May 11, 2002
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said turning 60 recently gave him reason to reflect on what he described as “a most important friendship of all…the enduring bond between learning and freedom.”
“I’ve now lived long enough to know that nothing in life is more important than friendship,” Ashcroft said during his address at the 113th Annual Commencement of The Catholic University of America. “Like all great friendships, the relationship between learning and freedom is mutually enriching … Education gives meaning and value to our freedom.”
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington and chancellor of the university, delivered the invocation at the commencement, where Ashcroft received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., president of the university.
Ashcroft said he was proud to be one of the more than 1,000 graduates who were awarded bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees during the May 11, 2002, ceremony on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the CUA campus.
“Today is a day worthy of celebration because today you begin lives as the builders of our culture, the shapers of our institutions, and the leaders, teachers and mentors of your fellow Americans,” Ashcroft said. “You begin this journey as the heirs of the great tradition of scholarship informed and nurtured by the Catholic faith. Each of you, regardless of your personal faith, is today the recipient of a great gift – the gift of an education in human reason guided by the light of universal truth.”
Ashcroft, who was rated one of the top 10 education governors in the country by Fortune magazine when he was governor of Missouri, also is known for his dedication to faith, which he linked to freedom during his address.
“There are those who believe that to acknowledge the creator as the source of our freedom is to diminish our freedom,” he said. “But I believe they misinterpret, they invert, and they turn around that which is right. When we acknowledge God as the author of our freedoms we affirm the dignity and worth of every human being.”
Speaking before an estimated crowd of 12,000, the attorney general also referred to the calamitous events of Sept. 11, 2001: “Terrorists distrust the decisions of those with freedom,” he said. “Instead of persuasion, terrorists rely on extortion. Instead of hope, terrorists offer fear.”
Ashcroft reminded graduates that “just as education enriches freedom, it confers responsibility. As graduates of this great Catholic institution, your obligations do not end with this day but have only just begun. The legacy you inherit is now the hope of future generations, so hold it high, and bare it proudly.”
The attorney general quoted the Catholic writer, G.K. Chesterton, who defined education as “the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.”
But “we must first possess this societal soul — this common understanding of the virtues we value and the freedoms we cherish — before we can pass it on,” he said.
He lauded graduates of Catholic University and other Catholic educational institutions in the United States, who, he said “have shaped the soul of our society, molded the contours of this great culture and passed it along … better and more complete to new generations of Americans.” He added that children in Catholic elementary and secondary schools have “been given a gift – the gift of high achievement born of high expectations.”
Other awards conferred during the commencement included the Bishop Thomas J. Shahan Medal for Service, given to Antanas Suziedelis, professor of psychology, who will be stepping down as dean of the School of Arts and Sciences after 42 years of service to the university.
The President’s Medal was awarded to the Rev. Howard Bleichner, S.S., who has served as rector of Theological College, the seminary of Catholic University, for the past 10 years.
Revised: Feb. 18, 2002
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