Arts and Culture

A Special Graduation

I may be in the minority, but I enjoy graduations. Often, I find them inspiring. Large numbers of students who have put in long hours of study and years of commitment are being rewarded. Parents and other relatives and friends are gleaming with pride and joy, rejoicing over the accomplishment of the graduates. I am especially moved at the graduation of someone I have taught or with whom I have a special relationship.

Two years ago, I attended my niece’s graduation from St. John’s University. I arranged with those organizing the graduation ceremonies that I would hand her the diploma. Besides teaching her in a philosophy course at St. John’s, I have been for better or worse, a constant presence in her life. She may have been the only graduate who had viewed every black and white film I love, from “Casablanca” to “On the Waterfront” with some Technicolor classics such as “Shane” and “Singin’ in the Rain,” thrown in to broaden her education.

She and her younger sister and brother received an excellent education at Holy Trinity H.S. in Hicksville, L.I. I hope to be at her graduation next year when she will receive a master’s degree in education from St. John’s.

This year I could not attend St. John’s graduation ceremony because my nephew was graduating from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pa. I can recall how my nephew’s parents spent many hours trying to decide to which university they would send him. They were certain they wanted him in a Catholic college in a city other than New York. They picked the right one for him. I don’t know any student in my more than 50 years of teaching who was a more perfect fit for the college he attended than my nephew at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

Emphasis on Outreach

One reason St. Joseph’s was chosen was that, like St. John’s University, it includes within its educational program a strong emphasis on reaching out to help the less fortunate. While at St. Joseph’s my nephew did volunteer work in Appalachia three times, in Peru once and in Guatemala once.

Now that he has graduated, he is going to spend nine months doing voluntary work in a parish in Peru. If I were wearing a vest, its buttons would be popping!

The parents of my two nieces and nephew should be very proud. I have observed them creating an atmosphere of love and important values for more than 25 years. Their efforts have borne fruit in the lives of their children. They have nurtured three terrific human beings.

When my second niece decides on what service profession she wishes to commit her life to, I am confident she will help many. She has one of the most attractive personalities of anyone I have ever met. When people know her five minutes, they love her. She has been such a great grace in my life, I dedicated my latest book to her.

I had been invited to be one of the concelebrants at St. Joseph’s graduation Mass. The Jesuits had arranged that I would process in and sit with some of the philosophy professors. When I introduced myself to the Jesuit professor standing next to me, I discovered he was the distinguished philosopher, Father Joseph J. Godfrey, S.J. He said to me, “I have been reading your writings for years.“

Then another Jesuit said to me, “I heard you give a lecture at the Catholic Worker on the Bowery back in the 1990s.” Thank heaven I was not wearing a biretta because my head swelled so quickly, the hat would have flown off!

The liturgy was magnificent, and the homily by Father Brendan Lally, S.J., was excellent. The student choir contributed beautifully to the prayerful atmosphere. The fact that between three and four thousand people received the Eucharist was awesome. The title on the Mass booklet was “Rooted in Love, Called to Action.”

Sprinkled throughout the booklet were quotations from some of my heroes: St. Ignatius of Loyola, Father Thomas Merton, St. Mother Teresa, St. Vincent de Paul, Blessed Oscar Romero and Father Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

Everything from the quotations in the booklet to the entire Eucharist spoke to me about the meaning of St. Joseph’s University and the mission of all Catholic education. I drove down to the graduation as a small gift to my nephew. I drove home feeling that I had received a gift.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Profound Personalism and Poverty” (Resurrection Press).

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