Worthy the Winning
By Michael J. Graham, S.J.
Another academic year has ended, another commencement has come and gone—and graduates galore gone along with them. Commencement was again this year what it somehow always is: a festive end of one chapter in life so that another chapter might now begin. “What might those next chapters be?” I found myself wondering—graduate by graduate and handshake by handshake. “What might those next chapters be?” The answer, of course, is as individual as each and every one of them, to be sure. And yet, in the week after commencement, a presidential-meet-and-greet in California gave me high hopes for what they all might have in common.
I had lunch, for example, with a young alumna just three years out of Xavier who has racked up a distinguished MBA from a distinguished school. (A West Coast school, not Xavier.) Her life now stretches before her, a web of possible paths, and who can say where it will one day lead?
But she knows she will have found the right path when she finds one that fuses her professional skills and her passion for good, enabling her to make the difference in institutions, in lives, in the world that she knows in her bones she can make. In the meanwhile, what else is there to do but dream big, work hard and learn the lessons each day teaches? And relish your friends along the way.
That was followed by a dinner with two 30-something alums one night in L.A., both of whom I also knew back when. It was interesting to talk with them, more interesting still to hear them talk with each other. Both are past the scrambling days of their early careers, and both now can and must make choices that were not in front of them so vividly before.
What will count as success for them and what will count as accomplishment? What will they sacrifice and what will they not? Where will they fit service in (for they know they should), and how will they put family first (for they feel they must)? The one whose daughter is 9 years old spoke from his heart to the one whose daughter is 2 about his search to be the strong father he should be so his 9-year-old can be the strong daughter she must be—today, yes, but tomorrow especially. It helps to be as involved in her life as he can be, he said—coaching her softball team, chairing her school’s fund drive. If it means getting up at 4:30 in the morning, I guess that’s just what it means. The other one nodded, alert.
After awhile, I had to remark how heartening I found their conversation to be, and how much it reminded me of my conversation over lunch that very same day with another alum, older (but only slightly) than they. Like them, he is at that important career juncture where he can now determine where he wants it to go. And, like them, he is determined to steer it so as to balance well career and life and family. Though it’s always good also to do a little for the poor, he observed to me, smiling.
I spoke with yet another alum on another night, who was older by decades than these and in the thick of both life and career. He was juggling it all while caring for his wife, who is sick and for whose health he would gladly trade everything.
And there were meetings with a number of couples who are now retired, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at their schedules. They spent their days putting the wisdom of their experienced years to use in ways as diverse as they are.
But there the one subject was again—engagement for good in the world around them. And there the other was again as well—concern for their families, for those whom they love.
These West Coast encounters were like illustrations of our commencement speakers’ speeches vividly sprung to life. They spoke to our graduates with passionate conviction of the need to balance their lives—the “what” and the “how” of their lives, and most of all the “who”—so as to realize finally their purpose, their “why.”
Succeed, and their lives would be stamped forever with the Jesuit spirit they found here at Xavier. No easy task—as these alums in California can testify, from the youngest to the oldest. But always our choice to make, as the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us. But always, as he reminds us more, “worthy the winning.” Worthy!
Here’s to a good summer for you all, a summer where the “hows” and the “whats” and especially the “whos” of your lives all add up to the very deepest of “whys”—those moments we dwell in all too fleetingly, but dwell
in them indeed we do. Right where God would have us be.