The Catholic University of America

126th Annual Commencement Address
Mary Higgins Clark, best-selling author
East Portico, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
May 16, 2015

   
  Mary Higgins Clark

Cardinal Wuerl, President, John Garvey, fellow honorees, Trustees, Faculty, members of the graduating class, and families and friends of the graduates, I am delighted to address the class of 2015 this morning on this defining moment in their lives.

Over the years I’ve attended many graduations and the same words keep coming up – milestones, memories, dreams, hope, the future. I don’t mean that these words are hackneyed, because they are not. They are appropriate to the day.

Today, you graduates of the Catholic University of America have completed another milestone. The first one you achieved upon your graduation from grammar school. The second occurred on your graduation from high school. I am aware that for some of you the mathematics are a little different. You are the ones who came back to earn your degree. My hat’s off to those for whom this is true. Balancing a family and a job while you study isn’t easy. Many others of you today are about to receive either a masters or doctoral degree which means untold hours of studying and writing. You are now ready to take on the world.

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. Appreciate what others have done for you. Be worthy of the faith others have in you. Justify the sacrifices they made. Be proud of all the hours you yourself have worked to come to this day.

It would be nice if I could give you terrific advice that would be a magic key into a magical world where any problems that do arise are solved in minutes; where from this moment on you will live happily and successfully ever after, but we all know that isn’t the way it works. So instead I’ll just hang over the back fence and gossip with you for a few minutes about real life because instant happy endings aren’t real life.

I believe that at our cradles the legendary godmothers come to bequeath a gift. Some people receive many, others just one, but everybody does get one special gift. 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. I was always the last one the boys asked to dance because I don’t have a sense of rhythm. My daughters remind me that the hems of their school uniforms were scotch-taped, and that is entirely true. And no one has ever begged an invitation to my dinner table. But one godmother came and whispered, “I bequeath you the gift of being a storyteller”.

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 one of you, at your cradle, was given a special gift. Find it, feel it inside you, then nurture it to fruition.

 

The lottery has become a factor in our lives. Regularly in the media we see the smiling face of someone holding a winning ticket. I’m sure we all wonder what we’d do if we were lucky enough to be that person. But there is a saying that I believe is true, “If you want to be happy for a year, win the lottery. If you want to be happy for life, love what you do”.

When I was signing books a few years ago, a woman said to me, “You’re so fortunate. You had a lot of problems - your father’s early death when you were a child, your husband’s early death, the struggle to raise and educate five children”.

I waited for the punch line. “You see”, she explained, “I’ve been very fortunate. My parents were wonderful. We grew up in a comfortable home, my husband does very well, we love each other and we have great kids. But I haven’t experienced enough problems to have anything to write about”. My heart didn’t bleed for her, but she did have a point. We don’t want problems, but they do strengthen us. They force you to be on your toes, to overcome obstacles.

My books usually start with a prologue, a foreshadowing of what is going to happen later. Today you are starting to write your own suspense novel. It’s called ‘The Rest of My Life’.

By your choice of what you will be doing in September, you have already written the prologue. Did you choose medical school, are you going for your MBA, are you planning to become a Juris Doctoris, have you felt a call from God to follow him in a vocation? Whatever your choice – your prologue is written.

When I begin to plan a book, I don’t know exactly who the protagonist is, but I do know that he or she will be a person who combines faith, optimism, intelligence, generosity and a good sense of humor.

Let’s touch on the subject of a sense of humor. It is the leavening agent in life. If you don’t have one naturally, try to develop it. When everything piles up on you, the ability to laugh at fate or at yourself is a cure for both body and mind.

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. That buddy may be a parent, a sibling, a lifetime pal, but I want all of you have that kind of person in your life.

In some novels we have what we writers call the ‘love interest’, the person who may share your life with you. Some of you may have already met that person. Many others will find him or her along the way.

When any writer begins a novel, the early pages seem to take forever. Then at some point they move at a quicker and quicker pace.

Any novel worth its salt has downward steps, problems that arise and need to be solved. I pray that you, the protagonist, will face up to your problems with determination and strength.

A novel has a goal. Yours I hope will be to lead a fulfilling, giving life. In our increasingly secular society, too often traditional values have been replaced by situational ethics. You as graduates of Catholic University have the opportunity to become moral leaders in a world where so frequently moral values are consigned to the dustbin. Don’t be afraid of exercising that leadership.

I warn you and promise you that the years to come will fly at an increasingly accelerated pace. Make the most of every day of every one of those years. Write the story of your lives so that your novel will be more than a best seller. Write it and live it so that it becomes a classic.

Now is the time to receive your degrees, to accept the congratulations of your families and friends, to enjoy your parties.

You are voyagers at the beginning of your new adventures. Now voyagers, with unwavering trust in God, set forth thy sails and have a wonderful life.

 

 

 

 

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