Commencement 2023

What an overwhelming moment.

There was a time in academia when students and faculty wore these robes every day – a fact some of you know from your study of history, and most of us know from Harry Potter.  I think we should bring that tradition back.  We look fantastic!

Graduates this is your day – to revel in well-deserved pride before you go back to being humble.   We are all here today to celebrate you

to congratulate you in every language of our collective cultures:
Mazel ov, 
the beautiful leis I see around some of your necks.

Dr. Wonder, they are beaming at you right now, bright, shining faces of every color.  They range in age from 19 (wow!) to 77 (even more impressive!)

They come from 62 countries and almost every state.

Today they receive degrees ranging from Bachelors to Masters, from JDs to PhDs.  They have prepared for professions, learned how to think and how to teach, created art and music, and found their own voices.

And behind them sit their people, absolutely bursting with pride.   The parents and step-parents and those of you here who stepped up to the plate as parents.  The Meemas and Pop-pops, the auntees, parains.  Younger siblings poking each other and rolling their eyes.  Older siblings who can’t quite believe this day came.

And some of the graduates brought their own husbands and wives and children, all of whom supported you through long hours of studying and work.

For the parents out there -- I know that I will face this moment with my own little one sooner than I can imagine.  You sit here looking at your child all grown, remembering when they were tiny enough to hold in your arms through long, sleepless nights.  We pour our hopes and dreams into them.   Our taste in music.  Our sense of humor.  And hopefully not too many of our anxieties and eccentricities.

One day, you found the strength to bring them here and let them go – to make their own choices and learn from their own mistakes.  And it all culminates in this moment of overwhelming emotions and randomly leaking tears.

Graduates, stand up, turn around, and tell them all how you feel.

###.  Fordham is my school.  New York is my campus.

That was particularly true for the half of you who came from Lincoln Center.  You studied in Manhattan at the epicenter of much of the world’s culture, media, and the entire global economy.  You used Central Park as your quad and the Met as your classroom.  You had the chance to enjoy some of the finest food in the world, especially the chicken and rice at the halal food truck in front of Lowenstein.

And you forged your own community – creative and joyful, vibrant and diverse.  All the more tight-knit since you had no choice but to cram into elevators together during your own vertical rush hour.

I hope that all of you – whether from Lincoln Center, Westchester, or studying online from far-flung places – will also see this beautiful Rose Hill campus as your home.

These are our roots –

Here in the Bronx, the birthplace of hip hop, of Sonia Sotomayor and Jennifer Lopez.  Of Yankee Stadium and Arthur Avenue.  A community rich with the cultures of the world and fueled by the courage of those who gather here.

Fordham has taken its place in the Bronx since 1841 and will never leave it.

For the Rose Hill students --- you have followed in the footsteps of generations as you walked among these ancient elm trees and Gothic buildings -- sometimes chased to class by very aggressive geese – running all the way to FMH.

You continue to create the culture and history of this campus with your own new traditions.

This year, we were all inspired by the shirtless herd at the Rose Hill gym, who demonstrated to the world the marketing prowess of Fordham students.  They created new tag lines from what they could spell on their bellies – 

Rose Thrill.  Bronx Built.  Urgonomics.


One last heartfelt congratulation to those of you who came back to school as older students, a decision that requires real courage.

How many of us have the same anxiety dream --- walking into class, unprepared, sometimes having forgotten to wear clothes.   Imagine facing those fears head-on and going back to school after years away!  Do you know who else was a non-traditional, older student?  St. Ignatius.


Today all of you join the ranks of the Jesuit-educated around the world, a chance to bond at parties with those who can also whisper “AMDG” and “cura personalis.”

BUT.  This isn’t the kind of secret handshake that gets you insider entitlement.  Instead, it’s a great responsibility that you carry with you forever.

We at Fordham have tried to inspire you to be endlessly curious, constantly seeking truth.

We have invested not just the knowledge in your head, but also in the quality of your hearts and the work of your hands.

