The Catholic University of America

May 16, 2015

Novelist Mary Higgins Clark Advises Grads to Find Their Gifts

  Best-selling suspense novelist Mary Higgins Clark addresses graduates during the 126th Annual Commencement Ceremony May 16.

“Write the story of your lives so that your novel will be more than a best seller. Live it and let it become a classic.”

Suspense novelist Mary Higgins Clark, who is as devoted to her Catholic faith as she is her prolific career, shared these writing-inspired words of wisdom with the Class of 2015 while delivering the address at the 126th Annual Commencement Ceremony of The Catholic University of America on May 16.

“Today you are starting to write you own suspense novel,” she said. “It’s called ‘The Rest of My Life.’”

She is the author of 42 books, most of which have become international best-sellers. Higgins Clark, whose novels feature strong, independent characters who must solve their problems with courage and intelligence, advised graduates to become protagonists who combine “faith, optimism, intelligence, generosity, and a good sense of humor.” She also encouraged graduates to build their relationships.

“I always give my protagonists a good friend, a buddy who will rejoice with them when the sun is shining and be there for them when the sky is falling in,” she said. “That buddy may be a parent, a sibling, a lifetime pal, but I want all of you to have that kind of person in your life.”

Speaking from the east steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Higgins Clark said she could not give advice that would solve all of life’s problems, but that she preferred to simply “hang over the fence and gossip” about life. She began her speech by congratulating the graduates and encouraging them to be appreciative of their own efforts and the support of others.

Members of the Class of 2015 cheer during the ceremony.  

“Remember that most of you are here today because of both the sacrifices of your family and your own efforts, summer jobs instead of days at the beach,” she said. “Appreciate what others have done for you. … Justify the sacrifices they made. Be proud of all the hours you yourself have worked to come to this day.”

Higgins Clark said she believes every person is given one special gift in life.

“In my case, the godmother who might have given me the voice of a nightingale was out of town; I can’t hit middle C on key,” she said. “I was always the last one the boys asked to dance because I didn’t have a sense of rhythm … And no one has ever begged an invitation to my dinner table.

“But one godmother came and whispered, ‘I bequeath you the gift of the story teller,’” she said. “I am very happy that she was the one who showed up that day. I want you to know, with all the certainty of your being, that each of you, at your cradle, was given a special gift. Find it, feel it inside you, then nurture it to fruition.”

Higgins Clark also spoke about life’s challenges. In her own life, she faced the death of her father when she was a child, her husband’s early death, and the struggle to raise five children on her own.

“We don’t want problems, but they do strengthen us,” she said. “They force you to be on your toes, to overcome obstacles.”

As new graduates work toward building a “fulfilling, giving life,” Higgins Clark asked them to remain true to the moral values of Catholic University. She also urged them to live adventurously with an unwavering trust in God.
“I warn you and promise you that the years to come will fly at an increasingly accelerated pace,” she said. “Make the most of every day of every one of those years.”


2015 Commencement



Speech by Mary Higgins Clark
> President Garvey's Remarks
Baccalaureate Mass Homily

> Baccalaureate Mass web gallery
> Commencement Ceremony web gallery

Mary Higgins Clark's Speech
> President Garvey's Remarks
Commencement Ceremony

> Same Path, Different Journeys for Roommates
> Grads Excited to Begin Careers
> 26 Graduates Commit to Long-Term Service

Catholic University President John Garvey also addressed the new graduates and spoke about modesty. President Garvey noted that modesty is not often praised in today’s culture, but he gave numerous examples to support the benefits of the understated virtue, from the story of Fanny Price, who exercises romantic caution in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, to the life of Abraham Lincoln, who valued the counsel of others over his own ego.

From the world of sports, Garvey spoke of football player Barry Sanders. Instead of performing an elaborate dance after scoring a touchdown, Sanders was known for simply handing the ball to the official.

“It wasn’t that he had an inferiority complex. He knew he was good,” Garvey continued. “But he also put his accomplishments in their proper perspective. Scoring a touchdown is impressive, but it’s not brokering world peace. Reaching the end zone was Sanders’s job, and he did it.”

Though Price, Sanders, and Lincoln are “not three names you often hear in the same sentence,” Garvey said that each epitomize the virtue of modesty.

“They were able to estimate themselves honestly — their strength of character, the value of their deeds, the limits of their powers,” he said. “That self-knowledge helped them secure their happiness and success.”

Although he acknowledged that modesty is “not the most inspiring commencement message,” Garvey noted: “When you practice modesty, you also don’t sell yourself short.”

Moving forward, Garvey advised graduates to practice modesty in all their endeavors by protecting their virtue and maintaining relationships with family and friends. He also encouraged them to remain close to God.

“Pray every day,” he said. “The greatest immodesty is to live without God. Without Him you can do nothing. With Him all things are possible.”

University President John Garvey and Cardinal Donald Wuerl stand with honorary doctoral degree recipients (from left) Michael Novak, Mary Higgins Clark, Francisco José Gómez de Argüello y Wirtz and Maria Carmen Hernández Barrera.  

During the ceremony, Catholic University awarded honorary degrees to Higgins Clark. Honorary degrees were also conferred on author-scholar Michael Novak as well as Francisco José Gómez de Argüello y Wirtz and Maria Carmen Hernández Barrera, co-initiators of the Neocatechumenal Way, a Catholic movement.

Ginamarie Ann Shaffer of Mays Landing, N.J., who earned a Bachelor of Arts in sociology, and Elizabeth Shelley Tracey of Lutherville, Md., who earned a Bachelor of Arts in education, were each honored with the President’s Award, the highest honor given to graduating seniors in recognition of service, leadership, and outstanding scholarship.

During her time at CUA, Shaffer was involved in many campus activities, including Redefined, Radius, and Campus Ministry’s Women’s Retreat Team. She served as a cardinal ambassador in the Office of Admissions and a resident assistant for the Office of Residence Life. She also worked as a Spanish, sociology, and research methods tutor for the Center for Academic Success and an English as a Second Language tutor for the Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo.

Tracey was also highly active during her time at the University, serving as a Eucharistic minister, a resident assistant, and an Orientation Advisor. She spearheaded the creation of the National Residence Hall Honorary at CUA, an organization which recognizes leaders in residence halls. Dedicated to Catholic education, she also worked as a student teacher at St. Anthony’s Catholic School in the Brookland neighborhood of Northeast D.C.

Music was provided for the ceremony by the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music Wind Ensemble, conducted by Michael Smith, associate professor of music. The national anthem was performed by Bachelor of Music recipient Molly Allen.

The University conferred approximately 1,850 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees during the ceremony. The Columbus School of Law will confer more than 125 degrees at its commencement ceremony on Friday, May 22. That ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. in the Great Upper Church of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

This year’s law school commencement speaker is Michael J. Bidwill, president of the Arizona Cardinals football team and a CUA law alumnus.

Other graduation events held over commencement weekend included the Honors Convocation and a Baccalaureate Mass, both held on May 15 at the Basilica.





More news from CUA