New graduates of The Catholic University of America were challenged on May 12 to share their gifts for the betterment of the country, as Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez addressed the Class of 2018 during the University’s 129th Annual Commencement Ceremony.
Archbishop Gomez, a member of the University’s Board of Trustees, was born in Monterrey, Mexico, before becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States. Since 2011, he has led the largest archdiocese in the United States. He is a passionate defender of the Catholic faith, continually emphasizing the role of the family, the value of joy and simplicity as a path to holiness, and respect and dignity toward immigrants.
Speaking from the east portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the archbishop was joined by four other immigrants who were receiving honorary degrees. Those honorees included Toufic Baaklini, president and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization In Defense of Christians; Maria Suarez Hamm, who served as the long-time executive director of Centro Tepeyac in Silver Spring, Md.; Dina Katabi, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Ray Mahmood, founder of the Mahmood Investment Corp.
“What an honor it is to share this podium with these distinguished Americans,” Archbishop Gomez said. “What a witness. We are truly a nation that thrives on the gifts of people from every land.”
The archbishop recalled being present for Pope Francis’s Mass at Catholic University only three years prior, in which the Pope canonized St. Junipero Serra and referred to him as one of our nation’s founders. Though Americans usually begin the story of the country’s origin with figures like George Washington and events like the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Archbishop Gomez noted that “the American story started long before that,” with migrant missionaries like St. Junipero, who shared the Gospel with the native people of the Southwest.
“America’s founders — including Padre Serra — dreamed of a nation where men and women from every race, religion, and national background could live in equality,” the archbishop said. “Their vision helped make this a great nation, exceptional in human history — blessed with freedom and committed to sharing our blessings with the whole human race.”
Since those early days, our country's history “has not been pure,” the archbishop noted. “It has been filled with tragedy and violent betrayals of our deepest values. But always this vision of the human person has guided us to repentance and to try to make things right and better.”
New graduates, the archbishop remarked, are “entering an American society that is more anxious and more bitterly divided that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” The challenge, he said, is to help our country remember “our national purpose.”
“The stories we are telling ourselves today are too small, too fearful,” he said. “We need a new narrative that will define us and hold us together as one people with a common purpose.”
The archbishop told graduates to take inspiration from the lives of Americans who have lived with holiness and heroism. Those people include the indigenous saint Black Elk, freed slaves like Father Augustus Tolton, servants of the poor like Henriette Delille, and activists like Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, as well as countless other “saints of the everyday … working hard to do what is right.”
“The saints I know best are in my Catholic tradition, but there are American saints in every faith tradition, and in every family and every neighborhood,” Archbishop Gomez said. “We need to hold these people up as examples. Tell their stories. We need to try to be like them in our own lives.”
Archbishop Gomez encouraged graduates to follow these examples and share them with a new generation as they begin their careers.
“The new America is a story that we are writing with our lives. By the decisions we make, and by the way we treat other people,” he said. “My prayer for you is that you will write a story that is filled with goodness, love and service; with prayer and giving thanks for simple gifts. I pray that you will always seek to know what is right — and have the courage to do it.”
University President John Garvey also addressed the Class of 2018, speaking about the importance of hospitality, as inspired by the Rule of St Benedict, which states, “Let all guests be received as Christ.” The religious tradition of welcoming others, Garvey noted, dates all the way back to the Old Testament, in the book of Genesis.
Drawing inspiration from biblical stories about “entertaining angels unaware,” Garvey encouraged graduates to practice hospitality in their own lives by opening their hearts to new people and looking at those who are different with friendship instead of fear.
“It’s a good virtue to begin life with,” Garvey said. “You will make some friends. You will bring an open heart to the responsibilities of citizenship. You will build a loving home. And there you might some day receive Christ.”
The ceremony closed with a final benediction from University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry Rev. Jude DeAngelo, OFM Conv., who reflected on the words of Emma Lazarus’s sonnet, The New Colossus, which are inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
"Heavenly father, as we leave this place, we are reminded that the sons and daughters of The Catholic University of America are children that are descended from first nations of our land, descendants of people who have been brought from distant shores without their consent, they are the descendants of immigrants from all the continents in the world, and they have come here on the promise that what they do and who they are is sacred to you, the God of the universe,” Father DeAngelo said. “We come from different religions, we come from different creeds, but we are inheritors of the great promise of the United States of America.”
The University conferred approximately 1,620 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees during the ceremony. The Columbus School of Law Commencement, also held at the Basilica, is scheduled to take place at 11 a.m. on May 25. Brett Kavanaugh, a judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, will deliver the Commencement address for the ceremony.
Other graduation events held over commencement weekend included the Honors Convocation and the Baccalaureate Mass, both held on May 11 at the Basilica.