FALL GRADUATION ceremonies were held Dec. 19, 2003.

Undergraduate Commencement Address
Dec. 19, 2003
By Father Michael J. O’Connell
Rector, Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis

To hear O’Connell’s speech, visit the Bulletin Today speeches Web site.

Congratulations to all of you graduates for your hard work, and to your parents who have sacrificed a lot to make this splendid education at St. Thomas possible.

I’m proud to have been asked to give this commencement talk, which will be blessedly short, because I’m a three-time St. Thomas grad. I graduated from St. Thomas Academy when it was on this campus in the 1950s; I got my undergraduate degree in philosophy from St. Thomas when I was at the seminary across the street, and finally, I got my master’s in pastoral studies from St. Thomas in 1984. My father was also a St. Thomas graduate, so I have great affection for this fine and wonderful institution.

I commend Father Dease, and Monsignor Murphy before him, for providing uncommonly dedicated and inspired leadership. St. Thomas is an incredible success story. Leadership, faculty, staff, trustees, parents and students have all made it possible. Thank you all from a proud alumnus.

Father Michael J. O’Connell

In the 1980s Tom Wolfe published a novel, titled Bonfire of the Vanities, which told the tale of a hard-driven, egomaniac investment banker who called himself the “Master of the Universe.” As you would expect from Wolfe’s characters, the “Master of the Universe” crashed and burned tripping over his ego all the way and often in a very funny way.

Wolfe’s protagonist was a vivid precursor to the not-so-funny, equally ego-driven “Masters of the Universe” who have recently betrayed public trust in business, politics and church. Millions of innocent people have been made victims of corporate, political and ecclesiastical leaders whose sense of personal entitlement to power and privilege has set new standards of arrogance.

Beginning a new century and new millennium, you graduates not only have the opportunity, but more importantly, the obligation to create a new way of leadership in business, in politics, in the professions and, hopefully, in the church.

This is an opportunity for you because you might be the first generation in a long time to be smart enough to know that a life of grateful giving and a life of servant leadership is actually the path to true happiness and fulfillment.

Trust me, starting and ending every day with a prayer of gratitude, thanking God for what you have and not being resentful for what you don’t have, is the key to joy and fulfillment. Filling each day with the generous giving of your time and talent and financial resource for the well being of others, starting with your family, will guarantee you a lasting legacy of satisfaction for a life well lived.

Understand that if you don’t choose to translate your hard-earned education into a life of grateful giving and servant leadership, you will be rewarded with an 8,000-square-foot house and be in your second or third marriage with half your kids and grandkids not talking to you.

Being the “Master of the Universe” is not all that it’s cracked up to be! Seize the opportunity that is before you and be rewarded with a lasting legacy of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Not only do you have the opportunity to create a new way of leadership for this new century and millennium, but also you have an obligation.

I’m troubled that two of the hottest books being bought these days are Fountain Head and Atlas Shrugged, written by Ayn Rand over 50 years ago. These books celebrate, in a most unapologetic way, self reliance and relationships based only on usefulness as the way of survival and success in this world.

As graduates of a Catholic institution based on fundamental principles of Christian ethics, I challenge you to believe and live the ethics and values that St. Paul writes about in his First Letter to the Corinthians:

There are different gifts, but the same Spirit … to each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good! (Not, if I may add, for personal gain only, but for the common good.)
And, St. Paul further writes:
Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs, it is not snobbish. Love is never rude. It is not self-seeking, it is not prone to anger; neither does it brood over injuries. Love does not rejoice in what is wrong, but rejoices only with the truth. There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure. Love never fails!

Putting our talents to the service of the common good and living the life of love as St. Paul describes it is the opposite of wanting to be the “Master of the Universe” and relying only on oneself and the usefulness of others.

You have an obligation to live your lives not just for your own success, but also to put the blessings of your birth, the love of your parents, family and friends, and your wonderful education to the grateful and generous service of the common good!

You have an obligation to live lovingly and gratefully; reliant on and grateful for the love and care of others; willing to risk and invest in trusting relationships; knowing that “it will have been better to have loved and lost, than not to have loved at all.” Why? Because as St. Paul writes, “Love never fails.”

I have used the word “obligation” in relation to living lovingly and g
ratefully because this dangerous world desperately needs an antidote to the ethics of greed, power and self-interest. Your generation’s unwillingness to embrace servant leadership and a lifestyle of grateful and generous giving for the common good could contribute to a much more lethal 21st century compared to the unspeakable inhumanity of the 20th century.

We celebrate your accomplishments today! Congratulations to you graduates. Seize the opportunity and the obligation of servant leadership and living lives of grateful and generous and loving relationships! The world desperately needs this!

Graduate Commencement Address
Dec. 19, 2003
By Kenneth E. Goodpaster
Koch Endowed Chair in Business Ethics

To hear Goodpaster’s speech, visit the Bulletin Today speeches Web site.)

Father Dease, Graduates, Families and Friends:
Everything seemed to change in the fall of 2001. Why? Partly because we found we were living in illusion, like the prisoners in Plato’s famous “Allegory of the Cave.” We were shocked on Sept. 11 to discover realities that threatened not only individual lives – but our entire way of life.

The Enron/Arthur Andersen scandals, which we can date from October and November of 2001, also revealed to us that we were living in illusion, only this time an illusion related to shadowy financial reporting – misrepresentation to employees and shareholders of the realities on which their security was based.

Throughout 2002 we were reminded of our illusions again and again: Tyco, WorldCom, Adelphia, Global Crossing. And Feb. 1 of this year our illusions we were dealt another blow: the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry, killing all seven of its crew members.

