In his address at the College’s 166th Commencement Exercises held on May 25, Paul Farmer, founding director of Partners In Health, reminded members of the Holy Cross Class of 2012 that they are graduating from an institution that challenges them to be “men and women for others,” and the world, “riven by inequality,” is in need of their talent and spirit.
A total of 691 men and women were awarded bachelor of arts degrees before an estimated 6,000 people — family and friends of the graduates, Holy Cross faculty, administrators, staff, and honored guests.
Under cloudy skies on Fitton Field, Farmer made three specific points to graduates, drawn from his own experience during a 1982 trip to Haiti. He had reluctantly gone to visit a gravely ill man, traveling a great distance, without the proper medical equipment, and in pain from his own leg injury. He discovered the patient was close to death from acute asthma. With the inhaler Farmer was carrying to treat his own asthma condition, he was able to save his life.
He reminded graduates that “we inhabit a bizarrely unequal planet,” and despite the fact that 30 years have elapsed from that long ago visit to Haiti, a situation where a poor man dying of something as easily treatable as asthma is still as likely today as it was then.
“Such imbalances are even less tolerable now, in what we are calling modern times,” he said. “What does it mean to die unattended of a severe asthmatic attack in the age of Facebook or LinkedIn?”
Second, Farmer said he came to understand that there was something miraculous in that experience: “the miracle of human solidarity.”
Third, he said that privilege comes with obligation to others, especially to the poor.
“Realize your good fortune and share it with others, by putting your gifts and training in the service of others who may not have had the same opportunities, but are certainly appreciative of your powers to do good. Your school, a Jesuit institution, was founded on Catholic social teaching that reminds us of that obligation — unshakeable and imperious and beautiful.”
He closed his speech by quoting from a talk that Jon Niconchuk ’09, now a Harvard Medical School student, delivered to the Class of 2012 during their first week on campus.
“Jon told you, ‘I did not find myself by looking in a mirror; I began to find myself by looking out a window. Holy Cross gives you that window.’” Farmer reminded the graduates. “You stand at the window. Outside, a world of peril and promise. Throw open that window.”
The valedictory address by graduating senior Mark Weyland, from Silver Spring, Md., served as a precursor to Farmer’s speech.
“The mission of Holy Cross, forming us into men and women for — and with — others, has impelled us to find the worth and dignity in each person we meet — whether they be students we tutored in Worcester, neighbors whose homes we helped build in New Orleans, or families we lived with in El Salvador. And in these encounters, we learned to find our own selves,” Weyland said.
In addition to delivering the commencement address, Farmer received an honorary degree. Honorary degrees were also conferred on Lisa Sowle Cahill, the J. Donald Monan Professor of Theology at Boston College; Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J., 31st president of the College of the Holy Cross; and Sherry Turkle, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT.
For more coverage, including photos and audio, visit the Commencement website.
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