(Diocese of Wilmington seminarian James Gebhart was valedictorian at Seton Hall University commencement on May 20. Below is the speech he delivered to several thousand people at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.)
Welcome Cardinal Tobin, members of the Board of Trustees, members of the Board of Regents, President Meehan, Provost Boroff, Mr. Ley, vice presidents, deans, faculty, administrators, family and friends, and most espescially to us, the graduating Class of 2019!
Over a century and a half ago, Bishop James Roosevelt Balyley envisioned the newly founded Seton Hall College as “a home for the mind, the heart, and the spirit.” A place to nurture the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs of all her members. He didn’t envision it as just a school, or a college, or as some mere institution, but rather, he envisioned it as it truly is — a home. A home that has turned strangers into lifelong friends, a home that has enabled us to discover our talents, and to use them as a means of shaping the world around us to better the common good. At Seton Hall, we’ve had professors who have poured out their wealth of knowledge upon us, and have taught us that there’s no obstacle to high, and no goal that’s too far out of reach for us to accomplish. We’ve been prepared to be ambitious servant leaders who are set out to make a positive impact on the changing world around us. But where did all this start?
To think that only a short time ago, as young high schoolers, all of us were faced with the long-dreaded and most difficult question in the life of any teenager — “What do you wanna be when you grow up?” With endless possibilities to choose from, we began looking towards our futures. Asking ourselves, what career path, what school, what major, what place will make our dreams become a reality? We looked towards those who inspired us the most. Those people who are here supporting us today: our family members, teachers, mentors, coaches, and so many more. These are the one’s who truly believed in us, the one’s who led us to our home away from home — Seton Hall. And here we are, back in this arena where we’ve cheered on our basketball team on so many occasions. But today, we’re a little more then just fans, today, we’re graduates, graduates of Seton Hall University!
Each of us have different and unique memories and experiences of our time at Seton Hall. Our shared memories as Pirates can hardly be numbered. We’ll remember Winston repeatedly telling us how many lights strung the famous Seton Hall Christmas tree. We’ll remember that carefree feeling of joy as the first warm day of spring came, and the Green was filled with people, and hammocks swung from trees around its perimiter. We’ll remember racing to Dunkin’ Donuts to get that much needed coffee before our next class, and the feeling of dissapointment when we saw that the line was practically out the door. We’ve all been there. But, in a year from now, or ten, or maybe more, we’ll return to our home. Back to the place that started us on the road towards the rest of our lives. The road that started at the front gate with a friendly wave from our good pal Morrison. We’ll find ourselves back in that beautiful chapel that sat as the beating heart of our campus. We’ll realize that stressing over our GPA, papers and finals, was only temporary, and that it’s our memories we’ve made and the experiences we’ve had at Seton Hall that will last us a lifetime.
Last year, during a conference at the seminary, a wise priest challenged us in a way that we may not have been challenged before. He told us to dream, and to dream big about our futures! That got me thinking. Thinking that all of this, every experience we’ve had, every accomplishment we’ve made, started as just a dream. The dream of young, ambitious, maybe even scared eighteen year olds who decided to go to college in hopes of figuring out “what we wanna be when we grow up.” Today, that dream starts to become a reality as we join the ranks of over 100,000 alumni of Seton Hall University. But, let’s remember what the priest said. He didn’t just say to “dream,” he said to “dream BIG!” Which means that we continue, we keep moving forward, and we don’t stop pursuing our dreams no matter what challenge or obstacle may come our way.
Under the dome of the library on campus, there are these words of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton engraved on the wall: “Let God’s Truth be our guide.” The guide that will keep us on the right path as we embark on a future full of hope, but yet at the same time, one of uncertainty, and maybe even one that brings us fear. As we leave here today and step into our futures, may all of us hold on to these words of Pope St. John XXIII. He said, “Consult not your fears, but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible for you to do.” Whether it was fear, frustation or failure that may have come our way in the yesterdays we’ve left behind, it’s the endless possibilities of tomorrow that continue to await us and all that we have to offer this world. Class of 2019, let’s never stop dreaming, and lets never forget the place that we’ve called home. To you my fellow clasmates, Hazard Zet Forward, and may God be with us!