2013 Commencement Address

General Carter F. Ham `76
Commencement Speaker
John Carroll University
May 19, 2013

Thank you very much Fr. Niehoff, for that most generous introduction. I suspect my children would have no idea who you were talking about. I have indeed cherished our friendship but I also would take this opportunity along with this assembled crowd to thank you for your service and for your leadership of our university. Thank you.

So for Mr. Short and members of the Board of Directors, for especially the Drs. Schubert, faculty, staff, parents, families, friends and most especially, the graduating class 2013, it is such an honor to be here with you today. To be home. For those of us who only visit irregularly, you get a sense when you come back to John Carroll that you truly are indeed home. I’d selfishly point out that my brother and his wife are here today, both graduates of the class of 1979, their daughter and their son-in-law, also graduates of John Carroll. Their son, sadly, is a graduate of some school in Berea. We’re not exactly sure how that happened but we’re trying to remedy that over time. My mother is probably looking down from heaven today with understandable motherly pride and love that her son is standing before you. My father also in heaven, a more practical man, perhaps has a different view; I suspect perhaps he’s asking himself, really? My son the commencement speaker? My son to receive a doctorate? I’m reminded of a time long before any of you graduates will remember, but in the dark ages, your grades actually got sent to your parents. It’s not a good thing, by the way. And so the first time that happened, my dad got it and he looked at me and he said “Well son, at least we know you’re not cheating.”

Well today is indeed a day for rejoicing, for reflection, but mostly for looking forward with excitement, optimism and promise.
The class of 2013, of course, rejoices because, at least for most of them, they have concluded their studies, but not their learning, as Father has reminded us, and they revel in the excitement of the day and the promise that it holds. Parents, grandparents and other families naturally are rejoicing because, at least with this commencement there is some hope that the costs of child-raising is nearing its culmination.
John Carroll’s staff and faculty rejoice today in the joy and confidence that comes with knowing that they have done their best to prepare the class of 2013 for an uncertain, yet exhilarating future.

Today is also a good day for reflection for the graduates. Today culminates years of study. The journey to this day has been, for some, longer and more arduous than for others, but for each of you gathered here today, it is a day to reflect on your journey and all that you have accomplished.

It is also right and appropriate to reflect on the fact that none of you to be honored today got here by yourselves. Your families, friends, professors, employers, priests and so many others were instrumental in you getting here to this site today. Arriving at this important milestone should remind us all that while each of us has innate talents and abilities, it is when we work together that we are at our very best.
For the alumni assembled today, we too, should reflect on our Carroll experience. For the class of 2013, as with all previous cohorts, we hope that you found your time here to be deeply personally fulfilling and rewarding. John Carroll indeed provides each of us with a unique opportunity to develop as men and women of character, to learn and grow in the Jesuit tradition and to dedicate ourselves to a lifetime of service to others.

For me, as Father has mentioned, John Carroll is where I found the things that have mattered most to me in life. I found here my calling to a career of military service. Through the mentoring of some extraordinary Jesuits – Father Henry Birkenhauer; Father Joe Schell; Father Peter Fennessy; Father Paul Woelfl, who was my academic advisor; Father Casey Bukala, who many of you know is still here – I found faith that has sustained me through good times and bad. And, as Father told you, I found here my best friend and the woman with whom I have spent most of my life – Christi Ignaut, Class of 1975.

There is indeed a story about an ROTC cadet meeting the head resident of Murphy Hall, which was then all women and had some restricted visiting hours, but that story can wait until a little bit later. So, that’s not a bad question to ask ourselves every today – what did you find at Carroll?

Perhaps you found here a love of learning, maybe like many, in an area of study different than you initially envisioned when you first came here. Did you find here that very special professor who challenged you, encouraged you, and motivated you to be all that you could be?
One of the hallmarks of John Carroll is its institutional commitment to service. For many of you, I suspect that you found on this campus the rewards of service to others be it at a local, state, national or even global level. This culture of service makes John Carroll graduates different than their peers from other colleges and universities. There is, indeed, an expectation that each of you will use your gifts in service to each other and to the broader community.

Maybe you found here that there is tremendous value in learning from people who aren’t just like you –whether in skin color, religion, ethnicity or national origin. There is great strength in diversity and here at Carroll you hopefully have learned the value of the opportunity to consider differing points of view.

On a personal level, the friends you found here will be friends for life. And you will be surprised how life turns out! For those of my era, just to take two examples, none could have predicted that a tough guy in ROTC would last year be ordained a bishop for the Archdiocese for the military – Bishop Neal Buckon, Class of 1975. And, a second example, perfectly suited for today is Dean Jeanne Colleran, also of that class. Treasure that aspect of those friendships that will endure.

So on this day that holds such great promise, such anticipation and excitement for the future, it is indeed ok to look back and reflect on what you found here.

For it is what you found here at John Carroll that will prove to be the foundation for what you will achieve next. Some of you will continue your studies, having found here a spark of inquisitiveness that drives you to learn more, to understand more deeply. Others of you will teach; having learned here that sharing your knowledge and helping others learn is one of life’s greatest rewards.
Many of you will enter that work force in a wide variety of businesses and endeavors. Some will serve in government, in public service organizations or in humanitarian or non-governmental organizations.

No matter your calling…no matter where you live or your chosen profession…whether you make a lot of money or hardly any at all…you will always and forever be women and men of John Carroll University. You will be leaders of character and integrity. You will understand that success really means only that you have a greater opportunity, and I would say responsibility, to serve others.

The future remains highly uncertain…none of us can clearly envision what lies ahead. But, for generations, John Carroll graduates have helped shape the future, have met and overcome challenges and have done so with integrity, humility and grace. You now join the ranks of graduates of this very special place.

All of us – those gathered here and those who celebrate from afar – know with full confidence that you will honor the legacy of John Carroll University. Take great pride today in what you have accomplished, but recognize that with the honors bestowed on you today comes also a healthy dose of responsibility, responsibility to yourselves, to your families, to those who helped you get here today… it is the responsibility, said quite simply, to make things a little better than you found them. That’s easy to say, tougher to achieve. You now have the skills, the character and abilities to make that change.

Yesterday at the Baccalaureate Mass, Father Connell shared with us some wonderful proverbs from his service in Tanzania. Let me conclude my remarks by sharing with you my very favorite African proverb learned over the past two years serving in Africa.
It says simply…if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to far, go together.

Today’s graduates will go far and you go together with our congratulations, our blessings and our prayers.

Thank you.