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Seniors, be fierce

Gary Caruso | Friday, April 29, 2011

With graduation looming, seniors hear all manner of advice and well wishes which ultimately are forgotten as the years pass. My commencement speaker, a university president, was so boring and uninspiring that he truly fit into the stereotypical caricature of an esoteric intellectual. Sadly, nothing of note remains with me today other than the memory of a chuckle because several of my classmates either stood naked under their gowns or hid bottles of Champaign. The late humorist Art Buchwald masterfully set a goal for each graduation speech, to leave a feeling rather than a thought — everyone should remember that they laughed during commencement.

Using such sage graduation guidance, I suggest that seniors simply be “fierce” during commencement and recognize their fierce factor throughout their lives. No, it is not the effeminate trade-marked fierceness of noted fashion designer and Project Runway winner Christian Siriano — “not that there’s anything wrong with that” to quote the iconic “Outing” episode from Seinfeld that masterfully juxtaposed the extremes of homophobia with political correctness. My half-naked classmates clutched their immature fierceness that day and carried it throughout life. Beware graduating seniors that your own personal fierce factor begins at commencement.

Seniors will learn like all of us before them and those who will follow — that each living day forges an evolving fierce factor wisdom which neither demands harshness nor inflexibility. We certainly are not born into this world as insightful as Yoda, but learn to feel the secrets of our universe that institutions unfortunately tend to deny and limit during our existence. Being fierce is being open to change.

We know not from where we come, but my life experiences taught me to remain open-minded and willing to change all things. With that philosophy I reason that we have lived before, known each other before, are in fact reincarnated into this world now and will again reincarnate somehow into the next realm to continue our journey of learning lessons. For me, Heaven and Hell are also myths of ancient writers. Segments of our early Church may have expressed similar thought, but they hardly are mentioned possibilities in today’s Catholic dogma. Ironically, my religious and community experiences at Notre Dame helped open my mind for such a rationale.

I entered Notre Dame certain in my beliefs as a Vietnam War-supporting, conservative-thinking small town kid until late my freshman year when I witnessed my fellow Kent State students gunned down by fellow Americans during an anti-war demonstration. It was my type of soul-shaking event like the awakening urge for freedom sweeping from within the souls of thousands throughout Syria today. My first serious life-moment thought, “It could have been me lying dead.”

Still a teenager at the time, I understood war. It now explained why my father, a World War II veteran, shied away from his memories of horrors, carnage and senseless annihilation while fighting as a teenager. His fierce factor demanded he revert to civility by suppressing those years of his life when he should have laughed with classmates and only fretted over tests or homework deadlines. Instead, he buried his comrades.

A fierce person remains open-minded while still standing on principle. Too many of today’s politicians are so one-dimensional that they tip over whenever the wind changes direction. Notre Dame alumnus and U.S. Congressman Joe Donnelly represents the district containing Notre Dame’s campus. He is fierce while standing on principle but also works for the general good through consensus and compromise. Conversely, Notre Dame alumnus and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is not fierce when he panders as a pro-life politician but refused to stay the execution of a woman convicted of murder who tested with an IQ of about 72. McDonnell reneged all pro-life principles when he put to death an actual life held only in his hands.

To be fierce is to be free of hidden truths and pandering. Church history is rife with silly notions merely enacted for human, earthly reasons still held untouchable today. Consider marriage for priests…a rule ignored in 580 by Pope Pelagius II but promoted as an absolute ban in 1022 by Pope Benedict VIII so the church could acquire a priest’s property upon his death. In 1074, Pope Gregory VII strengthened the policy when he decreed that anyone ordained must first pledge celibacy. For today’s hierarchy to refuse even a discussion of such a long-held, man-made edict sadly contributes to the decline of our congregation.

Lyrics of the Jefferson Airplane song, “Volunteers,” succinctly identify the struggles for individuality each graduating class and each generation face. Today, when it seems like our current generation got “sold” in slavery to greed, the words still ring true.

“Ain’t it amazing all the people I meet. Got a revolution; got to revolution. One generation got old. One generation got soul. This generation got no destination to hold.”

The fierce factor demands that seniors’ day-in and day-out living find a destination to hold — which they will. Best of luck soon-to-be fierce fellow alumni.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.