Anne Fadiman, acclaimed essayist, author and teacher, delivers the Commencement address to the Holy Cross class of 2013. Image by Dan Vaillancourt
The importance of determination and resiliency were the key themes that members of the Class of 2013 heard at the 167th Commencement Exercises held this morning at the College of the Holy Cross.
A total of 701 men and women were awarded bachelor of arts degrees before family and friends of the graduates, Holy Cross faculty, administrators, staff and honored guests. The event was held in the Hart Center basketball arena due to inclement weather, just the second time it was moved indoors since 2000.
Anne Fadiman, acclaimed essayist, author and teacher, delivered this year’s address to the graduates and received an honorary degree. The Francis Writer in Residence at Yale University, she opened her remarks with references to the campus and shared moments of the Class of 2013, that drew laughter and applause. Then, she told the graduates intimate stories of two people who taught her great lessons, both of whom died this year: Lia Lee and Marina Keegan.
Lee was the subject of her first book, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award, among many other nonfiction honors. Her book tells the story of an extended refugee family; their cultural, linguistic, and medical struggles in America; and Lia, the daughter with epilepsy and severe medical challenges. “What lesson might Lia’s life have for you?” she asked the Holy Cross graduates. “It’s deceptively simple: See things from a different point of view.”
As opposed to Lia, who never said a word after a neurological crisis at age 4, Marina Keegan was “hyper-articulate,” a writer and one of Fadiman’s students at Yale. Her death in a car crash five days after graduating from the university last year drew national attention. A gifted writer with a tireless work ethic, Keegan had left enough work to fill a book, which is expected to be released next year. “Marina’s lesson is even simpler than Lia’s: Never give up,” Fadiman said.
Alluding to a demanding sailing competition that 14-year-old Keegan took part in, she told the graduates: “After you drive down Linden Lane and into your adult lives, don’t confine yourself to the fair weather races, the easy races, the races you know you can win. Get out in gale force winds. Know you will capsize, again and again and again and again. Know that it will not be easy to right your boat, but you can do it. Because the most magnificent triumphs are the hardest ones — the ones that include failure, the ones that you get through not because you are smart or because you are skilled, but because you don’t give up.”
The valedictory address by graduating senior Travis LaCouter, from Concord, N.H., largely eschewed the traditional practice of congratulating fellow classmates on reaching this milestone. Instead, the political science and Catholic studies double major, who was also in the College Honors Program, asked graduates to consider the series of challenges it took them to get to this point, and preserve that spirit for it “will be more crucial still as we enter a world fraught with serious challenges.”
In addition to Fadiman, honorary degrees were also conferred on Sister Janet Eisner, president of Emmanuel College, and Jack D. Rehm ’54, P81, 85, 88, philanthropist and influential media executive.
For more coverage, including photos and audio, visit the Commencement website.