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Class of 2020 Commencement Address by Wendy Hoke, President

Posted on June 7, 2020 in Articles

Good evening, everyone. We have been blessed with a beautiful summer evening as we come together in community to celebrate.

On behalf of our Board of Directors, Ursuline Sisters and Faculty and Staff, congratulations to the Class of 2020. You made it. We took a turn that no one could have imagined when the year began last August. But we are here together as a community. And that is essential. I’d like to extend a warm welcome to all who are joining us via Livestream.

At the beginning of every school year, a theme begins to take shape in my mind that I think reflects the senior class. Throughout the year, I add things into a file that help to shape the message, bits of inspiration, random thoughts, readings, all used to inform my parting wish to our beloved graduates as they leave Beaumont.

Last September, I started that file for the Class of 2020 with a simple phrase: agape—love as an action. While I thought long and hard over the past few months about whether or not that still had meaning for this class, I decided that in fact it does, perhaps even more so.

Why? Because love as an action, ladies, is how we change the world.

The Greek’s called it Agape, the unconditional, self-sacrificing, and volitional love of God for humans through Jesus Christ. It’s the things you do, the actions you take when no one is watching.

The Latin translation is caritas, the Christian love of humankind, charity. That’s lovely, isn’t it? The Christian love of humankind. Our Catholic faith teaches us that charity is the thing that “binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Caritas is love. Charity is love.

Love is an action.

In her 4th Counsel, St. Angela Merici says, “Let your words and actions be directed by charity, accepting all things with patience; for it is by these two virtues in particular, that the forces of evil are conquered.”

Think about what she’s saying: love and charity can conquer evil. Love as an action.

St. Angela’s words reflect the scripture reading in first Corinthians, where we are taught that we can have all things: language, knowledge, faith, but without love we have nothing. Scripture also says:

Love is patient;

love is kind;

love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude.

It does not insist on its own way;

it is not irritable or resentful; 6

it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7

It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends.

Over the years of my adult life, I have found comfort in that reading.

The reason I chose this theme for you, Class of 2020, goes back to when I first met you, at the beginning of your sophomore year. You began with the ultimate test of a class — the tragic loss of one of your own sisters. Kayleigh Mooney’s death brought a pain and vulnerability unlike any you had known to that point in your young lives. But Kayleigh’s love, her perseverance and her gift for spreading light endures in our hearts forever. I will never again begin a school year without pausing and remembering Kayleigh and her impact on all of you, how you cared for one another and for the Mooney Family. And how the Mooney’s cared for you in return.

Love as an action.

But I also look at the broken world around us. We are not, as the Bible says, living in perfect harmony. We’re living through a deadly pandemic, which has led to economic uncertainty. People are isolated and lonely and fearful. Our collective home is suffering the effects of climate change. Black and brown people are marching in the streets saying, “See me. I matter.”

How do we express love as an action in these tumultuous times? We start within our own hearts, our own families and our community. The ripples from those actions—love as an action—can change the world.

Martin Luther King Junior spoke extensively on agape. He said, “Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community… It is a willingness to forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven to restore community…. If I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate,” he said, “I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in a broken community. I can only close the gap in a broken community by meeting hate with love. Agape is creative, understanding, redemptive, goodwill for all... An overflowing love that seeks nothing in return.”

Agape is the love of God operating in the human heart.”

It is, Class of 2020, what Jesus means when he says, love your enemies. You don’t have to like someone, but you love them because God loves them.

That is Love as an action.

You, Class of 2020, have already sacrificed out of love for humanity. You made the sacrifice of the end of your senior year to ensure the health and safety of each other, your families, and our community.

You are 76 of the 3.7 million high school seniors across the country who join you in that sacrifice. After all of this, YOU are prepared to change the world. Indeed, you already have.

Love as an action.

The word graduation comes from the Latin word, Gradus, which means to take a step toward something. You, Class of 2020, are taking a step toward an uncertain future. And that is true of every class before you. What is also true is that the future is your generation’s to shape. And we will be a stronger nation, a stronger world because of the actions you take. Actions that are driven and rooted in love for humanity. Love as an action.

Don’t run from the uncertainty. Life changes quickly and often, sometimes, as we learned in March, it changes in an instant. Your response to change is what matters. This pandemic will pass, but our individual and global challenge is how to take some of the lessons learned and apply them toward a better future for everyone. Love as an action.

Sports writer Jemele Hill describes uncertainty as “opportunity that has been marinating in anxiety.” I loved that so much I wrote it on a Post-it and keep it on my desk in my home office because as anxious as this pandemic has made me, leadership demands that I keep looking forward and looking for the opportunity even amid rampant ambiguity.

“Life will always be unpredictable and uncomfortable,” Hill says. “And sometimes that discomfort will be suffocating. But you’ll get through it, not because you have all the answers, but because you are wise and experienced enough to realize that you’re not supposed to.”

The same strength of character and imagination that got you this far, ladies, will sustain you moving forward. You’re four years at Beaumont have grounded you in the Ursuline values of leadership, relationships, community, social justice, lifelong learning, care for others. No one accomplishes big things by themselves. Indeed, you are here today because of the love and support of your families and friends, because of the guidance and expertise and support of teachers, coaches and faith leaders.

When we talk about building community wherever you go … those are not empty phrases. Hold them deep in your hearts. You, Class, are positioned to build that community that leads us to a better world — whether that’s toward a cure for a pandemic, a healthier planet, a bridge to a more equitable society, or countless other ways, small and large, that you will impact.

Love as an action.

Where young women learn to change the world. That’s a big statement, filled with the bold promise of big ideas. But you are equal to the task.

Born post 9/11, you entered this world as global citizens in a digital world. Beaumont has helped to nurture your voice and empower you to be an advocate. You have been accepted to more than 100 colleges and universities from Oregon to Massachusetts and from Michigan to Florida. Together, you 76 graduates have earned more than $10 million in merit-based scholarships and awards.

COVID-19 can never take away your achievements, your memories and your friendships forged over these past four years.

You are Phi Beta Kappa, IB Diploma Candidates, Blue Streaks forever. You are researchers, engineers and global scholars. You sang, danced and acted your way into our hearts forever. You moved our souls with your words, paintings and sketches.

Your intellect, drive, creativity and fierceness had us cheering you at every performance, contest, game, match and meet. You, ladies, are well-prepared.

As you step toward your future, think about how you will use your voice in service to others.

Ask yourselves: What will my essential service be? What really matters to me? How will I use what matters in service to myself, my community, and the world?

You don’t need to have all the answers today. And even when you do, those answers may change over time. Life is never a straight path forward. But you will come to learn what is essential. Love for others is essential. As former first lady and human rights activist Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The giving of love is an education in itself.”

Love as an action.

These past few months have been hard. I know. Don’t give up, Class of 2020. The world needs your clever brains, compassionate hearts and empowered voices. Join with the 7,000 living Beaumont alumnae, working in every imaginable field across the globe. Discover how you will live your life with agape at its center.

We are so proud of you—Mr. Beyer, Mrs. Bernot, your guidance counselors, teachers, parents, siblings, grandparents, the Ursuline Sisters and our board. You have filled our hearts with joy and hope for the future.

Step forward, Ladies, to change the world with agape in your hearts.

Congratulations, Class of 2020! I love you all. May God bless and keep you!