Class Night 2017
Your fellow students have reflected on their own journey, and they have challenged you, in this, your graduation from Molloy College. They have given you sound advice, and wise counsel on how to navigate your transition from Molloy to the next part of your journey.
What can I add to this?
Perhaps, just a few reflections and a story.
We live in historic times - times of profound and rapid change. We have an endowed lecture series on campus, and every year we invite a person to come and discuss a topic that is pertinent to our time. This year we invited David Brooks, a columnist for The New York Times, to discuss President Trump's first 60 days.
By his own admission, he had written about 40 columns about why Trump wouldn't get elected, so having gotten it wrong, he set out to go to middle-America and find out first-hand why he had won.
What he found was a society that had changed radically. A society that had gone from being an interwoven community to a fragmented one. He found a lack of intimacy, a lack of social connection, and in so many parts of the country people falling through the cracks.
It used to be if you asked Americans, "are most of your neighbors trustworthy?" the majority would say yes.
Now only thirty-two percent say yes, and among millennials only nineteen percent say yes.
It used to be people were living in homes with other people, about eight percent of Americans lived alone a generation ago. Now it's twenty-eight percent and in some parts of the country it's forty percent living alone.
There's been an epic rise of loneliness. The percentage of Americans 45 years-old and over who suffer from chronic loneliness has grown to about 35 percent.
Even when we're with each other, we're often not totally with each other. The average person checks their smart phone 221 times a day, every 4.3 minutes.
The greatest challenge you will face therefore, after college graduation, is not how to earn a living, but how to connect to others. How to connect in meaningful ways - to reach across the increasing fragmentation and find ways to be relational, to be in solidarity with the stranger and to find common ground with others who are different.
I save dollar bills - putting them in a special place.
I save them not because I'm a collector - but I save them for my trips into the City.
I take them out of my wallet and put them in my side pants pocket. They are not for use as tips - but I give them to those I meet on the street.
I used to rationalize away this type of engagement. Some were down on their luck - others I thought were just scamming and by giving, I would encourage more to work the system.
One trip into the city, it changed. I was walking to Penn Station from Times Square with my wife, Karen, and two friends from out of town. I noticed a man on the sidewalk, his head bent over, holding a bowl overhead, not making eye contact, humbly and embarrassingly asking for money.
My friends, stopped right in front of the man, perhaps not even noticing him, completely enthralled with a view of the Empire State Building. While they took photos, I was overwhelmed with a jarring irony of separate lives, lived, and a profound sense of embarrassment.
As we went on, I ran back and put money in his cup.
Now, when I'm in the City, I don't walk by - I look into their eyes and engage them as fellow human beings, even if just for a few seconds.
In addition to physical dollars, I keep metaphorical dollars in my pocket as well.
Precious moments of time I spend with others I encounter
- On campus
- In the community
- The waiter, the bus boy
- The Uber driver or taxi driver
- The clerk
- A stranger on the platform
At least a hello and a thank you. It breaks the sterility and isolation of modern life, and I know we are all the better for it.
You know on campus, we do this. Being at Molloy means you hold the door, open the door for others and say hello.
Why is this so important?
Because when we do it, we acknowledge the worth of the other and our connectedness to our fellow human beings.
Most of you will be leaving Molloy in the next few days - this special community we have created. It is sad in a way, but also so full of excitement and possibility. But you can take Molloy with you. Put dollars in your pocket at the beginning of every day - real ones and metaphorical ones and give them out - by being present to others.
This complex fast-paced world in which we live needs to be more like Molloy. So in your climb to the top, put your hand in your pocket and give generously to those you meet along the way.