Academic Convocation Remarks on Empowerment

Sep 25, 2009

I want to express my deepest gratitude to our honored guest, Sr. Kathleeen Ross, whose life of empowering others is an inspiration to us all. We thank her for sharing her wisdom and insight with us. Let's show her our appreciation with another round of applause.

Dr. Ross's personal story affirms the values we hold as a university community. Our core value of empowerment is essential to the fabric of our culture as a Catholic institution of higher education. I am reminded of the many people I've encountered in my life who have been empowered through education -- here at Marywood and around the world.

Getting an education seems straightforward, doesn't it? One goes to school, one learns, then goes out into the world and makes a difference. Perhaps it seems simple to us, because we have been blessed with the opportunity to do all of those be who we are, to be where we are, having the ability to realize our full potential, and use our gifts and talents to be a light for others in this world. Perhaps the obstacles to our pursuit of an education have been few, if any.

Still, we all know someone who overcame barriers to become who they are today. Maybe the person sitting next to you has struggled greatly to get to this point in his or her life. Maybe your own story is one of confronting and overcoming challenges.

Indeed, people who clamor for an education are among us -- in our own neighborhoods and communities -- as well as throughout our nation and across the globe. There are people who struggle to even get the opportunity to learn -- those for whom an education is completely out of reach.

As a Catholic institution, Marywood University's responsibility is to draw on the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching (dignity of the human person; common good and community; option for the poor; human rights and responsibilities; economic justice; promotion of peace; stewardship of God's creation, global solidarity, and more) -- linking these moral responsibilities to our cherished core values and to the powerful belief at the heart of our mission that "education empowers people."

We are educators; therefore, we are liberators -- of minds and hearts -- empowered to make a positive difference by confronting and overcoming challenges to educational access wherever and whenever they occur. Marywood University has always been and continues to be committed to the core value of empowerment, here in our own community, as well as in the global community.

History tells the story of Helen Keller and her teacher. When Annie Sullivan was finally able to break through the barrier of darkness and isolation that had held her young student captive for so long, she excitedly wrote of the experience, "My heart is singing for joy this morning. A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil's mind, and behold, all things are changed."

Education is indeed a transformational and illuminating process -- one that endures throughout the life cycle. We are made to learn and serve. And yet, as I mentioned earlier, there are situations and circumstances that can hamper this process.

Whether the barriers are financial, legislative, social, psychological, or physical, our task at hand is persevering to overcome those obstacles and help people to realize their full potential. We are keenly aware of these challenges and are ready to meet them, because our position as a Catholic university -- a learning, teaching community, connected through meaningful relationships -- calls us to this important work.

The Book of Proverbs reminds us that just as, "Iron is sharpened by iron, one person is sharpened by contact with another." (Proverbs 27:17)

[picture of president quote]Clearing the hurdles to educational access is not an easy challenge. We need each other to accomplish this, because each of us has some light to impart on the process. Here in the U.S., that might mean working to provide increased financial aid to make college more accessible to students. In other countries, that might mean confronting deep-seated gender bias, so that women can finally find their own voice and pursue the kinds of educational opportunities that have eluded them for generations.

Since its founding, Marywood has been committed to ensuring access and to helping people realize their dreams of an education. Historically, those who have encountered obstacles, such as women and first-generation college students, have always found Marywood's doors open to them. Our reach has expanded with each passing decade, as we continue to encourage men and women of all backgrounds to shape their lives as leaders in service to others.

My own empowerment experiences, especially with young people from different countries, cultures, religions and life circumstances, have affected my life forever. Such experiences make it impossible for me to view empowerment as an abstract value. These stories are not limited to other parts of the world. They are everywhere at Marywood, right here on our campus.

Empowerment is a real and powerful experience that ripples outward, touching lives in bigger, broader, and more meaningful ways as it expands.

I ask you to consider the words of retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was the first female justice appointed to our nation's highest court. She said, "We don't accomplish anything in this world alone...and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one's life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something."

Just think about your own lives and the people you know. Somewhere, in that remarkable tapestry, are woven the brilliant threads of empowering experiences. Let these experiences encourage and inspire you as you go forward in this academic year. Recall these experiences as you engage others, both at Marywood and beyond the campus borders.

And finally, I encourage you to use the gifts and talents with which you have been uniquely blessed, to weave those threads of empowerment into the lives of others. In so doing, the tapestry of your own life will be wonderfully transformed.