We have pushed you to matter to the world.  With skill and hard work and great ambition.

There are so many stories from our history I could tell you to sum up the meaning of Jesuit mission, but I’m going to tell you one of my own.

I am the oldest of three girls in my family: Tania, Sonia, and Sarah.  Our youngest sister Sarah has serious learning disabilities.  We never got a formal diagnosis or a reason why, but as a child, it took years for her to speak.  She went through countless schools to find the support she needed.  Every class was a struggle.  Every attempt at friendship a victory.

She graduated from high school in a moment of utter elation, an achievement beyond measure.  And today, she lives a life of some real independence.  She revels in nature –delighted by every species of plant and animal.  She reminds us to stop and listen, to pay attention to the tiny things.

When I was grown, my sister Sonia and I had a conversation I’ll never forget with our Uncle Joe – a Jesuit priest and the wisest person I know.  He surprised us by talking about how much Sarah has taught us, how much she changed us.

“School came so easy for the two of you,” he said. “You are bright and quick.  But what Sarah helped you understand, at your core, is that being smart doesn’t make you better than anyone else.  That your gifts are a responsibility.  That the point of your life is to put those gifts to use, to ease the struggles of others, to make the world a better place.”

Graduates, you came to Fordham with blazing talent, each of you blessed by abundant gifts from God.  But – and this may be a rare thing to say at commencement -- those gifts do not make you better than anyone else.

What makes you special is not that good luck, it’s what you have done with your gifts.  The endless hard work, in the library and the labs, the dance studios, and moot courtrooms.  What makes you special is how you will use your gifts to matter to the world – as teachers, lawyers, social workers and health care workers, as business people who will build new forms of opportunity.

And what makes you special is the determination you have shown, especially in the face of brutal obstacles and deep unfairness these last few years.

There is so much about the pandemic we are eager to forget – the fear and uncertainty, the isolation and loneliness, veering from panic to boredom and back again.  And for many of us, the loss and grief.   It was a moment when the human race came together, but then cleaved apart.  When we witnessed the miracle of human ingenuity and medicine, and then doubted ourselves.

Graduates, you lost years of crucial moments, joyful moments, that we cannot give you back.

But when we look at those generations forged in the fires of suffering and crisis, we see the generations who’ve mattered most to history.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the Greatest Generation – for many of you, your grandparents and great-grandparents.  They grew up during a terrible depression, a time of real hunger and massive unemployment.  They faced a world war that would kill 50 million people.

Despite all of that, they fought back the tide of evil and fascism with remarkable courage. They forged a new peace.  With help from the GI Bill, they forged a new prosperity.  And they helped this country live up to its own values with the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement.

Those in the greatest generation remained scarred from the trauma they endured.  My father refused to waste food or throw away a single rubber band in his life, because he was always sure he might end up hungry again.  My great-aunt came back from serving as a WAC in WWII with terrible nightmares.  They could have lapsed into cynicism, and we would have understood.  They could have spiraled into despair.  But they didn’t.

Because they understood from hard experience what mattered and what didn’t.  They clung to their values with fierce determination, and let go of the rest.

Graduates, you have faced an unfair set of burdens, which the rest of us desperately wish you could have been spared.  But you have emerged stronger and more determined.

As Stevie Wonder wrote in another song:

“We all know sometimes life’s hates and troubles can make you wish you were born in another time and space.

But you can bet your lifetimes that --- and twice it's double -- that God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed.”

Graduates – you have become fiercely focused on what matters.

You are learning to resist the temptations of constant distraction, of selfishness, and cynicism.

You refuse to accept the brokenness of the world.  You question assumptions.  You challenge authority – including me!

And you face a fast-changing world with enormous courage.

There is nothing more Jesuit than that. 

I’ll leave you with one more Dr. Wonder lyric:

Change your words into truths, and then change that truth into love. And maybe our children's grandchildren and their great-grandchildren will tell.”

Graduates, look around you – this is the family you have chosen.

And Fordham is your forever home.  Congratulations!