Commencement Remarks 2021
President James Lentini
May 18, 2021
Hi my name is Jim Lentini, and I’m so happy to be here with you today for what is my first commencement as President of Molloy University. Students, I’m sure that many of you wondered if you’d ever be here today. No, I don’t mean the fact that you are graduating—we all had confidence you’d complete your degree. What I mean is how were we going to do a graduation celebration during this pandemic, which has made in-person gatherings a rare thing. For those of you who are attending today, we’re offering a combination of an in-person and remote celebration, and we hope that this experience for you and your families will be fun and meaningful.
So, here you are, the Molloy University Class of 2021! Congratulations, you’ve arrived, right? Well, not so fast—this is more of a beginning than an ending—I’ll get to that in a minute. When you started at Molloy, you couldn’t have known what would lie ahead. But you were probably wondering things like, will I like my classmates, will my professors be nice, what are the Four Pillars of Dominican Life, and did Student Affairs VP Janine Biscari actually just give me her real cell phone number? But there is no way, not possible, unforeseen by anyone, that we would have the year we are currently living through together. But look at some of the positives and discoveries that have been made during this past year: effective vaccines created in record time, new treatments and research discoveries, not to mention some things that parents are learning for the first time, like new shows on Netflix, Hulu, and Disney Plus. Come on, admit it, who didn’t watch the Queen’s Gambit? And no one can complain about not spending enough time with their families…right?. While it’s impossible to ignore the pandemic, I’ll focus my comments more on the future, as I think we’ve all thought about facemasks, vaccines and social distancing quite a lot. Today let’s talk about where we are, how we got here, and what lies ahead.
Speaking about how we got here, I’m often asked, how does someone become a college President? Does it take superior intellect, knowledge of everything in academia, a keen business mind, or is it all just about good looks and charisma? OK, forget about that last part. The answer is, there is no formula, because I never had on my radar in life to be a college president. As far back into my childhood as I can remember, I had couple of “plans,” if you can say a 6 year-old has a plan for his life, that I remember vividly. One was to be a shortstop for the Detroit Tigers. Solid plan. My heroes were names most of you are too young to know, like Al Kaline, Norm Cash, and Mickey Lolich. My plan, however, began to unravel a bit when I realized that being a decent ballplayer in my neighborhood didn’t exactly translate when I played against a wider group of talent. This was one of my earliest experiences of getting out there in the world, outside of the comfort zone of my friendly neighborhood, to realize that not everyone grew up like me, in an Italian-Catholic family of modest means. Of course, I wasn’t thinking about money. I thought my family had all we needed growing up in a 1200 square-foot bungalow with 4 kids sharing bedrooms with one black and white TV set that could get 4 or 5 channels (students, you’ll have to look this up, along with rotary dial telephones and 8-track tapes).
My parallel plan took shape after seeing the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964 (yes, I’m that old). It was obvious to me that the job of “rock star” was a good one. At the age of eight, I pleaded with my mom and grandparents, who were a big part of my upbringing, to start guitar lessons. I still remember the music studio run by a man named George Cailotto and his wife, who would give me a warm greeting as I lugged my guitar (which was bigger than me at the time) into lessons every Saturday. While I always loved sports, this music thing had some lasting effects. I remember winning a music competition in Michigan when I was 9 or 10 years old, playing a souped-up version of Hot Crossed Buns, or some tune like that. These kinds of experiences instilled some confidence in me and I was doing what I loved.
Think of how each of you have arrived here today, from the dreams you had as a child to being here now getting your degree. Is this what you envisioned? For some of you, I’m sure the answer is “yes,” but for most, the path is not a straight line. This year, of course, threw a wrench in most people’s plans, and many had to adjust, delay, or abandon their livelihoods and pursuits. There have been, no doubt, challenges for our Molloy students, but we are extremely proud of the resilience you have shown to keep your academic work going, while keeping your dreams alive.
Our dreams, your dreams, are important! There’s a phrase that says: “shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” This is an interesting quote, and one I’ve always understood to mean “aim high, and even if you miss, it’s better than aiming low and hitting the mark.” That’s right, aiming high and missing is preferable to aiming low and hitting the mark. You never know what you might be able to accomplish, unless you try. As the great philosopher, hockey player Wayne Gretzky, said: You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take. This is true! Some of you are here today because you had dreams and passions that carried you through obstacles of all sorts, including a global pandemic. There’s another quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin that says: “you can do anything you set your mind to.” Hmm, this reminds me, as a point guard in grade school with decent ball handling skills, I also had dreams of being a basketball player. A few things got in the way, one being that 5 foot 7 turns out to not be the ideal height for a basketball player. Now, there are some exceptions to the rule, as there have been height-challenged players who have made it to the NBA. The lesson is this: though you can accomplish great things when you put your mind to it, you may need to alter your plan! And what you might perceive as non-success, or failure, which is an overused term, might be anything but. The thing that doesn’t work out for you is often just what you need to steer you to the success that is meant to be yours! This concept was articulated beautifully by one of the world’s greatest inventors, Alexander Graham Bell, when he said:
“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Think about that. I think we’ve all had this experience—so heed Bell’s advice and look for the open doors!
