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2018 Commencement Speech: Jeannie and Jim Gaffigan, Comedians, actors, writers and producers

A recording of their commencement speech can be found online.

JIM: Good morning honored graduates of Marquette University.

JEANNIE: Good morning honored graduates of Marquette University. Give yourselves a big round of applause. Thank you president Mike Lovell, Provost Dan Meyers, the honorary David Straz Jr., Marquette's vice presidents, Deans and Board of Trustees for inviting us to speak at this wonderful occasion.

JEANNIE: As a former Marquette graduate, not that long ago…. a couple of years ago. Okay, a long, long time ago, in another life time, I received my diploma from Marquette University, here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

JIM: Oh, I love Milwaukee. Wait, this is Milwaukee? But its not snowing outside.

JEANNIE: Yes, we usually come to Milwaukee during Christmas time and there is usually snow, but right now its just cold but there is not snow because its May.

JIM: Oh… well where are all the drunk people.

(Graduates cheering)

JEANNIE: Focus Jim.

JEANNIE: Okay (clears throat), anyway ever since my graduation all those years ago a few minor things have happened in my life.

JIM: So, wait, wait a minute. I'm a minor thing?

JEANNIE: Well probably the most significant thing that will happen in all of your lives is choosing to share your life with someone else. For some of you it might be right away. For some of you in five years. Some of you in 10 or more. Jim didn't even meet me until 12 years after he graduated from Georgetown.

JIM: Those were the happiest 12 years of my life.

JEANNIE: Right now, most of you are not joined with your life partner. You have yet to receive your vocation. You sat at the beginning of your careers with years of classes, papers and exams behind you.

JIM: And years of debt in front of you. I'm sure a lot of you have debt. That is..that's brutal. I don't think we should send our kids to college.

JEANNIE: Jim!

JIM: I'm just saying.

JEANNIE: You stand with an excellent education and a diploma in hand ready to go out into the world armed with new ideas, ambition and a passion to change the status quo for the better.

JIM: It seems like a lot of you go down to Water Street and get drunk. I mean it is like New Year's Eve on Water Street every night. You drive by there its like Prohibition just ended.

JEANNIE: Marquette University, in the Jesuit tradition of education has given you more than just a diploma. Each one of you, whether you know it or not has a flame deep inside of you that has been lit by your years here at Marquette.

JIM: By that or the extra jalapeños you had at Conejito's last night. I love that place. I mean, I love all places.

JEANNIE: Marquette has not made you the person you are today. They have done much more, by helping shape the person that you will become.

JIM: Oh, thats good Jeannie. That's good.

JEANNIE: Thank you Jim.

JEANNIE: How does a Jesuit education differ from a diploma at another university.

JIM: Ahh, its more expensive. Right

JEANNIE: The parents like that one.

JEANNIE: Its difficult not to think about graduation from a university as the end of something. Even those of you who are going right into grad school or you have a job lined up.

JIM: Or you are going to Water Street.

JEANNIE: Its difficult not to think about this day as crossing the goal, reaching the end. But one of the gifts you've been given by receiving a Jesuit education, is the understanding that learning is a life time long process. Personally, the more I learn, the more obvious it becomes how much I don't know.

JIM: That's right. If you ever meet someone who thinks he or she is the smartest person in the world, well, you should know I'm that one. No, I guarantee you, people who think of themselves as really smart are dumb. Like those weirdos who don't like cheese. Whats wrong with them. I'm like, come on. Anyways, there is always another level of education to pursue in all of lifes experiences.

JEANNIE: What will you become? How can you become the best that you can be? You have learned to think critically. You know not to accept blindly the ideas projected by society and the media. You know you must listen and think for yourselves and form your own opinions and beliefs. Your incredible teachers and professors here do not just merely feed you facts, but rather they gave you a map of how and where to find your own answers. You have learned from your Jesuit education that you must embrace good ethics and values in all the decisions that you are going to have to make for the rest of your life. Not because you want to be known as a good person, but because the true value in having the highest standards for yourselves in ethics and values is the effect it will have on others around you. You must present a genuine and solid moral example for all the people's whose lives you touch. Be good.

JIM: By that she means, do as I say, not as I do.

JEANNIE: Thanks.

JEANNIE: Thank you Jim.

JEANNIE: As Pope Francis says…

JIM: I call him Frank.

