The Catholic University of America

May 14, 2011

House Speaker Boehner Tells CUA Graduates They Will Need Humility, Patience, and Faith

  Speaker of the House John Boehner is welcomed by President John Garvey and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, CUA chancellor.

John Boehner, the 61st Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, told CUA’s Class of 2011 that he began his day by counting his blessings. Among them, he said, was the privilege of giving the address at the University’s 122nd Annual Commencement Ceremony on Saturday morning, May 14.

“This University has stood over the years, and stands today, as the center of Catholic intellectual life in America,” said Boehner under cloudy skies on the east steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The rain came down heavy as the procession of graduates began, but it cleared in time for the start of the outdoor ceremony celebrating the achievements of more than 1,500 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral graduates.

The House Speaker received a warm welcome from the class of 2011. They greeted him with spontaneous applause when he said, “…you can accomplish just about anything. After all, we live in America.”

Boehner told the graduates that Catholic University “has prepared you in a way no other institution can. The focus of your development here has been getting you to grapple more with who you want to be than what you want to be. You’ve been challenged… to use your heart and your conscience to guide your words and your actions. Let me tell you, there is no app for these skills…”

Honorary degree recipients Carmen María Cervantes, Carol Lally Shields, John Boehner, and Kevin ‘Seamus’ Hasson with President John Garvey.


Mentioning another “great Catholic university,” Boehner told the crowd that he is a loyal alumnus of Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. He also mentioned his high school days at Moeller High School in Ohio where he was a member of the football team.

As he did several times throughout his speech, Boehner fought back tears recalling his coach Gerry Faust who had the team kneel and pray the Hail Mary before every meeting, practice, and game and then “we’d go out and smash heads with the other team for four quarters — all in the name of the Blessed Mother.”

Boehner said Coach Faust taught him the lesson “there is nothing you can’t achieve if you’re willing to work hard enough and make the sacrifices necessary to succeed.”

He said there are three important components to hard work and sacrifice: humility, patience, and faith. The most important is humility.

“No one who succeeds in life does it alone. You must be willing to lean on others, listen to others, and yes, love others,” said Boehner.

He reminded those in attendance of the message delivered by CUA’s 2007 Commencement speaker, former White House Secretary, the late Tony Snow, who said, “I want you to remember that it’s not about you. It’s a hard lesson, a lot of people go through life and never learn it. It’s to submit willingly, heart and soul, to things that matter.”

  Deirdre Lawler, with President John Garvey and Alumni Association President Guillermo Garcia, receives the President’s Award.

Telling the graduates they would also need patience, Boehner used his Congressional career as an example. “I came to Congress in 1991, and before long, found myself in the leadership ranks of my party. Being called a ‘rising star’ … that was pretty heady stuff. But then, in the fall of 1998, I lost the support of my colleagues and my leadership post.”

Boehner said he was devastated — “down, but never out.”

“So I told my staff, we’re not going to talk our way back. We’re going to earn our way back. I was going to let my work speak for itself. I was going to be patient.”

Humility and patience are supported by faith, said Boehner. “In your journey through life, faith will be your constant partner — if you let it.”

When Mother Teresa was asked by a journalist how she persevered in the face of all the despair she had seen, said Boehner, she replied, “God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.”

  Related Links


> Commencement
> Baccalaureate Mass
> Honors Convocation


> Commencement gallery

Full text

> John Boehner's Speech
> John Garvey's Speech

After sharing a few of his life lessons, he told graduates, “You’ll learn some of your own, and when you do, don’t wait to share them. The days go slow, but the years go fast. Just ask your parents.” Following his speech, Boehner received a standing ovation, initiated by graduates.

Boehner become Speaker of the House on Nov. 17, his 61st birthday and the start of his tenure as the 61st Speaker. He received an honorary degree during the ceremony along with three others: Carmen María Cervantes, Ed.D., executive director of the Instituto Fe y Vida; Carol Lally Shields, M.D., associate director, Ocular Oncology Service, Wills Eye Hospital, and professor of ophthalmology, Thomas Jefferson University; and Kevin ‘Seamus’ Hasson, founder and president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Hasson will be the commencement speaker for CUA’s Columbus School of Law commencement ceremony on May 27, when 275 degrees will be distributed.

Deirdre M. Lawler, who received her Bachelor of Arts degree, was the recipient of the President’s Award, the highest honor given to a graduating senior in recognition of service, leadership, and outstanding scholarship. Lawler is a philosophy major and French minor from South Lancaster, Mass. She was described as a stellar student who for four years has given herself to the betterment of the University.

President John Garvey, presiding over his first commencement as CUA president, gave closing remarks to the graduates. He told them “mercy is a gift. First and foremost, it’s a gift from God… It tells the story of salvation.”
He told the Class of 2011 that mercy in the love of two people is essential. “You must make it your rule always to give and forgive. You will fail, but you’ll get the proportions right. In your friendships too, you should replace justice with mercy.

“And if you practice this virtue on your inner circle, it will soften the sharp edges of your ideals just enough, and make you a much more effective leader, lieutenant, teacher, doctor, architect, or conductor.”

Lawrence Poos, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, presents a degree in memoriam to Daniel and Heidi Godleski in honor of their son, Neil.

During the distribution of diplomas for the School of Arts and Sciences, a degree in memoriam was awarded to Neil Godleski, a biology major who was murdered in Washington, D.C., in August 2010. In a moving moment, his parents received his degree.

A highlight of the ceremony was the music provided by the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music wind ensemble conducted by David A. Searle. Memorable renditions of the National Anthem and the Alma Mater were sung by Jessica Bachicha, who was awarded the Doctor of Musical Arts at the ceremony.

Commencement was held during two days of graduation events that included an Honors Convocation at the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, the Baccalaureate Mass at the Basilica, and a ceremony that inducted about 40 students into the honor society Phi Beta Kappa.

At the end of the Mass on Friday, the community recognized seven students who will be devoting at least one year to volunteering for a service organization, five students who will be entering the priesthood, and seven students who are entering the military.


More news from CUA