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President's Blog: From the Heart

Make a Difference

By Eric F. Spina

Good morning!

Congratulations to the Class of 2018. You did it!

Enjoy. This. Moment. Savor it, let it wash over you.

I offer a special welcome to all of our families on this joyous day. I can feel your happiness, your pride, and yes, even a little bit of relief. This day is finally here! This is a day you’ll always remember and cherish.

Graduates, will you please rise, face your family members, and give them a rousing round of applause for their support and love that made this day possible!

Some of you are first-generation college graduates. You personify the American dream, and you will continue to open doors of opportunity — not just for yourselves, but for future generations of your family. We’re so proud of you AND so proud of the family members who made your dream — and theirs — come true.

Let’s have a special round of applause for these first-generation college graduates and their families!

Members of the faculty and staff: Thank *you* for creating an environment that has allowed these students to stretch themselves academically, to dream big, to dare to be great. You have prepared them to use their education and faith to make a difference — a real difference — in a world hungry for their community-building skills and innovative thinking.

Graduates, today marks the end of one grand journey and the beginning of a new one — one that’s filled with endless possibilities if you continue to face each day with faith and courage, an open mind, and an open heart. My nearly two years on campus engaging with you in class and at events, where you live and where you work, has convinced me that you are the future, the future is NOW, and the future is filled with hope and promise because of you!

Having attended at least one — and sometimes two or three — commencement ceremonies every year for the past 30 years, and having heard at least one — and sometimes two or three — speeches at each of those ceremonies, I consider myself something of a commencement speech connoisseur about what works, what doesn’t, what is memorable, and what isn’t. 

I have heard government officials from President Bill Clinton to Chief Justice John Roberts, entertainers from Billy Joel to Aaron Sorkin, media mavens from Bob Woodruff to Donald Newhouse, and even from the master wordsmith himself, Bill Safire (twice). 

Among all these speeches — including the six or eight speeches I myself have given — the single most compelling charge to graduating students came from the civil rights leader and master orator Thomas Nathaniel Todd.

His charge — his challenge, in fact — is more fitting for graduates from the University of Dayton than any other college or university, in my opinion.  And it is more fitting now than at any other time in our nation’s history.  So, I pass this on to you as MY charge to the UD Class of 2018: “Do not use your degree just to make a living. Use your degree to make a difference.”

“Do not use your degree just to make a living. Use your degree to make a difference.”

As a University of Dayton graduate, this is a responsibility that I know you will take to heart.

Today you’ll leave the comfort zone of UD and jump into a world that’s hungry for all you can offer.

Our world is hungry for innovative solutions for closing the growing gap between the rich and the poor.

Our world is hungry for imaginative ways for improving a public education system that fails too many students and families.

Our world is hungry for the responsible, moral harnessing of technology to improve our lives.

Our world is hungry for respectful dialogue and behavior, for hearts that reject bigotry, and eyes that look with empathy and compassion on all people as children of God. This may be the greatest challenge of contemporary times.

After living and learning at this Catholic, Marianist university with its dedication to social justice, with its special focus on building community, with its commitment to preparing you to work across differences, you will enter the world prepared to change it.

It’s not just because your résumé is strong, though it is. It’s not just because you are armed with marketable skills, though you are. It’s not just because you hold a college degree, though you do — proudly.

It’s because you have lived and learned in community — and have already shown you can make a positive difference with the way you live your lives inside and outside the classroom. Every moment on your academic journey has shaped you into the person you are today.

Take, for example, the annual medical mission trips some of you have taken to Central America with Global Brigades. In January, 60 students pursuing degrees in medical fields accompanied four doctors and a faculty member to rural communities within Nicaragua. There, you worked to improve the health and quality of life for people in underserved communities by increasing access to medical professionals, medications, sanitation and clean water.

That’s using your University of Dayton education to make a difference.

Closer to home, some of you joined students from various academic disciplines to cultivate an urban farm in East Dayton that is one answer to the growing problem of food insecurity in parts of our community. Last summer, the farm produced nearly 2 tons of produce for 80 families. That’s remarkable.

That’s using your University of Dayton education to make a difference.

Through devoting a semester of service to local nonprofit organizations, some of you learned how to help at-risk children — and developed within yourselves, in your own words, empathy, patience, understanding, kindness and belief in the human spirit.

That’s using your University of Dayton education to make a difference.

Within the Class of 2018, we have the right mix of graduates who will make a difference in their professions as they work diligently for the common good. Today we proudly send forth into the world:

• engineers who will embrace innovation and collaboration;

• educators prepared to cultivate a deep love of learning in children;

• scientists who will enter some of our nation’s top graduate programs in their pursuit of breakthroughs to improve health and our environment;

• and ethical leaders from all disciplines who will become leaders in fields as diverse as human rights and history, social work and politics, finance and global languages and cultures.

As I close, I leave you with an observation from renowned biologist Leroy Hood: “Don't underestimate the power of your vision to change the world. Whether that world is your office, your community, an industry or a global movement, you need to have a core belief that what you contribute can fundamentally change the paradigm or way of thinking about problems.”

Remember today’s charge and take it to heart: Do not use your degree just to make a living. Use your degree to make a difference.

And remember that the University of Dayton will always be an important part of you, and you will always be part of this special campus community. This will always be your home.

I have full confidence you will be successful in all the ways that matter. I know our country and society will benefit from your expertise and efforts, your compassion and community-building skills, your faith and fortitude.

Members of the class of 2018, congratulations on your accomplishments. Now, armed with your diploma, go out into the world and make a difference!

Thank you.

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