friend. You hold such a vast and resplendent store of human gifts it electrifies my very soul, and it is of these gifts that I would like to speak to you today.

First, a story-a lesson in gifts-affectionately referred to in my family as the "Hillside Chat." I had just entered my second year at Regis High School, a fine Jesuit institution in Denver, Colo. Unlike many of my new friends at Regis, I hailed from a small country home in the mountains of Wyoming and not from one of the more fashionable areas so prevalent in Southeast Denver. It was the Saturday of the annual school clean-up where parents, students and Jesuits teamed up to spruce up campus grounds. Paying painfully little attention to the fact that my parents had just driven all the way from Wyoming to be with me and help my school, I was instead a bit taken aback and perhaps even embarrassed as I caught sight of my parents approaching in their old jeans and beat-up work shoes. Imagine, as I stood amidst this sea of new friends and their parents dressed in Nike's latest and greatest, here come my simple parents. Fulfilling my designation as a sophomore to a "T," I put my chagrin into words as I asked my mother, "what can you guys do here?" 

Well, before the question had cleared my lips, my mother grasped me by the arm and announced that we were to have a little conversation on the grassy incline nearby. My father immediately took cover. He had seen this look before! Now my mother is one of the kindest and most loving women I know. However, growing up poor on a farm in the Nebraska Sandhills also gave her a unique character. Translation: it made her tougher than nails. Thus, it is no surprise that the three essential lessons spoken by my mother that day remain crystal clear: 

  • Don't ever forget where you come from. 
  • You did not get here on your own. Many have been the sacrifices to help you on your journey. 
  • Be grateful.
Now we've assembled on the side of this Hill, Mount St. James. As we venture into the world, let us never forget where we come from . from our precious families whose steadfast love, encouragement and support have brought us to this very moment . from this place, this College on the Hill, where we have learned so much and grown together these past four years . from our Creator, the sustainer of human life who made it possible for us to rise out of bed full of life this very morning. Let us never forget that there are many whose sacrifices made this journey possible. Hold close memories of teachers, coaches and friends whose time and talents were freely given to better our lives. Let us be grateful and, in doing so, discover the joy and freedom that attend gratitude so closely. 

You see, my friends, both abundance and want live side by side in each of us, parallel realities. It is our free decision which of these inner fallow fields we will cultivate. When we sway our care from what is missing in our lives and taste true gratitude for the wealth of gifts present in our midst, we become different people. When we live with gratitude towards God and each other, our time, our talents and our love no longer belong to us in some nominal sense of ownership. Instead, all that is contained in our existence is experienced as gift. Charity is transformed from "dutiful largess" to a generous and free sharing of gifts out of a deep sense of gratitude. In fact, when we become truly grateful, we are irresistibly drawn to share the unique, awesome gifts that constitute our very lives. It is this understanding of gratitude that underlies Luke's gospel passage, "To whom much has been given, much is expected." It is also this understanding of gratitude that weaves the fabric of our Jesuit tradition and defines what it really means to become "men and women for others." Make no mistake, today is a celebration of our efforts, of the hard work we have all exerted in the past four years. Just as importantly, though, it is a celebration of gratitude for our gifts, gifts that made this occasion of thanksgiving possible.

A timeless Roman orator, Cicero by name, once declared, "Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues, but the parent of all others." These words express something special. It seems to me that in our society, we can often ease into an economic or existentialist mindset that tells us "you receive and are measured according to what you produce..you and your autonomy alone are responsible for who and what you become." This individualistic rhetoric works quite well in the economic realm. We can set wages equal to productivity and voilá, a labor market is born. Yet, regardless of how effective such a system of individualism and complete self-reliance first appears, in many essential quarters of our life it is simply not enough. Taken to extremes, this type of thinking leaves no room for thankfulness, no space for a sense of giftedness in our lives. Without this sense of gratitude, we are never free to share our gifts with others and, I'm afraid, unable to find fulfillment in our existence. 

To live lives permeated by gratitude does not mean forsaking personal effort, nor does it mean rejecting wonderful celebrations of personal human accomplishment as we do today. On the contrary, genuine gratitude allows us to recognize and respond more enduringly, more graciously, more efficaciously, and more creatively to the world around us. I am reminded of an inspiring prayer used by Fr. Ford on the Spiritual Exercises. "For all that has been, thanks, for all that is to come, yes!" 

How do we commit ourselves to a life of gratitude? The answer begins today. In the heart of our splendid celebration, take some time and think about all the ways you have been gifted in coming to Holy Cross, think of the sacrifices your family has made since you first started school, think of the relationships that have been gifts in your life. Say thank you. But don't stop there. Take five minutes each and every day you go forth as a human being on this earth, in the midst of trials and tribulations, in the midst of jubilation and accomplishment, to examine how you have been gifted. Bear in mind the beautiful gifts of your Holy Cross education, your family, and one another. Learn to live with hearts and hands of thanksgiving. 

I would like to end with a quote by Johannes Gaertner. "To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch heaven." 

My hope and sincere desire for each of you today, as you are sent forth past the gates of our beloved College on the Hill, is that you may always savor and relish the wonderful gifts you have been given, and, by cultivating gratitude, that deep sense of thanksgiving, may you be free to share your gifts each day in generous gratitude with all those around you. Through freely giving to others all that you have been given, my friends, may each of you touch heaven. Thank you all for being such meaningful gifts in my life. 

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