Presented by Ken Hackett

Presented to Duquesne University


May 06, 2011

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Ken Hackett's Commencement Address to Duquesne University

Thank you so much for having me here.

Thanks to President Dougherty for the invitation and thanks to all of you for letting me spend some time with you on this wonderful day.

First off -Congratulations! What a great accomplishment. And those congratulations do not go just to you graduates, but to everyone out there -parents, family, friends, the many who have been with you on this journey. And especially to those who are going to be really happy not to see any more tuition bills. And, the ones who have moved into your room and while happy about you graduation, hope you won't move permanently home.

You know to me it doesn't seem that long ago that I was sitting where you were. Of course it was. Back before Facebook and Twitter. Back when phones had cords that connected them to wall. Back when listening to music meant worrying about scratching your vinyl albums not charging your iPod. And, frankly, back when most of the males sitting where you are were worried about the military draft. We were at war then just as we are now. But the all-volunteer army was still a decade away.

Like you, I was forced to listen to someone stand in front of me and give a commencement speech, blathering on about the road less taken, about when one door closes another opens, and how there's a reason they call it commencement, because it's not the end, it's the beginning, and blah, blah, blah.

Now I'm the someone. By the way, I don't remember who gave my commencement speech. I don't expect you to, either.

One thing about having more than four decades on you is that I now know that those clichés are true. The road less traveled is sometimes the one to take. Every closed door does open many more. And commencement really is the beginning.

Still, they're clichés. You don't want to hear them. But they speak to me because I, too, am facing something of a commencement. In a few months, I'm stepping down as president of Catholic Relief Services.

I've had a great 18 years in the job - and almost 40 years at CRS. But just like a houseguest, you don't want to stay too long. Time for someone else to take over.

So we're both wondering what's coming next.

There wasn't as much wondering back when I graduated. You were expected to find a job, climb up the ladder until you reached where I am now - retirement. Then you were supposed to collect your pension, play golf or garden and generally fade into the sunset of the "golden years."

Well none of that is true now. Not only do today's graduates face a tough job market, when you do land a job, it's probably only the first of many you will have during your career. In fact, you might have three or four careers - some of which haven't even been invented yet!

And as for retirees, well, you know your parents and your grandparents. They could be bungee jumping in Zimbabwe or building schools in Guatemala or training for a marathon. Some just don't retire. They keep working. Maybe at a new job. Maybe in a new career. The golden years ain't what they used to be.

So both of us are kind of excited and scared right now.

I felt that way when my graduation from Boston College neared. I had done what a good business major was supposed to do - interviewed with the corporate recruiters who came to campus - Mobil, Ford, GE, AT&T. You know what? They didn't like me. Which was ok, because I didn't like them.

A buddy of mine noticed a table recruiting for the Peace Corps. We signed up. I wasn't sure if I wanted to save the world but I assure you the PC recruiter was far more engaging than the Mobil or Ford recruiter.

So a few months later I arrived home to get ready for my senior prom, my mother said that I had a letter from the Peace Corps I opened it and it was a acceptance to the Peace Corps to serve in Ghana. "Where's that?" I asked her. "I'm not sure," she said. "Somewhere in South America."

So began my journey to West Africa.

Who knows how these things happen. I get over to Ghana and get assigned to a village 27 hours journey from the capitol. I learned a tremendous amount about myself and about life in a village of 300 people. I lived at a Catholic mission with a Chechoslavakian priest from Prague listening to the radio and talking about the Soviets crushing the movement for democracy called the "Prague Spring" that was unfolding. It is kind of ironic to watch the same type of event taking place in the Arab world forty years later. But through all that time living in a simple house without water and with an outside toilet with wonderful people whom I interacted with, economically poor but spiritually and culturally rich, I knew that I had found the work I wanted to do.

So don't worry if you don't know your destination right now. None of us do. Even those among you who think they are certain where they are headed. The important thing is to keep going.

That doesn't mean wander aimlessly. You need guideposts. Here is where you made the right choice in coming to Duquesne. No matter what you studied, you did it in a place where values are central. Whether or not you are Catholic, you came to a Catholic school where matters of ethics, of faith, of meaning, where the really important questions are taken seriously.

With its Spiritan tradition, Duquesne gave you a compass to follow, no matter what direction you take. Duquesne graduates enter world, and I quote from your university's goals, "empowered to seek the liberation of humanity from injustice, poverty, ignorance and all that violates the dignity and freedom of the human person."

Notice that didn't say the liberation of your friends and neighbors. It said of humanity. That's everyone in the world. Every day we can see that we are interconnected. Someone on the other side of the world probably made the clothes you wear, the computer you use, the cell phone in your pocket. They harvested the beans for the coffee you drink, the chocolate you snack on. The gospel ideal of one human family has become a daily reality. Think about what that means for your life. Make your life meaningful in a wider sense that just where you work.

And remember that Spiritans always focused on helping the poor. They founded Duquesne to educate poor immigrants. You will find excellent guideposts in Spiritan values — global justice, the kinship of all peoples, service to others - values that President Dougherty has worked to put at the core of your Duquesne education.

So many of you have already done remarkable things. Let me single out a graduate: Marissa Escajeda.

Marissa, who majored in theology and minored in conflict resolution, showed throughout her time at Duquesne that she has these values in her heart. She worked tirelessly to raise awareness about human rights issues throughout the world. This year, she became one of CRS's Sudan Ambassadors and was instrumental in bringing the concerns of that country to this campus as Sudan faced a crucial referendum on secession by the south. Because of the work of people like Marissa — here and in Sudan and all over the world — that referendum came off peacefully.

Thank you, Marissa. Thank you as well to Kat Roth and Megan Gialluco ((JA-LOO-KO)) who worked on fair trade issues, linking how you spend your money to lives of those far away who produce these goods. Thank you to so many of you who have already shown that you know where you will find meaning in your life no matter what direction your career path takes.

I might note that the Spritans have a special commitment to Africa. Because of that, so does Duquesne. That's something we feel at CRS, too. And, of course, that's where I found my path.

Let me offer one other part of my journey. When I came back from Ghana, I applied to Catholic Relief Services for a job. I was turned down. But I didn't give up and kept trying, I found the right button to press and managed to get hired. That initial ejection letter hangs on the wall outside my office door in Baltimore today.

Its message: don't give up.

Today you are graduates of Duquesne University. Now the rest of your life awaits you. As does mine.

So let's get on with it. Good luck and congratulations.