Thank you, President Regan, Principal Lewis, members of the board of trustees, Congressman Stephen Lynch, faculty and staff, alumni, families, and friends.
Unlike many previous Commencement speakers, I am not an alumnus of BC High.
Perhaps that’s why I didn’t get the memo to wear a tuxedo.
I have never seen a group of better-dressed graduates, and I spent 25 years living in Hollywood.
While I may not share your excellent style, I share with you something even better.
I, too, graduated from a men’s Catholic school.
I experienced the gift of a Jesuit education in Lebanon, a tradition with all the boys in my family, from the age of five until twelfth grade, and beyond.
At Saint Joseph University, my mentor, Father Kolvenbach, himself a linguist, inspired me to become one.
He advised me to come to the United States to further my studies at MIT.
After completing my PhD there, the family moved to Los Angeles.
I took my five-year-old son to enroll at Loyola High, and Father Bennett told me to come back in eight years.
I didn’t realize that Jesuit schools in the U.S. begin later.
It was worth the wait.
As the president of an academic institution, I can tell you there is no stronger foundation on which to build a flourishing life of the mind.
And also a life of action and impact.
Every day, I rely on the values I learned at College Notre Dame in Lebanon.
They are the same ones taught here:
Competence, conscience, and compassion.
This is a powerful combination.
Every educational tradition aims for competence.
We go to school to learn how to think and do things well:
Critically weigh ideas;
Build persuasive arguments;
Solve complex problems through reasoning and doing;
Acquire new knowledge and skills.
BC High taught you something more powerful than competence.
Your education here also honed your conscience.
Knowing how to do something is important. But even more valuable is knowing whether you should do it.
There is no app on your phone for character.
Conscience in practice is compassion.
You’ve practiced compassion in your service and outreach. You’ve also practiced compassion in your relationships.
Now, speaking of competence, conscience, and compassion, BC High’s leadership, faculty, and staff epitomized all three during the pandemic.
They did a fantastic job reopening your school safely and in person.
They had the competence to succeed at a very challenging task.
The conscience to do it, because it was right that you should continue your education.
And compassion for your poor families, to get you out of the house after driving them crazy during lockdown.
Please give them a round of applause.
Three Lessons for College
Class of 2022, most of you will attend a variety of excellent colleges and universities.
I look forward to welcoming several of you to Northeastern in the fall.
You’re going to love the university experience.
You’re soon going to be responsible for getting yourself to class every morning – even if your roommate keeps you up all night debating climate change solutions or playing videogames.
Before you set off on this adventure, I am going to share a few insider tips.
Here are three things you should know about college.
Lesson Number One: Don’t Have a Plan.
I’m sure your parents are wondering why I’m saying this.
It seems counterintuitive.
To make it through senior year, you had to become masters of time management.
Coursework, sports, clubs, volunteering, college applications.
It’s a miracle you still had the energy to stay up until 2 am watching Tik Toks.
You wouldn’t have succeeded without sticking to a plan.
But a detailed map doesn’t necessarily show you the best route to your destination.
Everyone arrives on campus with some ideas of what they want to study.
Maybe you enjoyed biology in high school, so you want to try biomedical engineering.
This is fine.
But did you know that the average college student changes majors three times?
One student I knew arrived at Northeastern thinking that she wanted to study political science.
Four years later, she walked off the commencement stage with a combined degree in computer science and ethics.
Exploration is one of the most exciting parts of higher education.
Exploration of new interests and new ideas.
Exploration of the world.
And of yourself.
It’s a time for deciding who you want to be and what you want to do.
This can be a messy process.
You may spend a semester in a country where you don’t speak the language.
You may sign up, on a whim, for a theater class.
You may have a bad experience with a subject you thought you loved.
Or you may fall in love with a path you never imagined, such as entrepreneurship.
But as you learned these last two years, every journey has its detours.
Four years ago, not one of you imagined the suspension of classes, sports, social events, even face-to-face conversations.
But you made it through, showing a resilience that may have surprised you and your families.
You proved you could handle anything, even your world shutting down.
Lesson Number Two: Get Out of the Classroom.
I know this sounds strange coming from a university president.
Institutions such as Northeastern are very academically demanding.
There’s a reason why our library is open 24-7.
And why the Starbucks on our campus does such healthy business.
Half of what you learn in the classroom will be obsolete soon after you graduate.
That’s why what happens in the classroom isn’t the most important part of college.
It’s the complete experience.
Experiencing the unknown is transformative.
It allows you to understand yourself, understand others.
And discover new passions and opportunities.
Experience means getting outside the campus walls.
The world is too interesting to ignore.
Experiential learning is the most powerful way to transform knowledge into capability.
Co-ops, internships, service, entrepreneurship, solving real world problems.
The world needs you.
The climate crisis, pandemics, racial inequality—our challenges are complex.
Commencement speakers often say, “We’re counting on your generation to solve the world’s problems.”
That line has never sounded very fair to me, but it rings truer than ever.
Experience gives you the edge to succeed at anything.
But experience is not a solitary endeavor.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not lead the fight for civil rights alone.
It took tens of thousands of activists, believers, and dreamers.
Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPhone by himself.
It took hundreds of designers, engineers, and creators.
Teamwork means getting along with people who have vast, sometimes annoying, differences in perspective.
There are millions of high school seniors graduating this year with diverse backgrounds and assumptions.
Learning to embrace this diversity is a big part of college.
And it’s a big part of living in our interconnected world.
Lesson Number Three: Reinvention Never Stops.
I said that experience is your tool for reimagining the world.
The fact is, the world is reinventing itself regardless, and faster than ever before.
The acceleration of technological change has made the future incredibly dynamic—and incredibly uncertain.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and genetic engineering are disrupting every profession.
Whether you’re a doctor, an airline pilot, a journalist, or an engineer, you will need to reskill or even reinvent yourself.
Work is increasingly automated, so human beings will have to concentrate on what machines cannot emulate:
Imagination, creativity, empathy, cultural agility.
No one has invented an algorithm for leadership. There is no app for innovation.
Because technology never stops, reinvention cannot stop.
This may sound uncomfortable.
Your life journey is not set once and for all.
But reinvention will lead you to discover new horizons and new passions.
I assure you, there is joy in reinvention.
Class of 2022, as you begin the next stage of your journey, I hope you remember these insider tips:
Don’t have a plan, get out of the classroom, and reinvention never stops.
Your BC High education and the values you received here are more precious than any diploma.
They will serve you throughout your journey.
And they will help you serve others.
The world is an exciting and beautiful place.
Its challenges are pressing.
It needs leaders of your education and values to make it more sustainable, more peaceful, and more just.
The world awaits you.
Class of 2022, I salute you!