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William B. Bradshaw Headshot

Questions I Would Ask

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As the school year ends for all levels of education, I want to put forward one final quiz especially for our high school and college students to answer. If you do not know the answer to a question, just move quickly to the next one.

1. Name the last three recipients of the Noble Prize in Literature.
2. Name the last three persons to be the General Secretary of the United Nations.
3. Name the three wealthiest individuals in the world.
4. Name the last three winners of the Academy Award for Best Actor.
5. Name the last three Heisman Trophy winners.

Now try these.

1. Name three of your favorite teachers in high school or college
2. Name three neighbors who live in your neighborhood.
3. Name three local stores you have done business with in the last month.
4. Name three people you telephoned, e-mailed, texted or wrote a letter to in the last month.
5. Name three people you spent time with during the past month--just hanging out with.

Chances are, you had some trouble with the first five questions and were able to answer the last five rather easily.

This is the time of year we have high school and college commencement ceremonies. In final words of advice to the graduates, the commencement speakers generally talk about working hard and becoming successful -- about becoming famous, wealthy and generally important -- you know, things that the first five questions relate to. But are these really the most important things of life, the things we should be reminding our graduates to concentrate on as they make their way in life?

In my opinion, subjects relating to the last five questions are the really important things in life that commencement speakers should be encouraging graduates to concentrate on? These are about the relationships we establish in our daily lives. These are about how we look after and treat one another in our daily lives. These are about the character of the people we choose to do business with. These are about morality, caring, nurturing, loving and on the list goes.

Sure, worldly success is important. We need to have jobs and have money to support ourselves, our families and our communities. But if the majority of citizens have the qualities associated with the last five questions, we will automatically have communities where there are churches, synagogues, mosques and temples that help people develop the qualities of life that will assure we have good schools; the qualities that find ways to provide meaningful employment and living wages for people who are able and willing to work, and ways to provide for those who cannot care for themselves; qualities that will see to it that there will be moral and legal justice for people of all ethnic backgrounds; qualities that develop safe neighborhoods generally free of petty crime and brutality; qualities that assure that kindness, happiness, respect and concern for others, good times and love will reign over selfishness, greed, bigotry, discrimination, hatred and brutality. These are, in my opinion, what we should be talking about as we send our graduates into the world to begin contributing in their own unique and God-given ways to daily life.

I have heard it said that there is a difference in "young" love and "mature" love: young love seeks to be happy; mature loves seeks to make others happy. We cannot expect our young graduates to have developed a mature-love attitude; they are quite naturally intent upon their own happiness. But if we instill in our graduates the true attributes of love, we can expect them in time to develop into mature people who automatically practice a combination of young love and mature love in their daily relationships. And isn't that what we all should be experiencing in our lives: happiness for ourselves as we also bring happiness to the lives of others! When all of us are practicing the combination of young and mature love, the task of seeking happiness for ourselves will be so much less necessary, as others will also be involved in helping us to be happy. An old saying comes to mind: "What goes around, comes around."

I have not been asked for many years to be a commencement speaker, but it I were asked, I have just provided you with an outline of what I would say.

(Some of the ideas for this blog were gleaned last weekend as I listened to The Reverend Father Stephen A. Privett, SJ, PhD, President of the University of San Francisco, during his final commencement ceremony as president of USF; he is retiring this year after fourteen years as the university's president.)