Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Commencement speakers have a chance to inspire

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published May 25, 2018  | En Español

Just how do schools select commencement speakers? What criteria do they use? That is perhaps a question that many of you have asked yourselves over this graduation season. You might have asked it because the speaker at the graduation ceremony that you attended seemed to offer nothing of significance to the event, or spoke too long, or revealed only the ideological slant of the institution.

I have asked that same question myself on more than one occasion, including this past week when I was selected to be the commencement speaker at Boston College’s graduation. How did this honor come to me? I hope that I added something to the event, didn’t speak too long and clearly reflected the values and faith dedication of that Jesuit college.

Some institutions select commencement speakers because of their prominence in the political, athletic, business or entertainment worlds. Having a famous person speak at a graduation ceremony suggests that the school itself is a prominent and important institution. While I don’t think I added much to Boston College’s already quite illustrious reputation, I do hope that I offered a reflection for the graduates and their families that encouraged them to continue the fine legacy of Jesuit learning offered at that university.

This year Blessed Trinity High School here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta made a wonderful choice of a commencement speaker in selecting Kyle Marchuk, an alumnus from their own graduation class of 2011. He’s not a famous person (yet)—except perhaps to his bride and his very proud parents. He’s still at the start of his professional career, with many years yet ahead of him. He’s a 26-year-old young man of faith who eloquently invited the BT class of 2018 to listen attentively to his still-short life journey. He advised them well in his remarks to savor their college experiences. He spoke about the importance of our Catholic faith in his life and in theirs.

His youthful witness was far more persuasive than any sage and well-established person could have expressed under similar circumstances. When you’re an accomplished person who has already weathered many of life’s challenges and achieved success, you certainly have wisdom to offer to high school graduates. When you are a distinguished cleric who has advanced to a high church office, you can obviously, and frequently do, speak of the importance of our faith. When you are a widely recognized athlete, elected official or renowned entertainer, you can advise youngsters on how to handle success.

However, when you are a 26-year-old young person who still has many miles to go in life and who has already found his faith to be an important companion, you can perhaps gain the attention of young people in ways that none of the other people in those lofty categories can. Kyle is also a young man who not too long ago sat in the very seats now occupied by the class of 2018. He can remember their nervousness, and he still looked and sounded very much like them. So when he spoke of the importance of his faith, his was an indisputable witness.

I applaud Blessed Trinity High School for selecting a commencement speaker whose words were clearly and appropriately targeted to the hearts and ears of our young people. I pray that the BT class of 2018 heard those words and will heed them.