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Honorary Degree Recipients
Week of 31 May 2002 · Vol. V, No. 34

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Words of wisdom: 2002 convocation speeches

By David J. Craig

Here are excerpts from a few speakers who shared their insights with graduates at Commencement ceremonies.

STH Dean Robert Neville
STH hooding ceremony, Marsh Chapel, May 19

In the New Testament's Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul illustrates three obstacles to truthfulness: childishness, Gentile ignorance, and anger. Christians have since added a fourth obstacle to telling the truth, said School of Theology Dean Robert Neville. "We have institutionalized the first three obstacles as part of the Church itself. Christians in captivity to unresolved anger seem justified in seeking to release it with righteous fury, hunting for some object of that fury."

"Most recently the Taliban have been the object of furious righteousness. Next to the bumper sticker proclaiming that 'Jesus Is the Way' you can see stickers with the American flag and the legend 'United We Nuke 'em.' Before the Taliban, it was gay and lesbian people. Before them, the fury was about abortion, with passions on both sides. Before that, the fury was about the place of women in the Church. Righteousness built on anger is always false, even when it is on the right side."

Paul believed that it is not evil to be angry at bad things, Neville reminded the school's newest advanced degree recipients. In fact, Paul taught that expressing anger is necessary to speak the truth, so long as it then is "burned away to love." But just as denying one's anger is a type of falsehood, indulging one's anger leads to "deceitful self-righteousness," he said.

"Honesty is only half achieved when we can bring our strong and sometimes negative emotions to expression. We sometimes congratulate ourselves too quickly for giving 'tough love.' The other half of honesty requires setting aside our anger and strong feelings so that they do not warp the message we convey to those to whom we would tell the truth."

Provost and Dean of Arts and Sciences Dennis Berkey
GRS hooding ceremony, May 19

Although graduate students are required to focus closely on a single academic field, often to the exclusion of other interests, Provost Dennis Berkey challenged doctoral recipients at GRS to use their knowledge and specialized skills to explore the world at large. "In becoming an expert, it is easy to lose the perspective of how particular work fits into a larger whole," said Berkey, the outgoing dean of arts and sciences. "Now is the time to reach back to the broader context of your undergraduate education to gain, or perhaps to regain, the fullness of the context in which knowledge proceeds. As you now stand poised to move beyond the familiar challenges of graduate school and begin professional practice, rest assured that your graduate education here, together with your undergraduate studies, has provided an outstanding foundation, allowing you to move forward boldly as creative thinkers well prepared to make outstanding contributions to your field and to the world."

Berkey also charged the graduates to "question everything" in their professional lives. "You might recall how, during the course of your education, you found a knotty problem that needed answering. Perhaps, by virtue of the intrigue you found in this question, you decided to enter graduate school. Once you were here, you may recall, instead of giving you answers, your professors goaded you with more questions. They understood, to paraphrase Anatole France, that great teaching is the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds. Your professors helped you to learn to differentiate the important from the unimportant and to examine evidence with a critical mind. Though you may have found some answers in your research and in writing your dissertation, you are probably leaving Boston University with more unsolved problems or unanswered questions than when you began. Consider this our gift to you, one which you will carry with you for the rest of your life."

Chairman of the BU Board of Trustees
Richard B. DeWolfe

BU Academy graduation ceremony, May 20
Quipping that he had finished at the "very top of the bottom one-third" of his own high school class, Richard B. DeWolfe, chairman of the BU Board of Trustees, offered himself to BU Academy seniors as living proof that success greets those who follow a four-pronged life plan of hope - honesty, optimism, perseverance, and enthusiasm.

"Perseverance is a quality I find missing in people today," said DeWolfe (MET'71), chairman, CEO, and treasurer of DeWolfe Companies of Lexington, Mass. "Too many people want their big dreams right now; they expect that it's my way or I'm outta here. Whether it's personal relationships or jobs, too many would rather quit than fight. The irony is that real character, strong values, and satisfaction are the things that come from slugging it out to make a dream come true. And you know what? I find that most people give up and quit just about the time it was all finally coming their way."

To illustrate, DeWolfe pointed to Abraham Lincoln - twice failed in business, twice lost elections for Congress, twice lost elections for Senate, then lost the race for vice president before finally winning the presidency.
"There is not that much in life which happens instantly that actually lasts, especially success. Just look at the dot.com world. Money was substituted for time and hard work and the high-tech world found out the hard way that money could not buy respect or loyalty or longevity. People need to toughen up and accept pain and hard work as the price of getting where they want to go . . . Stick with your plan; a bend in the road is not the end as long as you make the turn. When perseverance pays, your hopes are rewarded."


31 May 2002
Boston University
Office of University Relations