Seton Hall University celebrated its 166th baccalaureate commencement on Tuesday, May 24 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Delivering the commencement address was the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres.
The Secretary-General received an honorary degree from the University for his lifelong dedication to fostering peace and social justice. “Seton Hall is fortunate to host Secretary-General Guterres as commencement speaker at this critical moment in world history,” said Dr. Joseph E. Nyre, the President of Seton Hall University. “His heroic efforts to foster peace and justice provide a powerful example for our graduates, who are preparing to take their first steps into a world that urgently needs their special gifts.”
Guterres is the ninth Secretary-General of the UN and took office on January 1, 2017. He was appointed to a second term just five months ago.
As noted by his introduction from Professor Courtney Smith, Dean of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, the Secretary-General’s mission as a servant leader long precedes his current position. He spent 10 years as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, working to ameliorate the suffering of over 60 million people forced to flee their homes due to persecution, oppression, conflict, and economic devastation. Before that, he served as Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995-2002, capping more than 20 years of government and public service within the Portuguese Parliament, the Council of Europe, and many other civic and political organizations.
Having witnessed the suffering of the most vulnerable people on earth, in refugee camps and in war zones, the Secretary-General has said that he is determined to make human dignity the core of his work, to serve as a peace broker and bridge-builder to promote reform and innovation – and to engage with youth.
As he delivered the commencement address to this year’s graduating class, the Secretary-General did indeed engage. He told the group of burgeoning professionals that:
Over four decades ago, I graduated university as an engineer. But I confess — I have never practiced engineering. What I ultimately took from my training went far beyond electronics or telecommunications. The most important skills I gained from my education were “learning how to learn,” how to work with others, how to communicate ideas, and — above all — how to make a difference in the world.
So no matter which path you choose — even if it may bear little resemblance to your original training — I know you will look upon your years at Seton Hall as an incredible opportunity to change the world for the better. And to embody the adventurous spirit shared by all of Seton Hall’s graduates — and one that springs from this school’s inspiring motto: Hazard Zet Forward — “Whatever the peril, go forward.”
Having set the stage with inspiration and personal experience, Guterres detailed the peril he saw awaiting the graduates as they ventured forth, imploring them to use their skills and training as servant leaders to impact the world at large, and small:
“Dear Class of 2022,
As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I feel it is my duty to report that you are entering a world brimming with peril. We face conflicts and division on a scale not seen in decades — from Yemen to Syria, from Ethiopia to the Sahel and beyond. And, of course, the war in Ukraine — a violation of that country’s territorial integrity and the Charter of the United Nations — is causing immense human suffering, destruction and death.
It is also exacerbating a food, energy and finance crisis around the world. Meanwhile, the climate crisis is wreaking havoc, and threatening to erase entire communities and even entire countries — with governments failing to take the action needed to turn this around. Poverty, exclusion and inequality are worsening. The gap between the “haves” and “have nots” in every country is widening. Hunger and famine stalk millions. Human rights are under assault. Women are still largely shut out of the halls of power and boardrooms of business. Knowledge, science and expertise are being devalued by conspiracy theories and outright lies. People increasingly mistrust their institutions, their governments — even each other. The misuse of social media is undermining the social fabric. Hate and extremist thought are being amplified across societies — seen tragically, once again, by the outrageous racist massacre in Buffalo ten days ago. Global solidarity is missing in action — from the scandalously unequal rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, to the absence of support to help developing countries recover. And geopolitical fault lines are spreading fast.
From the Middle East…to the threat of a new Cold War with grave nuclear undertones…to terrorism and sectarian fighting within countries rooted in ancient grievances…to an explosion of extreme nationalism that ignores the central truth that international solutions are always in the national interest. Each challenge is another sign that our world is deeply fractured. As I tell world leaders across my travels, these wounds will not heal themselves. They cry out for international solutions. They demand that countries stand with one another within a strong multilateral system. Building a better, more peaceful future requires collaboration and trust, which are sorely lacking in today’s world”.
I do not raise these challenges to darken your special day today. I raise them because it now falls to you, as Seton Hall graduates, to use what you have learned here to do something about it. To live up to your motto, and in the face of peril, go forward in building a better future.
The University graduated 1,334 students with baccalaureate degrees, 774 graduating with honors. In addition, 990 graduate students will receive master’s and doctorate degrees, making the total number of graduates this year 2,324 students.
Among those graduating this year are 61 students who represent the first cohort of Seton Hall’s Buccino Leadership Institute. The University-wide program sprung from the success of the Gerald P. Buccino ’63 Center for Leadership Development, a part of the Stillman School of Business, which was ranked the #1 leadership development certificate program in the nation five years in a row.
“As I like to say, a Seton Hall education is not for the faint of heart. We are a world-class university that requires world-class effort,” said President Joseph E. Nyre, to the soon-to-be graduates and their guests. “We engage our students as whole, unique individuals. The expectations and demands we place on them enable them to create the life of their dreams. By that measure, I can say with certainty: Class of 2022 — you are ready for what comes next.”
“This is both your charge – and – my prayer for you,” said Nyre.
Class of 2022: Lean into life — both its opportunities and its struggles. Be deliberate in your actions. Hold fast to your dreams. Be swift to offer friendship, and just as swift to defend your principles. Cherish the less fortunate. Champion those who cannot speak for themselves. Count yourselves among the givers, not the takers. The fearless, not the frightened.
In other words, be all we expect you to be: Great Minds with the conviction and commitment to serve the human family and restore our fractured world. I am confident you will do just that. And I rejoice in the achievements that will undoubtedly be yours.
Cardinal Joseph William Tobin, C.Ss.R., Archdiocese of Newark, also received an honorary degree and delivered remarks as well as the Invocation for the commencement. “Today the presence of Dr. António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, is a visible reminder of our shared responsibility for using knowledge to work for peace, sustainable development and greater respect for human beings as well as this world, which is our common home,” said Cardinal Tobin. “Dr. Guterres reminds us how great are the challenges we face. The presence of these graduates indicate how generous can be our response.”
The Valedictory Address was delivered by Timothy Georgetti, who double majored in Diplomacy and International Relations and Philosophy. Georgetti recollected the pandemic and suggested that the Class of 2022
…should remember the ways we turned the greatest adversity of our time into a catalyst for growth. Whether it was through holding virtual club events or working with our professors to conduct class on Teams, or using the internet to maintain long distance friendships…. we demonstrated resilience, exemplifying not only Seton Hall’s Catholic commitment to community building, but also the essence of our motto: Hazard Zet Forward. And when the gates in South Orange finally opened again, the community we had fostered online, bloomed stronger and more vibrantly than ever.
In addition to an address from the valedictorian, the University traditionally hears from the president of the Student Government Association, as well. Julia Nicholls, a Diplomacy & International Relations and Economics graduate, twice served as president of the SGA at Seton Hall. In her speech, she addressed the unique set of obstacles that confronted this class of graduates, looked to the future and embraced it:
It is because of the challenges each of us have faced one way or another, that we will get through the next obstacle of post-graduate life. And I know we will. I know this because we have made it this far. We went through a global pandemic, civil unrest, and a million more challenges, yet somehow, someway we made it through to the other side. And if we can graduate college having experienced all of that, we will tackle the next challenge. I promise. Whether you used the lockdown for self-discovery, political violence for advocacy, or isolation for connection, you all grew in a difficult environment and came out on the other side. Just getting to this point deserves recognition. The next obstacles are coming our way, but we will embrace them just like we have done the last four years.
Discussion about this post