Great Commencement Speeches (Part II)

The second installment in our Great Commencement Speeches series comes from the same venue as the first. After Mark Ouweleen’s 1986 Cohonguroton address, Fr. James P.M. Walsh, S.J. accepted the Bunn Award for Faculty Excellence. For those who do not know Father Walsh, he has a knack for recognizing bits of everyday life that illustrate common habits of mind so perfectly as to seem archetypal. As far as I know, most of these cannot be found in written form anywhere in captivity. Fortunately, this 1986 speech, “Farewell,” is built around one such vignette. Read the rest of this entry »


Great Commencement Speeches (Part I)

It’s the season for graduation ceremonies, and I have a confession to make: I love good commencement addresses. I like them almost as much as I like funerals, and for a parallel reason: Just as funerals call our attention to the inescapable reality of death, good commencement addresses call our attention to the unbounded possibilities of life. Eulogies and commencement addresses are like the two great bookends of what little public philosophizing we show any patience for. Read the rest of this entry »

A Hoya Hoops Homily

In honor of this year’s Georgetown Hoyas, who face Vanderbilt tonight in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, I republish this excerpt from a homily delivered over twenty years ago. Its author, former Georgetown President Timothy Healy, S.J., is no longer with us, but this is what he had to say at St. James’ Cathedral in Seattle, the day before Georgetown won its 1984 NCAA championship:

“[L]et us look at what brings us here today. Of course it’s a contest and a big one, and of course everybody associated with it wants to win. But let’s look deeper. Just for a moment let’s forget the hoopla and the noise, the excitement and the lust of victory, and see all our being and all our doing here with the eyes of faith. If we do, we will see that for all our wanting to win, we have also come here to celebrate together three great goods.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Ash Wednesday in the Poetry Corner

At Georgetown’s Dahlgren Chapel today, Fr. James Walsh quoted from this poem by John Donne. Enjoy.

Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely’I love you,’ and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

100 Years of Georgetown Basketball

Today, the Georgetown Hoyas celebrate 100 years of basketball, in conjunction with what I fervently hope will be a victory over Marquette. The Washington Post has this story on John Thompson, Jr., “Big John,” father of the current coach. I thought the following story from the college days of Dikembe Mutombo was particularly interesting:

Dikembe Mutombo, a veteran NBA center and former Georgetown standout, said the only day he ever missed a class at Georgetown, he later showed up to practice to find a one-way airline ticket in his basketball locker. Mutombo was very alarmed to learn he was being sent back to his native Congo that evening.

“He said, ‘I’m sending you back to your father in Kinshasa, Zaire,’ ” Mutombo said, referring to the capital and the country’s former name. “Big John said, ‘Go back home so you can work in [former president] Mobutu’s army.’

“I could not believe it. I said: ‘I had a horrible toothache and got my tooth removed. That is why I missed school.’ He told me I should have scheduled time around school to take care of my tooth. It was chaos in my life. I thought it was the end of my education. I told the advisers, ‘Why is he doing this?’ One day I miss. Can you imagine?”

Mutombo never missed another day of school in four years. He returned to the Congo many times during an NBA career that is now in the midst of a renaissance at age 40. Mutombo soon will open a hospital there.

“Big John’s teaching was very powerful,” Mutombo said. “He always emphasized education and life. Sometimes we would be at the gym for four or five hours. But three of those were him asking questions about life, questions about school, the direction he wanted us to go when we leave the university, how we should interact in business relationships.”

Mutombo was one of 27 Thompson players chosen in the NBA draft and one of eight taken in the first round. More impressively, he is one of 76, out of 78, who stayed four years and received their degrees from Georgetown — a 97 percent graduation rate.

Outsiders who look at that graduation rate may wonder whether it is for real or whether ball players get passed along easily. In that regard, I pass along something I myself witnessed in the early 1980s. During my sophomore year, I had an introductory European history course with the late and legendary Professor Michael Foley, reputed to be one of the best and toughest. He was old school — blazer and tie for every class, Lord’s Prayer before the lecture. I remember three or four basketball players in the class, and I remember being surprised that they would sign up for that particular professor when there were certainly less challenging alternatives. But mostly, I remember one day when one of the players — it might have been Bill Martin — walked up after class and asked Professor Foley if he would take a look at Martin’s outline for a paper I had not yet begun to think about. There was a week left before the due date and this guy had an outline! Eventually, I got a C, and Foley wrote withering comments not about my writing, but about the superficiality of the thought I put into the thesis. I hope Bill Martin did better, because he sure deserved to.

Michael Foley, R.I.P. John Thompson, Jr., thanks for the memories. JT III, Hoya Saxa! Beat Marquette!