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Catholic Graduates Told to Make a Difference

Music icon Stevie Wonder, graduation speaker at Fordham University May 20, receives an honorary degree from Tania Tetlow, the university’s president.(Photo: Bruce Gilbert/ Fordham University).

WASHINGTON — New York’s Catholic college graduates were urged by a church leader, a cookbook author, and a music icon to build on their experiences by making a difference in today’s world. 

“Fordham has given you the tools to achieve, to excel, and to do great things in this world. But that’s not gonna happen by sitting on your hands,” singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder told graduates of Jesuit-run Fordham University in the Bronx in a commencement speech he delivered May 20. 

“The youth are going to make the difference. I believe in you. That’s why I sing, and that’s why I’m motivated,” he said. 

Wonder, winner of 25 Grammy awards, told the graduating class to be activists and voters who serve their communities and “enlighten the unenlightened.” He also said they need to use their education to respond to suffering in today’s world. 

“You really do have to be woke. Now, maybe some leaders in this nation don’t understand what being woke is. Let me tell you what it is. It’s being awake. And being awake means being aware,” he said, noting that this applies to health care, education, and the recent chokehold death of a homeless man on the New York subway. 

“So stand up and be counted as one against oppression, hatred, and let’s keep the truth alive,” he said just before singing two songs for the crowd, one from his new project “Through the Eyes of Wonder,” and the classic, “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” 

The next day at St. John’s University in Queens, Cardinal Timothy Dolan thanked the students at the Vincentian-run university for the lessons they taught him by embracing learning with and from others, sharing their knowledge, and being part of a community. 

“You are my professors this beautiful spring morning,” he told the graduates, stressing that their emphasis on learning above other things at this time in their lives is “teaching me the pivotal importance of an education.” 

Cardinal Dolan, who noted that he was also taught by Vincentians, said the graduates were in the community’s debt, describing the order as “a most radiant jewel.” 

At Manhattan College, a Christian Brothers’ school in the Bronx, bestselling cookbook author, Lidia Bastianich, told graduates May 19 about the challenges of growing up in former communist Yugoslavia and likewise stressed the critical importance of education. 

“I am a firm believer that the education of our children can solve most of the problems in our world,” Bastianich, the Italian American celebrity chef said. “Education leads to a better place.” 

She urged the graduates to build on the gift of their education and “continue to nurture yourself and your capabilities and go out there and work very hard” in order to “reach whatever goals you set.” 

Similar messages were also delivered at Catholic graduation ceremonies across the country. 

At The Catholic University of America in Washington, May 13, Arthur Brooks, a Harvard University professor and author of bestselling books on finding happiness, urged graduates to focus on loving others. 

“Use your ordinary work, no matter what it is, as a way to love others,” he said, adding that there is “something holy, something divine, hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it’s up to each one of you to discover it. Dedicate anything you do, big or small, significant or insignificant, to the good of others.” 

Brooks reminded the graduates that they are “beings made in God’s image to love others,” and said: “That’s your vocation. Just love.” 

At the May 21 graduation at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, Juan Manuel Santos, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and president of Colombia from 2010 -2018, urged graduates to be peacemakers. 

“To become a true peacemaker, first you must be at peace with yourself, at peace with your own conscience,” he said, adding that once this happens, “everything else will follow.” 

Santos, who won the peace prize in 2016 for his role in ending Colombia’s 52-year civil war, spoke about current threats to peace and reminded the graduates that they are “living at a decisive time in which we must all act swiftly and responsibly,” but he also said today’s young people give him hope. 

As he put it: “You are a generation of young people who have prepared yourselves to serve not only your country, but the planet; not only your people, but all people.”