Your Excellency, and Chancellor of the University of Dallas, Most Reverend Bishop Edward J. Burns; Chair of the Board of Trustees Richard Husseini; your Excellency, Most Reverend Bishop Gregory Kelly; members of the Board of Trustees; President Jonathan J. Sanford; University Chaplain Father Joseph Paul Albin, OP; the esteemed faculty and staff of the University of Dallas; parents, grandparents, friends and other relatives; and last, but certainly not least, Baccalaureate candidates of the Constantin College of Liberal Arts and Post-Baccalaureate candidates of the Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts and the Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business class of 2022; what a joy it is to stand before you today.
And yet this is a sad day.
It is also a happy day. Most of all, it is a hope-filled day. One that is full of hope for the future.
I looked and did not come across any commencement addresses that began with a frank and honest acknowledgement that a college graduation has a strong component of sadness. The undergraduate university years are a very special time that many people cherish in their memories. You encounter so many new ideas and friends in those four years. It makes a major impact on your lives.
I have a vivid memory from my freshman orientation at UD. At one point we were told to look to the right and to the left. The speaker said statistically something like 25% of you have your future spouse sitting in this room… That made an impression, let me tell you!
The end of a time of intellectual, spiritual, and even romantic growth is tinged with sadness, but undergraduate and graduate studies are meant to be a transitional time and preparation for the rest of our lives. Speaking practically, the price of a college education is such that extending it by several years would be cost prohibitive. Some would say it already is!
Achieving a life goal makes this a very happy day. Our parents, families, and friends are filled with joy and pride at graduation and celebrate this milestone with us.
This Commencement propels you into the future and the wider world that is always in need of conversion. Yes, we live in troubled times. Look at the war in Ukraine and so many other tragedies, but strife and crises are a historical constant.
There is a frequently quoted lament that goes like this. Young people today have bad manners, contempt for authority, tyrannize their teachers, etc. etc. with the punch line that these are the words of Socrates from the 5th century BC. (Side note: a truly modern phenomenon is obsessive “fact checking.” Some in the audience may have already pulled out their smart phones and started Internet searches…) Fact checking will tell you that an early 20th century academic essay on ancient Greek education is the true source of the quotation and not Socrates.
What a shame since it points to a timeless truth. In most eras the older generations looked with fondness on the past, criticized the present, and feared what the future would bring.
You have no doubt guessed that I was a history major. I enrolled in most of the classes that Professor Thomas Jodziewicz offered. He was a real institution at UD from 1978-2020 and a great teacher. He was also faculty advisor for the athletic department and is still a fan of our teams.
When I first arrived on campus the bookstore was selling a t-shirt with a striking quote from Sports Illustrated magazine on the front. “The University of Dallas stands alone!” The back of the shirt had 0-83 Crusader basketball… I believe it remains the longest losing streak in US college sports history and was only broken after 86 consecutive losses.
There was a kind of perverse pride among many at the time that it proved UD was an intellectual institution and did not care about high achievement in sports. As a student-athlete for four years I begged to differ, but I do remember our tennis coach shaking his head in disbelief as the team spent the time driving to matches reading and discussing Aristotle or Aquinas.
The great thinkers of the Western intellectual and Catholic tradition are a major part of the excellence of the education at the University of Dallas. Going to Rome and Greece and walking in the very places where our civilization was created makes a deep impact, although some of my fellow Romers when we were in Athens seemed slightly more interested in Ouzo than Plato.
UD is serious about its Catholic identity and engaged in the great social and political debates of our time. The Crusaders for Life student pro-life organization was the largest club on campus in my day and I am proud to see it is still true. There is no more pressing human rights issue than the right to life of preborn children. Over the decades billions of abortions worldwide and over 63 million in the USA alone since 1973 are mind-boggling numbers.
Since the US Supreme Court imposed its Roe v. Wade ruling almost 50 years ago, America has suffered under a regime of extreme abortion-on demand that is only surpassed by a few other countries such as Communist China and North Korea. In all that time the Church and UD students and graduates have worked tirelessly to bring light into the darkness and hope to those making despairing choices. One survey of women who had abortions asked why they went through with the procedure? The number one answer was; I felt that I had no other choice… What a bitter irony since the preferred label of the pro-abortion movement is “pro-choice” and their derogatory term for pro-lifers is to call them “anti-choice.”
Elementary logic tells us that everyone makes choices, and ethics teaches one to choose good and avoid evil. It is meaningless to be “pro-choice” without indicating what the actual choices are. Of course, it does not suit the purposes of abortion advocates to provide the full content of their position which is that a pregnant mother should have the choice to have her innocent and defenseless preborn child killed for any reason all the way up to birth.
