People of SU
Written by Marcom
July 13, 2015
As Seattle University continues to mourn William Sullivan, S.J., the remarks he shared at the 1996 commencement, his last as president, underscore how deeply he cared for the institution and its people.
My friends, I promise these words will be brief but I would like to take a few moments to say farewell. It was 20 years ago that I first stood here on this platform for a Seattle University Commencement. At that time, I was introduced by Mr. (Robert) O'Brien, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. I expressed the observation that having traveled and lived throughout the United States and Europe during my life, I felt that I had come into Elliott Bay and dropped anchor. I didn't, of course, realize how long I would be at anchor; but now it is time to weigh anchor and put out to sea again.
When I look back over these last 20 years, there is an enormous sense of change: change in the campus, change in our curriculum, the addition of many programs, change in the facilities and the finances of the university. But most of all, what I see as I look around the Arena today and when I consider the past in my imagination, is a change in people.
We have had some 22,000 graduates and probably, counting those who have studied at the university during this time, maybe more than 30,000 students. We have had close to 1,000 faculty members, full and part-time; some 59 trustees with whom I have worked during this time; 19 vice presidents and somewhere around 25 deans.
This picture of a variety of people in service in the university raises for me the one question I want to touch on very briefly this afternoon. In that kaleidoscope of change, what is it that provides continuity? What is it that makes this the same Seattle University that celebrated its commencement on June 8, 1976? My answer to that is that there is a certain spirit and a certain tradition which animates the institution and that spirit is the Jesuit philosophy of education. It is one that is appropriated from the Jesuit tradition of spirituality, that was planted on Capitol Hill in the late 19th century , sustained and enhanced by generations of Jesuits and lay colleagues, and, I honestly think, has been revitalized during these last 20 years.
What is this tradition? For me it encompasses several things which are both very simple and very complicated. One, the Jesuit educational tradition is based upon a love of the human joined with a wonder at God's creation. It is truly a form of Christian humanism. It is one that prizes the religious dimension of human life, that cannot imagine how one could be truly educated without taking the religious dimension into account. It is a spirit that is committed to the growth of each and every person who is a member of the university community, and especially to growth in the use of freedom.
If there is one thing that is at the heart of the Jesuit vision, it is the use of our freedom for the glory of God and for the service of others; and this is why the vision of the university is summed up in that notion of the "growth of persons."
I believe that this tradition, particularly as it exists at Seattle University, includes a dedication to "access to excellence," to being an institution that provides opportunities to many who might not otherwise receive a university education. When I speak about this tradition, it is something that I see, and have seen, day after day, month after month, year after year in all of you.
To attend a senior speak-out is to listen to the voice of that tradition. To go to the Alumni Awards Banquet and listen to the responses of our alumni is to hear that voice. To read the essays, as I did recently, of the Sullivan Scholars commenting upon their year at the university, to read the letters and comments that many of you have kindly sent to me-all of these are a testimony to this tradition, which is at the basis of a humanistic, religious education without parallel.
I want to speak for just a moment to all of you graduates who are, as of today, alumni, to the trustees, regents and the Jesuits of the Arrupe community, and especially to the educators at the university, the faculty, administrators and staff.
You have heard me say, more than once, that this Jesuit ethos is part-the most valuable part-of the endowment of the university. This tradition, which is what provides continuity and distinctiveness to our education, is your responsibility. It is not the responsibility of any one individual, or even exclusively of the Jesuit community. It is your responsibility, trustees, regents, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni. If 20 years from today, a successor of mine, whether Jesuit or not, stands at this podium and hands out diplomas signifying what could legitimately and authentically be called a Jesuit education, it will be only because you have valued this tradition and have cared for it in the intervening years.
A tradition is a living thing. It is not something that you find in a museum or in an archeological dig. It is something that exists in laboratories, and in classrooms. It is something that exists in chapels and in residence halls. It is something that exists in people. To enhance this tradition, to make us more conscious of it, to make it more explicit and more vital in our midst, has truly been my primary goal and my special mission during these years at Seattle University , much more than anything relating to buildings or to finances.
This is my wish and my hope: that the care for that tradition and spirit will be in the hearts and minds of each one of you.
Let me conclude, if I may, with a prayer, which will also be our benediction. For this prayer I am making use of the words of St. Paul from Philippians, my very favorite passage in the writings of St. Paul.
So I say to you (as he said to his friends) whenever I shall think of you, I shall thank my God for you. Always making my prayer with joy. Mindful of your partnership from the first day until now, I am confident that the God who began this good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of the Lord. And this is my prayer for you: that your love may grow more and more, together with true knowledge and perfect judgment, so that you will always choose what is excellent for the greater honor and glory of God.
I end these remarks and this convocation and my presidency, saying, again with St. Paul: "You shall always be in my heart."
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