JEANNIE: As Pope Francis says, goodness spreads, as does joy. What you become and as you become, you have the incredible opportunity to touch all of those around you. Your mission is to find God in everything. And to find joy in everything that life has to offer. Even in its pains and its sorrows. And that is a tall order.

JIM: I never understood that. Tall order. Its a tall order. I don't get it.

JEANNIE: Anyway, goodness spreads.

JIM: Like they never say fat order. Right. Its always tall order. Its like they are trying to alienate fat people. Its very anti-fatty.

JEANNIE: Jim, I'm glad you brought that up. Cause another important characteristic of a Jesuit education is a commitment to justice. Without justice you cannot have peace. You already recognize and continue, throughout your life time, to recognize injustice in society. This is just not pertinent to obvious cases of physical violence and human suffering we continue to witness, but also in less obvious forms of injustice that deeply wound the human spirit. You are called to keep your faith alive in a world that suffers. Your mandate to be a warrior of social justice is more than just a choice. It is a deep stirring within you an energy in your most innermost thoughts and feelings, in the deepest of your human emotions, to do what is right, to help people around you, for the good of others and the good of society. We are moved to understand that we have a responsibilities for others that goes far beyond our own personal comfort, needs and desires.

JIM: But wait a minute. It is okay to be comfortable too, right?

JEANNIE: Sometimes, yeah.

JIM: Street…what's that (points to script sheet).

JEANNIE: St. Ignatius.

JIM: Okay. St. Ignatius, who I often read in my spare time, said “Love ought to manifest itself in deep deeds rather than in words. You can say we care for society and for each individual, but what meaning does that have if we do not show it.”

JEANNIE: So Jim can say “I love you Jeannie”, but if his actions don't show it, then his words have no meaning.

JIM: Yeah, and Jeannie can say “I love you Jim”, but if her actions don't show it, somehow its my fault. Right.

JIM: Anyway, actions speak louder than words and this applies to self-care. Belive me, I'm a big fan of self-care.

JEANNIE: He is.

JIM: Some would say I'm a self-care fanatic. But seriously, caring for yourself goes beyond sleeping late and treating yourself to that third cheeseburger at Culver's. Caring for yourself is a way of honoring the fact that you are loved by God, just as much as he loves the people you are committing yourself to take care of.

JEANNIE: This is where we can admit a big failure in our lives.

JIM: A little over a year ago, we were caught up in life. Our five kids getting older, working getting busier, our committments spreading ourselves thinner and thinner. The more we gave, the less we took care of ourselves. Lack of sleep, bad diet, too much coffee, pretty much exactly what you all did during final exams, but we did it every day.

JEANNIE: A routine MRI for hearing loss revealed I had a massive tumor, severely compressing my brain stem. We quickly learned that we had to stop everything and I had to have an urgent craniectomy.

JIM: That means brain surgery.

JEANNIE: They know that Jim.

JIM: Some of them don't look like they do.

JEANNIE: After the initial shock and subsequent frenetic planning, we began to feel something that surprised us both.

JIM: And no, it wasn't hunger, alright. I mean there was always hunger, right. I mean, I'm always hungry.

JEANNIE: We were over whelmed with an amazing sense of gratitude.

JIM: How could such a potentially tragic diagnosis reveal a feeling of gratitude.

JEANNIE: Throughout my diagnosis, treatment and recovery, the common theme for both of us was gratitude.

JIM: We were grateful that our pediatrician had forced Jeannie to go get her ear checked out when she noticed Jeannie wasn't hearing properly at our children's doctors visit.

JEANNIE: We were grateful that my childhood best friend and fellow Milwaukeean Dr. John Brodrich had grown up to become a neurologist at Froedert hospital and I was able to send him my scans and help me make a plan.

JIM: We were grateful for Jeannie's mother and father, both Marquette graduates by the way, Louise and Dominic, can we point them out over there. Please stand up Louise and Dom. Stand up you bastards. These perfect human beings. They are exceptional people and they and their nine off spring came and helped us with out too many kids.

JEANNIE: We were very grateful that the first surgeon we met was the top guy in the country and possibly the world to deal with this very specific type of brain tumor.

JIM: We were grateful that I could leave work to take care of Jeannie and that my boss was not mad at me, cause my boss is Jeannie anyway.

JEANNIE: Aside form these enormous miraculous life saving reasons to be grateful, there was this principal of gratitude that pointed directly to God's work in other humans.

