Choose to Hope

By Pamela Reponen

Returning to the Holy Cross Commencement stage where he had delivered the valedictory for his Class of 2003, Jon Favreau, former director of speechwriting for President Barack Obama and co-founder of Fenway Strategies, addressed the graduates of the Class of 2014 at exercises held May 23, on Fitton Field. A total of 675 men and women were awarded bachelor of arts degrees during the College’s 168th commencement ceremony.

During his address, Favreau offered the graduates three pieces of advice, the first, “about your career”; the second, “about the people in your life”; and the third, “about the world you’re going to change.” 

Related to career, Favreau remarked that a mentor had once told him there are two kinds of people, “People who want to be something and people who want to do something.” 

Pointing out that the drive to be something—“rich, famous, powerful, praised”—is a race without a finish line “because there will always be more money to make, or a fancier title to pursue, or a higher accolade to achieve,” he observed that, in his experience: “You are far more likely to find lasting fulfillment if these fleeting pleasures are the byproduct of a decision to do something—something that interests you; something you’re good at; something your gut is just begging you to try.”

Following this advice with “an important disclaimer,” Favreau continued, “Just because a career is fulfilling doesn’t mean it will always be fun”—adding: “I may never again be blessed with a job that brings me as much satisfaction as the one I had writing speeches for President Obama. I may also never have a job that I complain about as much. And long before I was hanging around the Oval Office, I was taking lunch orders in a press office, changing the batteries in people’s Blackberries and compiling news clippings at 4 a.m.” 

Concerning advice “about the people in your life,” Favreau said that, after a decade on the campaign trail and in the White House, his biggest regrets are not professional but personal, such as missing his friend’s wedding right before the election. He told the graduates, “In a world on permanent overdrive, the pressure to succeed in your career will come from everywhere,” adding: “The pressure to succeed in your friendships and relationships has to come from you. … And the older you get, the more you realize that this is the best, most important work you’ll ever do.”

Finally, elaborating on his advice “about the world you’re going to change,” Favreau referenced the recent “NBC Nightly News” coverage about students participating in “Working for Worcester,” to help rebuild lives and neighborhoods in the city. He noted “how painfully rare it is to come across a news story about the selfless devotion that quietly motivates so many people in so many places around the globe” and, in response, challenged the graduates: “Never forget that such devotion exists. Never lose the palpable faith in human progress that is the greatest gift of a Jesuit education from Holy Cross.”

While cynicism can seem like a logical response “to the daily flood of headlines about problems that can’t be solved and people in the news who behave badly,” Favreau remarked, “Cynicism isn’t the only response to humanity’s inadequacies and limitations. Cynicism is a choice.” 

Instead, he continued: “My wish today is that you choose to hope—hard and risky as it may be. My wish is that you choose to give others the same presumption of good faith that you want to be given. My wish is that despite all the sound and logical reasons not to, you choose to try.”

“Life is a wonderful struggle,” he concluded at the end of his address. “And we are all very lucky that this special place on a hill has prepared us to live it well—with grace, love, patience, and above all, hope.”

In his valedictory address, Jeffrey J. Reppucci ’14 reflected on the meaning of the phrase, “Live the Mission,” for the graduates who, through their varied experiences as students at Holy Cross, answered the call to be “men and women for and with others.”

Providing examples of the many opportunities for service and reflection available to them in the past four years, he pointed out the challenges they will encounter living the mission in the future and, in response, provided examples of three alumni who are pursuing professional and personal goals while also sharing their talents and resources with those in need. He concluded:

“These examples of our fellow alumni show that service is relative and personal. Service is neither too big nor too small. Service is taking the time to notice and reflect on the needs and injustices in our society and to act on them. Service is not one-size fits all, but it is a lifelong discernment. Now let us, the Class of 2014, venture beyond the gates of this campus and live our mission together.”

A Russian major, member of the Holy Cross varsity hockey team (earning Atlantic Hockey All-Academic team honors three consecutive years) and a resident of Newburyport, Mass., Reppucci has been recognized as a 2013 Truman Scholar, a 2014 Rhodes Scholarship finalist and a recent recipient of the BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award. A member of the Jesuit honor society, Alpha Sigma Nu, co-founder of the nonprofit organization Students Helping Children Across Borders and co-founder and executive director of Working for Worcester, he learned Commencement week that he was awarded a Fulbright English teaching assistantship to Argentina for the 2014-15 academic year. 

In his remarks during Commencement exercises, Holy Cross President Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., bid farewell to the graduates, observing, “Just as your parents entrusted you to us in the fall of 2010, today we entrust you to the world, men and women educated not only in the classroom but in the community and not only on Mount St. James but around the world.”

Addressing the members of the Class of 2014, their families and friends, Fr. Boroughs remarked: “On behalf of all of us here at the College, I want you to know that we who have committed ourselves to your education, have come to see ourselves and our world differently because of all that you have given us. We are proud of your accomplishments and graced in your friendship. 

“And,” he continued, “to your parents and families, and to our alums and donors who have made this educational experience possible for you, we will be forever grateful.”

In addition to Favreau, Holy Cross awarded honorary degrees to Rochelle M. Bard ’98, acclaimed soprano and winner of top prizes from prestigious national and international vocal competitions, who has performed on the stages of Boston Lyric Opera and Opera Tampa, among other venues—and, also as a concert artist, with recent performances including Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and Mozart’s “Requiem”; and, to internationally recognized scholar-author Rev. John W. Padberg, S.J., director and editor, since 1986, of the St. Louis-based Institute of Jesuit Sources, whose writings include: Colleges in Controversy: The Jesuit Schools in France from Revival to Suppression, 1815-1880 and For Matters of Greater Moment: The First Thirty General Congregations, in collaboration with several colleagues, as well as 75 publications on various topics in the history of the Society of Jesus and on Jesuit higher education. 

Other Commencement events included the Baccalaureate Mass, celebrated on May 22 in the Hart Center. Holy Cross President Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., presided and Rev. Paul F. Harman, vice president for mission at the College, served as the homilist.

On Friday morning, May 23, the NROTC Commissioning ceremony was held at 8 a.m. in the Hogan Ballroom. This year, six Holy Cross midshipmen were commissioned; nine students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Worcester State University commissioned on May 17 were also recognized at the event, as they were members of the Holy Cross unit. The guest speaker was Capt. Kevin Brew, USN, who is also the father of 2nd Lt. Daniel P. Brew ’14. Capt. Brew is a judge advocate, who currently works as a professor of military operations at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Fr. Boroughs, Capt. Brew and the unit commanding officer, Cmdr. Jamie Godwin, handed out the commissions to the new Navy and Marine Corps officers.  ■

For more Commencement coverage, including photo galleries of events, speeches and honorary degree citations, visit http://offices.holycross.edu/commencement

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