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John Sexton Urges Students to Test Themselves, Risk Failure









 

John Sexton Urges Graduates to
Test Themselves, Risk Failure

John Sexton, Ph.D. (FCRH '63, GSAS '65 and '68), acknowledged the gift of his own Fordham education and reminded graduates that they "have been equipped here with the habits of mind, the tools of intellect and the depth of soul to rise to the challenges [of their time]."
Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, told graduates, "This is my prayer for you: May you always be men and women for others. May you come to know the truth, and may the truth set you free for further discovery."

John Sexton, Ph.D., president of New York University and a three-time Fordham alumnus, urged the more than 4,400 members of Fordham University’s Class of 2005 to stretch their minds and hearts without fear of failure as they embark on their professional careers.

“Find something worthwhile to try — something well above your capacities — and fail at it,” said Sexton, during the University’s 160th Annual Commencement on Edwards Parade. “It is important that you learn early in life that failure is not the end. Indeed, if you have not yet failed, you probably have not yet risked enough. … Of course,” he added, “it is imperative to fail worthily and passionately.”

Sexton reflected on his own Fordham experience, recalling the teachers who, “by living the Jesuit educational ideal, challenged, changed and uplifted [him].” He also spoke of Charlie Winans, a teacher at his Jesuit high school and a longtime friend and mentor who was living on the Rose Hill campus until his death in April at the age of 85. Sexton urged Fordham’s graduates to live “Charlie’s mandate” to all his students: “‘Play another octave of the piano,’ he would say,” Sexton recalled. “‘Reach out to the notes you haven’t yet touched.’"

Sexton reminded graduates that the education they received at Fordham, and in New York City, has prepared them in a special way for the challenges of a post-Sept. 11 world.

“In your years here, you have lived and learned in a place that foreshadows the possibilities of the world to come,” he said. “You have developed capacities of openness and curiosity; you have forged relationships that have forced you far beyond yourselves and the comforts and limits of your backgrounds; and you have experienced the intellectual richness and the personal growth that uniquely come in a university located in the global city of New York.

“Those gifts,” Sexton added, “will matter more to you in the years ahead than any fact or formula you have learned here.”

Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, also congratulated graduates, noting that their Fordham careers were played out against the backdrop of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, corporate scandals and the ongoing war in Iraq.

“This context taught you that the search for wisdom and truth is never simple,” he said. “Equally important, it has also taught you, rightly, to suspect anyone who offers you simplistic answers to complex questions. … Tested by the grief that you shared with your fellow New Yorkers after September 11, and tempered by the hard lessons learned in the war upon which our nation has embarked, you have given yourselves wholeheartedly to the search for wisdom and learning that would give meaning to your lives and help to build peace in our world.”

Father McShane presented Sexton with an honorary doctorate of humane letters during the ceremony. Sexton — who received a B.A. in history in 1963, an M.A. in comparative religion in 1965 and a Ph.D. in the history of American religion in 1978, all from Fordham University — has said that his ascension to the presidency at one of the largest private universities in the world has been guided by the tenets of his Jesuit education. At NYU, he has applied one of those tenets, communitas — a Jesuit-inspired ideal that sees professors and administrators as part of a community of teachers and learners, and a model befitting his vision for New York University.

Sexton received his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1979 and later clerked for several prominent judges, including U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger. He joined the faculty at NYU in 1981 and was later named the school’s Warren E. Burger Chair in Constitutional Law. After a 14-year tenure as dean of the NYU School of Law, he was named president of NYU in 2002.

Also receiving honorary doctorates at the ceremony were:

Paul B. Guenther, FCRH ’62, chairman of the New York Philharmonic and the former president of PaineWebber Group, Inc. Guenther served as chairmanof Fordham University’s Board of Trustees from 1998 to 2004. For 29 years, Guenther rose through the ranks at Paine Webber, serving as a securities analyst, director of research, director of the administrative division and chief administrative officer, before becoming president of the company. He served in that capacity from 1988 to 1995, when he retired to dedicate himself to not-for-profit service. Among his many contributions to Fordham, where he continues to serve as a trustee, is an endowed scholarship fund.

Martin Marty, Ph.D., the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where the Martin Marty Center, named in his honor, promotes the advanced study of religion. An internationally renowned historian and commentator on religion and public life, Marty is the author of more than 50 books, including Righteous Empire: The Protestant Experience in America (Doubleday, 1970), for which he won the National Book Award. In 1997, he became the first religion scholar to receive the National Humanities Medal.

Theresa Mall Mullarkey, chancellor of the C. W. Post campus of Long Island University. A philanthropist and advocate for higher education, Mullarkey has worked to raise funds for student scholarships and has endowed the Theresa Mullarkey Endowed Scholarship at C. W. Post, the Thomas F. X. Mullarkey Professorship at Fordham University and the John and Laura K. Mall Scholarship Fund at Wellesley College.

Hon. Guido Calabresi, considered one of the preeminent legal minds of his generation, received an honorary doctorate of laws at the May 22 diploma ceremony for the Fordham University School of Law. He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit, in 1994.Calabresi has been cited as a prominent figure in the development of “law and economics,” the practice of using economic analysis to help resolve legal disputes. He is the Sterling Professor Emeritus at Yale Law School, where he began teaching in 1959 and served as dean from 1985 to 1994. He has received more than 30 honorary degrees from universities in the United States and abroad, and he has published four books and more than 80 articles on law and related subjects.


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