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2016 Commencement Speech: Dr. Judith Mayotte, Humanitarian

Oh my goodness just look at you graduates. You are magnificent.

And it brings me great joy to be here with you today.

Thank you Dr. Lovell, for your warm invitation.

And thank you Janine for those good words.

And thank you faculty, staff, and trustees of Marquette University for the inspiration that you have been to these graduates.

And parents, guardians, families and friends of these graduates, thank you for nurturing these magnificent young women and men.

And graduates, thank you for your commitment to become educated women and men who will lead us creatively and positively further through the 21st century, because, as you have grown intellectually, you have also inculcated the Jesuit values of being person for others and of finding God in all things.

In a letter to President Lovell, I expressed how this honor of being here with you was more special than he can know.

As Janine pointed out, I received my PhD from Marquette just 40 years ago exactly.

Having just left the religious life, my years here at Marquette during the late, fully charged '60s, as a theology student, were some of the most transformative of my life.

Not only did I meet and marry the love of my life, Jack Mayotte, I also found that those Jesuit values set me out on the ultimate trajectory of my life, working among and on behalf of the refugees.

And today, on behalf of those who are displaced because of extreme climactic events.

Of course it was pure joy for me to be able to come back to Marquette as a professor and to be given the opportunity to found in South Africa, the Marquette South Africa Service Learning Program.

As you can see, I brought a prop along with me today. (holds up a small plush globe)

I rather consider this my Linus of Peanut's fame security blanket.

Don't we all have one of those?

I not only keep this hug-a-planet in a prominent place in my own home, I also give this blue ball to my nieces and nephews as they grow old enough to begin to understand what it means to live on mother earth among all peoples and the whole of creation.

More recently, as I was teaching human rights courses here at Marquette, I would bring my hug-a-planet to class with me and then I would ask each student to make a promise of one way she or he would hug the peoples of the world and the whole of creation.

I then tossed the blue ball out and each student tossed it to one another, each hugging the planet and making a promise.

Decorum on this joyful and solemn day, I fear does not allow for the tossing of the blue ball out to you, however, I hope that at the end of my remarks, each of you will make a promise of one thing that you will do to make this world a better place.

This planet earth is our home and to date the only one that can nurture and sustain life as we know it.

We are here in this spot, Milwaukee, on the shores of one of our life giving Great Lakes.

And it is from here today that you will go into a new phase of your life.

Within these historical times and on this beautiful finite and fragile planet you will leave an imprint and you will also make a footprint.

What sort of imprint will you make?

And how heavy or light will your footprint be?

Just contemplating this small blue ball as it twirls in space is awe inspiring.

When we think of the scriptural story of creation, we are humbled when we consider that as God finished lovingly creating earth, sky, water, birds, mammals, and humans, God saw it was good. No, very good.

We reflect too that this God delighted in creation, walked in the garden, molded creatures from the dirt.

And rested and reflect on the seventh day, the Sabbath.

Our God is a God who embraces the material.

In fact, John reminds us, God so loves the world that the word became flesh and pitched a tent among us.

The incarnation is God's ultimate revelation of herself and is a sign of just how much God values creation.

Just think, earth is God's creation and God's home.

In Christian tradition, we are people of the incarnation, the loving event that draws heaven and earth together.

The scientific account of creation the evolutionary unfolding of a garden, of course is longer, more complex, just as awe inspiring and still God's loving creation.

Nearly 14 billion years ago, a massive violent explosion, the Big Bang occurred, brining into being the material universe, which has expanded and cooled ever since.

In the passing of billions of years, in the mix of elements, chemicals and gases, the first galaxies and stars formed and ultimately out of these elements that the stars disgorge, we humans were formed.

We are star dust.

We are earthlings from the soil.

Within our own cosmic family of sun and planets, our earth home over billions of years gradually evolved to become a home for life and ultimately for intelligent life.

And over the past 10,000 years of the Holocene Era, our earth has been the Goldilocks planet, just right for nurturing and sustaining life as we know it.

Bill McKibben in Eaarth, notes for the 10,000 years that constitutes human civilization, we have existed in the sweetest of sweet spots.

Due to its just right distance from the sun, liquid surface water is available.

The ozone layer offers the protection necessary for life to emerge from the water and thrive on land.

Agriculture is possible because of earth's orbit and tilt.

And because of agriculture, civilizations could develop and flourish during the Holocene oasis of climatic stability.

We humans are late comers, even billions of years, spanning between the appearance and unfolding of life on earth and the appearance of Homo sapiens.

When we ask how we're doing as humans in maintaining our stable Holocene state, we need to acknowledge that as care givers, as stewards of our finite and fragile planet, we humans are found wanting.

