Good afternoon! On behalf of our faculty, administrators and staff—and our priest community—I welcome you to Seton Hall University, a nationally recognized Catholic University, as members of the Class of 2014.
Today, you make history as the largest freshman class in 30 years—which may be a little before you were born . . . And your academic profile, including your SAT scores, is one of the strongest in our history. As freshmen you are not only the Class of 2014, but Seton Hall’s future “servant leaders.”
Today you are set to embark upon a journey in your own lives, one in which we are your partners and mentors, one we hope is your very own “Journey of Transformation.”
What does it mean to become a servant leader? This morning in his homily, Monsignor James Cafone said something which I thought would be appropriate for today’s occasion. He recounted the story of a nun he had recently met and who had Stage IV pancreatic cancer. In talking to her, she was not worried about what she had accomplished in her life but rather focused on what lay ahead and whether she had lived her life the way the Lord would have wanted.
For this year, you were required to read Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. I read this book myself in preparation for this semester, and I want to share with you how it opened to me a deeper understanding of the true meaning of servant leadership, of the difference one individual can make in many lives and of the profound significance of our own journeys. It also opened my eyes to the different kinds of servant leaders.
In the book, Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard-educated physician – and an anthropologist – is on a quest to help solve the world’s health crisis by curing infectious diseases that kill millions every year around the globe. Dr. Farmer teaches us that a servant leader can affect global society through actions on an individual level – in his case, healing one person at a time.
To me, one of the most moving passages in the book is a quote from one of Dr. Farmer’s impoverished AIDS patients, who says to him: “When I was sick and no one would touch me, you used to sit on my bed with your hand on my head.” For this act of charity and healing, the patient tells the doctor, “I would like to give you a chicken or a pig!”
Who knows what lies ahead on the journey, around the next corner, through the next doorway or in the heart of the next person you may meet?
Another servant leader in the book was Thomas J. White. Tom White built his construction company into the largest in Boston. His goal was to give his wealth away and die penniless. I read an account that said at age 84 he fulfilled this dream. What about Ophelia or the other co-founders of Partners in Health? Paul Farmer could not know, as with the others, when he decided to dedicate his life to helping others, where his journey would take him—or that they would touch literally millions of lives through their work.
For you, as first-year students, such possibilities and unknowns lie ahead.
I encourage you, as do your professors and advisers, to ask many questions, to read many books, to seek many answers—and to keep coming back for more. For there is no limit—no limit at all—to what you might learn in your time at Seton Hall.
Like you, I am starting my “first year” in a new position, a step on my own journey, and I am full of hope and great expectations for what lies ahead—for all of us on the Seton Hall campus. This unique opportunity is offered to us but once, so let’s take full advantage of it, learn all we can and contribute to our community in the best ways we can.
I would also like to acknowledge all the parents, siblings, relatives and friends of our students. Please stand to be acknowledged. Thank you for allowing us to help our students in their journey.
I would also like to offer a special word to parents and guardians who are present: I am also a Seton Hall parent, so I can identify with your concerns and hopes, as well. We are in this together, and I pledge that we will advance the knowledge and maturity of these new students, as if they are our own daughters and sons. You should expect no less.
I would also like to thank our staff and administrators who made this all possible.
As a pre-eminent Catholic university, and the oldest diocesan University in the country, our mission to educate within a Catholic intellectual tradition dates back to the days of the very first universities. Some of the greatest philosophers and scientists, artists and authors the world has ever known were products of such a university system.
Seton Hall University is a special faith-based learning community where students and professors of all faiths learn and teach in an open and nurturing environment. Here, where our journey has brought us together, I believe that you will experience the same thing I have and generations of Setonians have: You have come to a place that will shape your life in many ways. And you will shape the lives of others whose journeys you will enrich.
Many surprises and new experiences lie ahead for you on your journey, and many doors will be opened. I encourage you to step through those doors boldly and with optimism.
Welcome. Good luck. Godspeed on your first-year journey.