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Bon voyage, senior class

| Friday, April 26, 2019

Commencement is like a pinata bursting with an orchestrated cacophony of activities that jumble and swirl around the graduating students. By itself, the milestone elicits an array of emotions that range from pure glee to utter dread over departing Catholic Disneyland. On one hand, our graduates sail into the real world eager to embrace their next phase of life. Yet on the other hand, our new alumni tear away from a daily life surrounded by close friends who become relegated into exile with, at best, visitation rights scheduled annually based on the football calendar. In short, graduation is an early port-of-call microcosm of life.

We live in a fast-paced digital society into which has dawned a political era when we no longer own factual purity, despite perfect presentations. Perfect writing is no longer flawlessly read. A perfectly delivered speech is now a casualty to faultless listening. Reality has been spritzed with chemotherapy and toasted with radiation. The present is a difficult time to offer insights into how to plot a course cruising toward the future.

The senior class will hear anecdotes replete with advice and peppered with examples of how others navigated through life during their post undergraduate period. It is easy to pontificate whenever one is older than 50 and has navigated the stormy waters of graduation-like pinata events dozens of times daily. Like it or not, we all learn that life is a series of winning the fight, retreating from battle while dangerously teetering on losing the war and then regrouping at work with colleagues, at home with loved ones or in public with strangers. The trick to offering sage advice is to be frank, and to be able to differentiate between regurgitating a personal history and gleaning spiritual relevance that purifies the soul.

It seems to me that two truisms recycle throughout life — age breeds the wisdom we desperately needed during our youth, and a crisis always looms over the horizon. It is therefore incumbent upon graduates to anticipate predicaments against which they must measure their own personal character. A time will arise whenever it seems a solution is impossible, so ignite your passions now in setting your life journey. If your ideal career path does not materialize, embrace personal hobbies and interests to own a balanced lifestyle. It is surprising just how often inspiration blooms from the personal happiness within the heart.

Expect time to eventually change and harden someone you thought you knew. A sibling will sue you over the family estate. A college roommate you thought you knew after three years together will become a person who disgusts you. A lover will betray you. How balanced your personal life becomes will dictate how well your psyche copes with trauma during your lifetime journey. Yet regardless of how well you believe that you are prepared to cope, one person or event will break your heart. Unfortunately, that’s life.

Sullen as such predictions may sound, life does offer more delight than not. Joy is attained not by acting to feel personally good or to be cheerfully lauded by others, but to simply do God’s work on earth. For those keen to notice, selflessness abounds around us daily. Take to heart the call of Pope Francis to cheerfully give to the poor without judging or caring about how frivolously the homeless may utilize your charitable offering. Therefore, his message teaches that if you want happiness for a lifetime, live the rule of unconditionally helping others.

Graduating seniors will learn to appreciate the mysterious consistencies throughout life — time balances both the good against the bad. Know that our destinies offer much hope and unlimited unexpected surprises. For example, a congressional staff member friend of mine lost his Capitol Hill job, a seemingly crushing career blow after 17 years of service. That career-closing door in turn opened a window of opportunity for him to be named a presidential appointee who worked at the White House.

Oftentimes, personal desires also come to fruition, but with strict conditions. My best friend and college roommate succumbed to drug addiction after caring for his father who slowly degenerated from Alzheimer’s disease. After suffering an overdose and falling into a coma, my classmate offered a covenant to Our Lady to rescue him, promising to remain sober and dedicate himself to helping others. He recovered, volunteered in his small-town parish and sat alone in the church overnight for vigils as living up to his end of the bargain. Two short years later he was found on his kitchen floor, having suffered from a brain aneurism.

For those of us heartbroken by his fall and rise and final demise, we know he earned his short-term contract with the heavens. Actions begat consequences. Life is about death. Joy is best known through sorrow. Such a pinata of conflicting assertions is best tolerated once we attain the wisdom we longed for during youth. However, graduating seniors who anticipate such acumen can be obtained, can further astutely gauge the lifetime voyage a ripple at a time. Those of us with decades of calluses from manning the rowing oars know that each horizon has the potential to be made bright.

Best of luck and bon voyage the class of 2019.

Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame ’73 American Studies major, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. Contact him on Twitter: @GaryJCaruso or e-mail: [email protected]


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

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