I love the slogans “The pro-life generation,” “My generation will end abortion,” and, best of all, “We need to make abortion not just illegal but unthinkable…”
I stood on the steps of the Supreme Court last year with thousands of others, and no doubt many UD graduates, when the oral arguments for the Dobbs case were heard. There was also a smaller group of abortion supporters, and they appeared angry and depressed. We were excited and hopeful. Very soon, we should know definitively if the Court will reverse Roe or not. There is every indication from unprecedented leaks to the press that it will be a sweeping pro-life ruling. It is certain, however, that state legislative efforts like those of my friend, classmate, and member of the UD Board of Trustees Tan Parker and the life-saving work of pro-life pregnancy resource centers will need to continue.
My UD education confirmed my pro-life upbringing and set me on the path to becoming president of The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC). I took my first course in bioethics at UD with Professor Janet Smith. We explored the fascinating world of Catholic bioethics following the wisdom of great thinkers like Pope Saint John Paul II and others.
The beauty of a liberal arts education is that it opens a world of possibilities rather than putting you on a conveyor belt to only one career. I went on to graduate school in history and Latin American Studies. This led me to coordinate charity medical missions to Guatemala and lobby at world conferences of the United Nations. I spent over twenty years travelling the world as a pro-life missionary for Human Life International and did a PhD in bioethics at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome.
At each stage in my life, I felt a Providential nudge when it was time to move on until I came to lead the NCBC, whose motto is Upholding the Dignity of the Human Person in Health Care and Biomedical Research since 1972. It is a critical mission since ethical confusion is a hallmark of our times, not just with abortion but also gender identity, care at the end of life, and so many other critical issues.
Bioethics will touch all our lives because we are in the midst of a biomedical revolution moving at almost warp speed, not just for new vaccines but also in genetics and many other areas.
The Human Genome was first sequenced in 2003. This was the fruit of a 13-year international megaproject started by the US Government but involving over 20 universities and scientific institutions in the USA and across the world. The estimated cost was $2.7 billion.
Only 19 years later, people curious about their ancestry or possible genetic conditions can spit in a tube, put it in the mail, and have their genome sequenced in about a week and for only a few hundred dollars…
The burning question is not what can be done with modern and future technology but what should be done? What is the best moral or ethical choice? At times, the answer is difficult to discern. It is concerning, however, that new technologies and scientific discoveries are often weaponized. The first major application of discoveries in nuclear physics was to create bombs.
The Church, ethics centers, and all people of good will must mobilize when threats to the future of humanity like germ-line gene editing are proposed or carried out by rogue scientists.
I would be honored if you supported the NCBC. You can sign up for our email newsletter, browse through our electronic resources, or take advantage of our free ethics consultation service by going to www.ncbcenter.org
If people had any doubt that bioethics would play an increasingly important role in our lives, the COVID-19 pandemic came along. It impacted everyone in many ways, but the class of 2022 was especially hard hit by these unprecedented years of medical, social, and travel restrictions.
I asked and was told that both you and the university exhibited extraordinary grace and willingness to serve and help one-another. UD matched students who wanted to be remote with professors and arranged for in-classroom students and teachers as well.
Dr Peter Hatlie, who directs UD’s Rome program, nicknamed the class of 2022 the Royal class. He said: “UD’s program is one of the few in Italy and possibly even in Europe that continued to keep its doors open and operate during the entire pandemic (except for part of 2020). Normally there are as many as 35,000 students studying in Italy at one time, and that number fell to under 500 during the pandemic, us included. Both our students and our staff demonstrated amazing enthusiasm, perseverance, and resilience during those rather dark times.”
The Bible says that we may have to suffer through various trials, but our faith is more precious than gold that is tested by fire. (1 Peter 1:6-7) The pandemic was a severe test for individuals and families and hopefully made us stronger. We thank God for sparing us and our loved ones and ask for his mercy on those who died. This is a tough class. You made it through several UD presidents, and I am so grateful you are finishing under the leadership of Dr. Jonathan Sanford.
My father was a philosopher and could also be quite funny. He used to shake his head and say; “There is no justice in this world, and you don’t want it in the next.” Turning with the great faith of a small child to God’s infinite mercy is our ultimate hope.
I was pleasantly surprised by the widespread rejection of early proposals from bad but influential bioethicists to apply Utilitarian ethics to COVID triage protocols. Machiavellian the end justifies the means thinking would have denied scarce medical resources to the elderly or handicapped. We at the NCBC spoke out very strongly in favor of using objective clinical criteria to see who could benefit most and not allow factors like age or future “quality of life” considerations determine who would have access to an ICU bed or ventilator.
There is real hope that the message of Christ will resonate in this age as it has in every era when it is preached with love and holiness. We can join the great Fiat of Our Lady and proclaim; “May it be done unto me according to your word.”
UD helps form the minds and souls of her students. Your graduation is here. Welcome to the ranks of the thousands who have gone forth from this university and into the world with a mission. “Love the truth and justice” – our university motto.
Speak the truth with love and be witnesses to the beauty of God’s plan for each and every one of us from conception to natural death.
My prayers will accompany you on your life’s pilgrimage and may God bless you!