JIM: When Jeannie was in the ICU on a ventilator and a feeding tube, the out pouring of support and generoisty, even in the smallest gestures stunned us.

JEANNIE: Rather than focusing on the fact that I was just in that bed, I could watch all these angels of mercy, the visitors, to the nurses working round the clock for all those suffering patients, to the workers who collected the gowns and mopped the floors. Gratitude that humanity could be so good. What was it in those people that made them want to care for others and serve their fellow man.

JIM: People sent notes, cards, gifts and messages over social media expressing love and support and a total evaluation of the experience, I would give humanity an A+.

JEANNIE: Every day that passed on my long journey of recovery, I found that my understanding of gratitude multiplied with each passing moment. After my food tube and tracheotomy were removed, the simple act of a sip of water, a taste of food, had a new meaning for me. Breathing without an oxygen tank, taking a shower, walking outside, these seemingly mundane tasks that I had taken for granted for so long now seemed like mini miracles. My children couldn't come to the ICU, so being with them again gave me a new level of love, a new sense of purpose. They all seemed like gifts, every time I touched them, it felt like a gift.

JIM: Our children are our gifts, loud, expensive, slightly annoying, but gifts none the less. They are like gifts that are cute, but complain about really minor things and don't help and if they do help, they do a poor job of helping. But they are gifts.

JEANNIE: With this renewed sense of gratitude came a renewed sense of purpose. What was it that made all those people want to serve others, how could I cultivate that further in myself and in my children.

JIM: And how could we keep this gratitude going. As Jeannie got better and better, life got more normal. As grateful as we were for every baby step forward toward health, the noise of life was increasingly drowning out our prayers of gratitude.

JEANNIE: Right now, only a year out, it is easy to remember how lucky, how blessed we are to even be standing here in front of you all today. But what about in five years, in 10.

JIM: Well I'll probably be dead because your gifts killed me. I'm just kidding kids. In all seriousness, we have made a pledge to find the gratitude and the miracle in everything, everyday for the rest of our lives and now, we invite you to join us in this pledge. Please place your right hand over your heart and repeat after me. Do it!

JIM: I, solemnly swear. I'm kidding, I'm not going to make you do that. But you went for it, I'm proud of you.

JEANNIE: The moral of this speech is not that it takes a tumor to give you gratitude, rather take our experience as an inspiration to find the moments of gratitude in your own life for everything, large and small.

JIM: Getting in touch with gratitude is the secret to success in your life, it connects you to other people and to God.

JEANNIE: Gratitude in everything can open your heart to recognize the good things around you and give you hope for all the incredibleness life has to offer. With hope, you can recognize the good and take risk that you may not have taken in a state of negativity.

JIM: Gratitude can burn away that negativity. If you focus on what you are grateful for in the midst of something that everyone else thinks is awful, you can be that voice of solution. Of proactive change. A leader in whatever you do. One person with gratitude can change the whole conversation in the room.

JEANNIE: Like Jim's close, personal friend Pope Frank says, “Goodness spreads” and one days like this, the practice of gratitude is easy. Look around you, you are grateful for your friends, your professors, your parents, your loved ones.

JIM: Your grateful that you are in a state that has some of the best cheese in North America.

JEANNIE: You are grateful that this beautiful day is finally here and you have completed one of the major milestones of your life.

JIM: You are grateful that sometimes that cheese has melted on french fries.

JEANNIE: On this day it is simple to ask myself what am I grateful for right now.

JIM: On other days, not so much. Bad things happen, people lose jobs, are victims of tragedy, some stores don't have cheese. But seriously, there will be dark moments, how can we feel any moments of gratitude in that.

JEANNIE: Take the feeling that you have right now and remember it, experience it, live it. Take all of that extra gratitude you are feeling right now, put it in your bank and save it for later for when you need to make a withdrawal.

JIM: But don't take too much out, or you are going to find yourself in debt. I mean you are already in debt for college probably, see gratitude debt is different…okay, just have gratitude.

JEANNIE: The amazing thing about gratitude is that it is absolutely free. But it does take practice, it is not a straetgy or an attitude, it is a fundamental way of living and being.

JIM: There are not many one word solutions to the secret of success in life, but if there was one, I would think it would be cheese….and gratitude.

JEANNIE: We would like to leave you today with this thought, with this prayer: May each of us in all things great and small, learn to live in a continous state of love and gratitude as the years go by. Amen.

JIM: Congratulations Marquette graduates.

JEANNIE: Congratulations!


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