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Bollman asks seniors to reflect on gifts in address

Madeline Buckley | Sunday, May 17, 2009

Brennan Bollman, the valedictorian of the class of 2009, asked that Notre Dame “please expect much from us,” as graduating seniors leave the University.

Bollman, who graduated with a 4.0 GPA with a major in Biological Sciences and a minor in Peace Studies, repeated a familiar saying throughout her valedictory address: “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

“I heard this same mantra from my parents,” Bollman said. “Notre Dame has taught us all. In our time here, much has been given.”

Although she said she doesn’t remember the thesis of many her term papers, or specific organic chemistry syntheses, Bollman said her Notre Dame education offered the tools to “tackle tough problems.”

Four years at Notre Dame also offered graduates a community, Bollman said to her classmates.

“When we arrived, we might have thought this meant touchdown pandemonium followed by haphazard Irish jigs and crowd pushups,” she said. “We now know the Notre Dame community bores into us much more deeply.”

Bollman referenced relationships with professors, rectors and resident assistants and the development of “deepened consciences” as benefits of being a part of the Notre Dame community.

In return, Bollman asked that much be expected of the graduates as they leave with a Notre Dame education and Notre Dame values.

“Our education here exposed us to complex ideas, so we hope to be successful in solving real world problems,” she said. “But I hope we also confront failure.”

Bollman said failing can lead to discovery.

“Through office-hour frenzies and soul-sapping all-nighters, we learned accomplishment isn’t cheap,” she said. “We had to do tough work, which is often not fun and our best efforts didn’t always lead to the right answer.”

Along with not being afraid to fail, Bollman also asked the graduates not to fear being different.

“As outsiders, we have influence. We are leaving a place that believes in common human dignity and solidarity – ideas from the Catholic Social Tradition that grounds the University mission,” she said. “Our community gave us values, so we’re expected to live them, even if we don’t fit in as a result.”

Bollman said the graduates face a troubled world as they leave Notre Dame.

“Over the past year, we watched as the global economy imploded. The resultant job insecurity and weakened markets affect each of us on a personal level,” she said. “We are coming of age in a trying time.”

She said the “acutely suffering world” should disturb and unsettle the graduates, but instead of shying away from the discomfort, she said they should search for ways to resolve the world’s problems.

“I have no doubt its crises involve issues about which we have grown passionate during our years here,” Bollman said. “Therefore, we have the ability to solve these problems.”

Bollman said Notre Dame and her classmates have helped her understand Gates’ mantra.

“I simply need to recognize all that I’ve been given, and in doing so, to expect much from myself,” she said. “So thank you, Notre Dame, for your gifts.”

After her address, Bollman received a standing ovation from her classmates, the crowd and the platform party, including President Barack Obama.

Obama referred to several points in her remarks during his Commencement address later in Sunday’s program.