The Class of 2019 graduated at Boston College’s 143rd Commencement Exercises on Monday. Isabel Capeloa Gil, the first female president of the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU), gave the keynote speech, in which she encouraged the attendees to do their best to drive the world forward.
Gil told the graduates—whom she called “the embodied future”—that for her to predict exactly what lies ahead would be “preposterous.” Instead, the only sure thing is the change that is to come, she said.
“What has changed is arguably not the nature but certainly the intensity, the scale of the challenges ahead, colossal in size and inevitably global in scope—amongst them the impact of climate change or the future of work—and the urgency to find robust solutions,” she said.
People must band together in response to the challenges, Gil said, not raise up walls.
Another inevitable change will be in the stories we tell about ourselves, according to Gil.
“The stories we go by elevate us out of the abyss and substantiate the stories we tell about ourselves, our values, politics, culture, and religion, defining how we position ourselves in the world,” Gil said. “For truly, humans are not the simple result of haphazard DNA coding.”
Reflecting on her own life story, Gil spoke of her childhood in Macao, then a Portuguese-held territory in Southeast China. She recalled spying on a nearby Buddhist temple, which eventually led to sharing meals with the monks there. She said experiences like that taught her to embrace the differences in culture, social status, and religion, even when antagonism might have been easier.
“Christianity demands that we take that step, calling for a willingness to listen to the other, in the name and spirit of our common humanity,” Gil said. “Because the world does not stop at the nation’s borders. In our global world, responsible leadership comes with an ability to listen, not simply babble, shout, bully, and tweet away.”
She turned back to BC, calling on the graduating class to lead humanity’s story in new directions and to acknowledge, then correct, imperfection. Gil drew attention to the low numbers of countries, Fortune 500 companies, and universities led by women, calling for a “radical plot twist.”
“Often, challenge of borders is a challenge of injustice,” Gil said. “If you want change, speak up. If injustice looms, defend your rights.”
University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., gave his own opening remarks, in which he expressed gratitude for the commitment of the graduates and their parents, as well as the efforts of BC faculty, staff, and alumni.
He also touched on the importance of memories, impactful friendships, perspective-altering experiences, and transformative moments with faculty.
“Beside gratitude and memories, this Commencement invites consideration of the future, both as individuals and as members of various communities,” Leahy said. “We live in a world that desperately needs people of intelligence, faith, and commitment to work for the good of society.”
With his final words, Leahy urged the graduates to apply the principles of BC—“men and women for others,” “go set the world on fire,” and “ever to excel” —in combating violence, intolerance, and inequality around the world.
The University presented honorary degrees to Gil; Dan Bunch, BC ’79; Rev. Robert D. Farrell, S.J., GMCAS ’58, STM ’65; Thomas D. O’Malley, a former BC trustee; and Marilynne Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
Featured Image Courtesy of University Communications