Dr. Kenneth E. Goodpaster

The collapse of the financial towers of Enron and Andersen – like the collapse of the World Trade Center towers – revealed our vulnerability in the face of certain kinds of fanaticism. And our public institutions made aggressive responses to these crises. In the case of 9/11, it was Afghanistan and eventually Iraq. In the case of Enron-Andersen (and World Com and Tyco and Adelphia and others), it was the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.

The crash of the Columbia space shuttle also revealed our vulnerability – and the aggressive public response came through the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) this past August. In the board’s view: “NASA’s organizational culture and structure had as much to do with this accident as the external tank foam. Organizational culture refers to the values, norms, beliefs and practices that govern how an institution functions … .”

NASA’s culture in 2003, as in 1986, was driven by an overarching goal, including an “ever more compressed” launch schedule for a critical section of the space station by Feb. 19, 2003.

The date seemed “etched in stone,” the report said, and NASA employees had a sense of being “under the gun.”

These heartbreaking events over the past two years – years you have been pursuing your St. Thomas degrees – have something in common. And that they carry a significant commencement message for this class – for your professional lives going forward.

A Pathology
The common pattern, I suggest, is this: Take an organizational culture that is fixated on certain goals whatever the cost; combine it with the group’s rationalization of its behavior in the name of those goals, and repeat this behavior again and again until the protesting consciences of the participants become detached, anesthetized. Fixation, rationalization, and detachment. These are the symptoms of a pathology that can infect our most treasured institutions, including not only those in the private and public sectors, but also the moral-cultural sectors of religion, the media, and education.

  • We see these symptoms in the fanatical behavior of terrorists.
  • But we also see these symptoms in the obsessive behavior of corporate executives.
  • And in the driven behavior of NASA decision makers.
    Fixation. Rationalization. Detachment. Symptoms of an occupational hazard of professional life – a hazard to which both individuals and groups can succumb. Objectives become idols; obstacles become threats; second-thoughts are not allowed – and eventually, second thoughts disappear.

A Tempting Response to the Pathology
What can be done about this pathology? Are there ways to prevent it in the cultures of our institutions? Are there defenses against falling victim to it in our personal lives?

Well, there is one tempting line of defense which will not do the job. Essentially, this defense is to adopt draconian measures to combat the symptoms wherever we find them, measures so extreme that the cure becomes worse than the disease:

  • Terrorizing the terrorists, blaming Islam and attacking innocents in the process.
  • Wiping out corporate corruption by replacing the free market with government regulation (blaming innocent companies in the process).
  • Eliminating the NASA Space Program (blaming its mission, rather than its culture, in the process).

These tempting defenses have in common a strategy of “fighting fire with fire,” “meeting insanity with insanity,” and in general embracing the very pathology that we seek to avoid! These defenses do not transform the world, they simply reinforce the insanity. And in the process, they lead to the loss of great assets – religious tolerance, free markets, and space exploration.

No, our responses to the pathology have to be more en
lightened – and they may ask more of our institutions and of ourselves than we expect. Whether we are up to the task remains to be seen. But we can hope that the St. Thomas graduate degrees being conferred on you this evening signal not only the knowledge you have attained, but the habits of the heart that will be required for you to avoid the hazards that lie ahead.

A Better Response to the Pathology
To avoid the pathology, we must avoid the causes that give rise to its symptoms:

Fixation. How do we avoid fixation without suppressing the virtues with which it can be confused (such as courage, determination, and perseverance)? We must understand the goals that we set for ourselves (and our organizations) as part of a larger mission, the common good. Such understanding comes from habits of thoughtful meditation or prayerful reflection. Professional lives steeped in reflection are less vulnerable to fanaticism and misplaced devotion. And remember that all forms of prayer have in common one thing: that the one who prays acknowledges by that fact that he or she is not God. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, we read that:

“The inclination for busy executives is to live in a perpetual state of triage, doing whatever seems most immediately pressing, while losing sight of any bigger picture. Rituals that give people the opportunity to pause and look inside include meditation, journal writing, prayer, and service to others. Each of these activities can also serve as a source of recovery – a way to break the linearity of relentless goal-oriented activity.”

Rationalization. Avoiding rationalization takes practice – practice at telling the truth when exaggeration or denial appear attractive. Accepting that hypocrisy is part of the human condition – individual and organizational – allows us to address the gaps between our walk and our talk. This kind of honesty comes alive in candid conversations with trusted friends, classmates, and workplace colleagues. It is alive in company cultures that encourage self-criticism rather than blind allegiance.

Detachment. How can we keep head and heart in healthy communication with one another, avoiding detachment? One way is through effective service in our communities, service to the less advantaged. In this way, any tendencies I (or my company) may have toward indifference will be hard to sustain. It is difficult to be indifferent in the regular presence of human needs. It is less difficult to be indifferent if we distance ourselves from those needs. The education of the heart is as much an obligation of this university as the education of the mind.

The bottom line is this: The demands of professional life foster intensity in the achievement of goals and objectives. Without countervailing cultural influences, such intensity can become insanity.

So graduates, my wish – indeed, my prayer – for you this evening is that you remain healthy in your professional lives. That you escape the kind of pathology that seems too frequent in the world around us. That you:

  • Avoid fixation through prayerful reflection.
  • Avoid rationalization through honest conversation.
  • And avoid detachment through generous service to those less advantaged.

And come back to tell us how you’re doing. Share your stories with us – so that this faculty and administration can learn from you. Higher education is not a one-way street. Those in future commencement ceremonies can benefit greatly from the next stage of your professional education – the stage that begins after tonight’s ceremony.


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