Our historical time is coming to be known as the Anthropocene and the Age of the Sixth Mass Extinction, because humans, through our activities, through our over use of earth's finite resources and increasing emissions of greenhouse gasses in earth's atmosphere have become the single dominant geophysical force in altering the natural world.

And we humans are doing it at a speed and scale that author Diane Ackerman likens to an asteroid slamming into the earth.

Today our human footprint is much larger than the global ecosystem can accommodate.

We're living beyond the ecological capacity of earth to continue to carry, nourish, and enable humans, and all creation to flourish.

Pope Francis in his powerful encyclical, Laudato Si, calls our generation, calls you and me, to build a culture that will face and address our ecological crisis.

To build a culture that hears the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

As I walked with refuges and now with those displaced because of extreme weather events, I see clearly that it is the world's poorest and most vulnerable populations who suffer the most from our human induced climatic changes, yet who bear virtually little or no responsibility for the climate crisis.

Francis reminds us that the climate is a complex system and a common ground, belonging to all, meant by all and needed by all for life to flourish.

Everything we see around us comes from nature, from the carrot you eat to the cell phone you use to keep in touch with those you love. Nature is the source of our wealth and well being.

And all is interconnected and interdependent in this mysterious web of life.

In this, our historical time, we are living at a real turning point in history. Living at a moment when powerful tectonic shifts challenge us as never before to reshape our future.

And who better than you, Marquette graduates, millennial men and women, to meet our challenges, then you.

Being agents of transformative change though, can be daunting, even when we see opportunities to build and create, to reimagine and re-envision a world in which and all of its peoples can live more sustainably and peacefully, we waver.

Yes, our great former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt exclaimed, “Peace time can be as exhilarating to the daredevil as ware time. There is nothing more exciting than creating a new social order.”

And Sister Joan Chittister reminds us, “Change is a dynamic that builds a coherent future out of a chaotic present. Change a bit as real takes us where we've not been before and could never have imagined that we'd go. It takes the courage of an explorer, the fancy of a dreamer.”

And you Marquette graduates are both.

In these cacophonous, historical times, we can write a new narrative, a new story, actually, a new theology of our relation with nature, with our earth home.

So graduates, I beg of you to unleash your imaginations, creativity, innovations and rich intellectual gifts.

And with a new mindset, be stewards of creation.

And focus more on human well being, rather than on GDP.

Marquette has prepared you intellectually, practically, and spiritually to address the needs of our time.

In both your professional and private lives, there is much that you can do to enable us to live within our planetary boundaries that offer a safe operating space for economic development and technological advancement while maintaining a stable and resilient earth home.

In your various professions and as architects of your lifestyles, the choices that you make over the next several decades will have enormous influence on the magnitude of future climate change and its impact on human, economic, social, political, and spiritual well-being.

You have the opportunity to make positive choices in so many areas in every single one of your academic disciplines.

For example, think more in terms of a circular economy rather than our current fossil fuel, consumer intensive, linear way of living.

Dream of new ways to build our cities and transport systems and strive for agriculture efficiency, cutting water and waste in water, as we produce our food.

Meet one of our greatest challenges of the 21st century of increasing global food supply without diminishing our forest or increasing our cropland in order to feed nine billion people by mid-century.

As you increase your use of renewable energies, create as well the infrastructure for their far flung transmission. Strive for eco-justice keeping always in mind and heart that the earth belongs to all.

And raise your children as caregivers of our earth home.

Each of us makes a mark on earth and all of creation.

How we live with one another and all of creation matters.

Before I close, I'd like for us to be quiet for a moment.

I'd like to hear a pin drop in this auditorium.

In this quiet, I ask that each of you, in mind and heart and with great thanksgiving, hug this planet, home of ours and make one promise of something that you will do to preserve the fragile balance of life on earth.

Let us be quiet for just a moment before I close.

In closing, my wish for you is that you live in a world of the African notion of Ubuntu, a world of interconnection and interdependence.

A world of the we of us rather than the I of me.

I hope that you join together with the human community as engaged, responsive and responsible global citizens, global women and men.

In quiet reflection and thoughtful action, may you embrace the God of Agape, the God of compassionate love and service.

The God who takes you beyond yourself and enables you to become your deepest self.

May you who are so intellectually talented follow the admonition of the ancient Greek poet Aeschylus and use your considerable talents in this, our 21st century to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of our world.

Go forward now, to continue to create the mosaics of your lives.

Meeting and embracing your challenges with courage, joy, zest, and intellectual shrewdness, and opening wide all the doors and windows of your hearts, your minds, your spirits.

Leave legacies of hope and growth, of lives fully lived.

I wish for each of you only the greatest blessings that life has to offer.

Congratulations Marquette graduate class of 2016!


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