That quote helped me through some challenges in my life, and it can help you too, whether you experience difficulty with relationships, jobs or other life situations.
Today, you are graduating and closing a chapter in your life. But have you arrived? Well, for some of you, this may close a chapter of formal education, but believe me, the learning has just begun. And, oh, the doors that are now open for you! The challenge will be, which ones to choose? I have seen in my own life that we are all a product of the decisions we make. From little decisions you make every day to the big decisions, like what career to pursue or who you decide to marry, every decision has a consequence, big and small. Do you binge-watch your favorite Netflix series or study extra hard for your exam? What job to pursue, when to change careers, how much to spend on a new car…decisions, decisions! And I hate to tell you, no matter how good your salary or elevated your position, none of this gets easier. In fact, if I had to give one piece of advice, it is this: all of your education and knowledge are required as a basic tool set, but it is the quality of the decisions you make that will define who you are and what you become. The lesson: practice making good decisions, from what you eat, to how you take care of yourself physically and mentally, to who you hang out with. The better decisions you make on the small things are practice for how to make good decisions on the big things.
So, what if you make a bad decision? Learn from it and handle your mistakes in an ethical and humane manner and make a better decision next time. We all make mistakes—lots of them! The inevitable mistakes you’ll make will not define you if you continue to learn and grow with an open mind and remember to be a lifelong learner.
I’d like to speak for a moment about the world you are entering as you walk off of our campus and take the next steps in your life. Besides slowly clawing out of hibernation caused by COVID-19 and getting back to in-person experiences, you are entering a world where social unrest, political division, and economic disparities may be at the most strained level any of us have ever seen. What is needed to get things moving on a better path? More college graduates. Like you! People who have learned not only in the classroom but who have lived by the values we hold dear at Molloy, such as “acting justly and with kindness in all our endeavors,” “transforming our communities,” “searching for truth; open to each other's truth,” and “reflectively listening to ourselves, our God and to the signs of the times in our contemporary world.” These are Molloy’s values. Can you imagine a world that would hold to such values? Is it possible to think that our values can make any difference in our communities? The answer is and must be, yes!
Imagine the impact of acting justly and with kindness in all your endeavors—can you think of someone in your life with these traits? For me, it was my Grandmother, Lena, who somehow managed to help my mother raise four young boys without a father in the home. She put love into cooking homemade Italian meals, spending hours in the kitchen day upon day. She could have a firm hand when needed, but for us boys, she was always gentle and kind and a great listener. We could tell her anything and she seemed interested and understanding. So many others have helped me along the way. When I was a music major in college, my music theory professor, Richard Parks, saw something in me that led to a tuition scholarship and he had me teaching class sessions as an instructor’s assistant. I didn’t plan this! It was one of those doors that was opened for me by someone else! This built confidence that I never knew I could have. I know you have people in your lives like this as well. Parents, mentors, family members, or friends who lift you up when we you need it. These individuals are the role models for how we should treat people and are deserving of praise in a world where we too often see examples of brute force, disrespect, and uncivil dialogue used by groups and individuals as a way to supposedly get ahead. We’ve seen the damage in our society from such behavior, and you, graduates, can turn things around by living the values you have gained here at Molloy.
And what about the knowledge you’ve acquired as a college graduate? Will the degree help you succeed in life? While it seems incredible, a Gallup poll showed that only about half of U.S. adults consider a college education to be "very important.” Only half consider a college education to be very important—wow! I’m not sure who took this poll, but in this case, perception is NOT reality! Here are the facts: college graduates get better jobs, earn more money annually and during their lifetime, and even have a longer life expectancy than those without a degree. And another fact is that the world needs college graduates now more than ever to fill jobs in health care, business, education, advanced technology, analytics, and in emerging fields that require advanced study. We also need to turn our world of divisive and fractured discourse into a place where civil dialogue allows for difference of opinion to be handled with critical thinking and humane interaction. You are equipped to do that, Molloy graduates! The world needs you! You can feel assured that degree completers, like you, will be very successful in whatever you choose to do.
Here’s an example of how our Molloy graduates change the world. Just before Mother’s Day, NBC’s Today Show gave mother-daughter nurses and Molloy University graduates, Lori and Carolyn Brady, quite an honor on live television. As the Today Show celebrated special moms on the plaza for Mother’s Day, they brought Lori and Carolyn on the show live to air a special tribute to their work on the front lines treating COVID patients at Mt. Sinai South Nassau Hospital. In addition to the filmed tribute, the Brady’s were presented with a surprise scholarship in their name created by Molloy. Lori and Carolyn Brady typify the outstanding work by our Molloy graduates, who are not only stellar performers in their jobs, but give back to their communities.
So, you take with you today a great responsibility to not only yourselves, but to your families and communities to carry forward the virtues and values that represent Molloy graduates. Your diploma represents your ability to face and overcome challenges and to do so with integrity and empathy for others that will make the world a better place. Blessings to your mentors, family and friends who have supported you to be where you are today, and my heartiest congratulations to you, the class of 2021! Go Lions!