Monsignor Sheeran's welcoming remarks are taken from former president of Poland and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa's address to the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations' World Leaders Forum on December 2, 2005.
Walesa addressed a crowd of nearly 1,500. He offered insight to the Seton Hall community about the world's future, based on his experiences as the leader of the 1980s Polish Solidarity movement.
Seton Hall's Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations gives much thought to those speakers we invite, and honor – because whom we honor defines who we are.
Since I've been a boy, I have always loved reading history and biographies of people who made a difference--and made their times, and beyond, better--more just, more enlightened. And one of history's lessons is this: Individuals do change history. Individuals make history – individuals who are visionary and courageous.
I think of leaders like Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, both of whom have spoken and been honored at Seton Hall. Yet, I guess, it is not so unusual when a governor of California or a member of the Politburo emerges as a world leader.
It is unusual when someone who is a worker, someone without a college background, with few worldly credentials becomes an international leader, an icon for hope and justice in our deeply flawed world.
Such a leader is Lech Walesa, the former president of Poland.
I vividly remember hearing of the news as I was riding in my car, here in South Orange, that the Communist government declared martial law in Poland on December 13th, 1981. I and the world held our breath.
Lech Walesa got busy. Persistence – and bravery — faith – won out in the end. His story is a parable of the triumph of the few over the many and the weak over the powerful, especially when what is right and just is at stake.
Many of you have seen the movie "The Lord of the Rings" – or even read Tolkien's books. It has an enduring lesson, and it is this, Lech Walesa's story:
Don't think naively.
A fight against darkness must be brutally fatiguing and even the best intentions need to be constantly renewed.
These are some of the lessons that Lech Walesa has taught us. Tested, purified, in the fire of a struggle for the very soul of his native Poland.
He is proof that someone from the most unremarkable of circumstances – a tradesman in a shipyard – can become the most remarkable of men and leave a mark on history.
I look out at our students at this moment, young men and women. There is perhaps a future Walesa among them. I believe it. I hope it.
As president of Seton Hall, I welcome you all to our University to hear an outstanding servant leader and a world-changing statesman. President Lech Walesa.