“Prove it to me. Impress me. Exceed my expectations of you. Exceed your own expectations of yourself and then exceed them again and again and again until you grow into the person you are called to be.”
The man of many words made each one profound, stretching their meaning and challenging his newest class to stretch themselves beyond the academics they will encounter toward the life challenges they will come up against as well.
“We welcome you into your future life, a whole life of friends, family and community, a life given over to others,” he said. “We welcome you to a tradition that is almost 500 years old, a tradition you will carry into the future connecting your experience here to the Jesuit tradition, which you now become a member of in a powerful way.”
Graham addressed the audience of 886 freshman students and their family members—parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters —in a cordoned off-area of the Cintas Center. They jammed the section, exhausted after the work of moving into their dorm rooms, but excited, and gave Graham a lot of feedback— laughter when he related to their experiences on move-in day, applause when he announced the University’s recent ranking, released that day, of number 2 in the Midwest among universities ranked by U.S. News & World Report.
He engaged them to help the University reach the number 1 ranking. In the process, he said, they'll study a core curriculum that emphasizes logic, ethical expression, critical thinking and values while emphasizing the whole person and giving to others. He told them of the intellectual, moral and spiritual formation they are about to begin, and he told them how they're called to be scholars, saints and citizen-servants.
In doing so, he said, they'll learn about the Society of Jesus, founder St. Ignatius Loyola and his educational theories that incorporate classical learning with education for the modern world.
"The best education you can receive to prepare for your lives is the ancient tradition that forces you to come to terms with the basic questions of history," he said. "It is also a transformation of your character, to nudge your heart to change how you look at the world so you can consider what is meant to be in the heart and mind of God."
He described the major parts of a Jesuit education: cura personalis, or care of the whole person; the majis, or more, that challenges us to be greater; finding God in all things; and being men and women for others.
He wrapped up his talk with advice to the new students to study hard but to look for the links between the core curriculum and their personal experiences both on and off campus.
He told them to be open to new ideas, to themselves and to others. "You will discover in your courses that you are the newest participant in a conversation as old as humanity itself. It's only by being shaken up a bit that you and I grow."
During a prayer service after dinner, Graham addressed the parents and students again at Cintas and, continuing his inspirational pitch, related the story of the pamper pole. He had been challenged once to climb a ladder leaning on a pole, then climb the rungs on the pole to an 18-square-inch platform from which he would leap to grab a trapeze—all while wearing a harness that would catch him if he missed.
"I discovered why they called it the pamper pole, because that's what I wish I was wearing," he said. "It was going to get ugly."
In the same way, he said, the new students and parents find themselves perched on a platform and they have no choice but to jump into their futures—and there is no safety harness.
"Each and every one of you is standing on that little 18-inch platform preparing to take a jump," he said. "You can either jump or a great wind will come and shake you right off, and the question is how do you do that? You guys are working without a net except one—and that's God. The one who gave you those children in the first place. He's always with us, wherever we've been and where we are going to be."