Some Thoughts for 2024 Graduates

Published May 29, 2024


About a year ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to New York to deliver the commencement address at a high school called the Mount Academy. It was a beautiful trip in so many ways; the campus is gorgeous, overlooking the Hudson River, and the community was endlessly hospitable during my stay. It was about as gracious of an audience as a first-time commencement speaker could hope for!

As this year’s graduation season continues to unfold, I thought I’d share an essay based on the remarks I gave to the Mount graduates last June. If you have graduates in your life, perhaps you’d like to pass this along to them. But I learned a lot while preparing this speech, even with graduation far behind me, so I hope readers of all ages can find something valuable here about the meaning that directs our life, no matter what season we’re in.

Just a little more than ten years ago, I was sitting right where you are today, graduating from high school and preparing to head off on the great journey of shaping the rest of my life. As I certainly expected at the time, quite a lot has changed about my life and my vocation since I graduated from high school. But at least one thing about me is exactly the same as it was then: I had a deep conviction that it was my responsibility to do whatever was within my talents to shape a world that believes in the goodness and the dignity of every human life.

I’ve spent much of my journalism career writing and speaking about abortion and the pro-life movement. Abortion is much too heavy of a topic for a graduation speech, certainly! But as I was thinking about what I wanted to share with you today, I realized that my work on behalf of the pro-life movement has deeply shaped my understanding of what it means to live a good life, a topic of great salience on a day like today.

Today, I understand the calling to defend the goodness and beauty of human life as a calling that belongs to each of us, no matter our vocation or where life takes us. Not all of us are called to be a formal part of the pro-life movement. But I believe today, even more than I did when I graduated from high school, that each of us is called to shape a world in which every human being is welcomed and is aware of his or her dignity as a child of God. We are called to do whatever we can to shape a world in which each person knows that he or she was created out of love, in the image and likeness of the God who made us.

So above all, what I want to impress on you today is the deep conviction that your life matters—that you matter. Let’s reflect in particular on this powerful verse from the first letter of St. John, where the evangelist writes: “We have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love; whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”

We could put that verse more personally: “I have come to know and to believe in the love God has for me.” What a powerful statement. Commit it to memory if you can. It can be hard to wrap your mind around this idea. What does it mean, really, to be loved by the God who made the entire universe? What must that mean about who I am and what I am made for?

I love the way that Sr. Bethany Madonna, a religious sister with the Sisters of Life in New York City, puts this same concept into words: “God wanted you. He took you from utter nothingness and He willed you into being. To be is to be loved.”

This reality tells us who we are—beloved by God—and therefore it tells us a great deal about how we should live. But more important even than that, it tells what we’re living for. Our knowledge of and belief in God’s deep, personal, and abiding love for us tells us where we’re going and what our life is oriented towards. What we do here on earth matters not because of the glory or the money or the satisfaction we get from what we do, or even because of the success or failure of our earthly efforts. It matters, ultimately, because of where we’re headed, because of what we were created for. Each of us was created by God out of love for union with Him, to spend eternal life in loving relationship with him. That is the truth that tells us where we are going and what we’re living for.

Let this be the truth that orients your life. A deep belief in God’s personal love for you might not always give you direct or immediate clarity about the big questions you’ll face in the future. In fact, rarely will it give you crystal clear answers to practical questions about how to direct the course of your life: Where will I live? What work will I pursue? Which job should I take? Whom should I marry?

But this belief gives you a compass. It gives you something that so many people around us lack: an identity. A deep belief in God’s love for you tells you who you are on the most fundamental level, and, if you let it, that belief and that truth can be the foundation of your entire life.

Let’s pair this verse from the first letter of St. John with a few verses from the Gospel of Matthew: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In other words, we weren’t created to amass wealth or to enjoy ourselves at all costs or even to accomplish great things here on earth. We were created for Heaven. Of course, it’s important and it matters how we choose to live here on earth. It is good to work hard and to care for ourselves and those we love. It is good to strive for success in the things God has called us to. But this isn’t what we were made for. Store up treasures in Heaven, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Ask yourself: What do you treasure? What meaning or purpose will direct the course of your life? It will be something, even if you never make a conscious choice. If it isn’t God, even if you don’t mean for it to happen, some other set of goods or goals will come to direct your life. And I believe that the only answer that will satisfy in the end is to embrace your identity as the beloved of God.

Looking around at our society right now, we see a lot of pain, a lot of suffering, and a lot of confusion. Much of this suffering stems from a deep lack of certainty about who we are. We no longer agree as a society on what it means to be human, or, indeed, on whether human beings are good or valuable, whether life is meaningful or simply random. So many people among us—and young people in particular—seek meaning and identity in all the wrong places: on social media, from a desire to belong with their peers, in their political beliefs, even these days in their sexual orientation or their gender identity. That last phrase, I believe, tells us a lot: “Gender identity.” People are searching not only for meaning and purpose but for an answer to who they are.

So much of this confusion is because our society no longer believes in our deepest and truest identity as sons and daughters of God. So much of this confusion is caused by no longer knowing or believing that we were created by God and are loved by Him unconditionally. And so we witness our peers struggle to craft a life of meaning out of these identities and beliefs that will never truly satisfy. They will always be searching for more, for something to satisfy the longing of their hearts to know who they are and where they are going.

Consider what the great author C. S. Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

We’ve all experienced that feeling, that nothing in this world will ever be enough to satisfy us. No success or money or pleasure will ever fill that hole in our hearts—because we were created for someplace else. Be grateful today, on this special occasion of your graduation, that you’ve been given the gift of a better way. Let that gratitude impel you to embrace this identity for yourself and allow it to shape the direction of your life. No matter your specific vocation or the places you find yourself throughout your life, know that the gift of your faith and your relationship with Jesus enables and calls you to minister to a world in need. Countless people are longing for the love that you have, for the gift of your faith, for the hope that comes from an identity rooted in belonging to God. May you always be at peace knowing who you are because you know whose you are.

EPPC Fellow Alexandra DeSanctis writes on culture and family issues, with a particular focus on abortion policy and pro-life advocacy, as a member of the Life and Family Initiative.

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