Plain Talk: A graduation message

Plain Talk: A graduation message

METRO photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

It’s hard to believe that we are in the midst of another college graduation season. As an educator, I have valued my time teaching college and graduate students.

Since the pandemic, educating college students has changed radically. Their academic skills could be stronger, as well as their critical thinking and analytical writing skills. However, I have still found them open to new ideas and broader perspectives on their view of the world. Like many of my colleagues, I am concerned about their tendency towards isolation and their disconnectedness from their peers.

This graduation season has been challenging with the college student protests around the country. Unfortunately, these protests have further polarized our nation.

The right to protest is every American’s right, whether we support the issue or not. What is important for those who protest to know and practice is peace and nonviolence at all costs. Hateful speech is not nonviolent; provocative speech often spurs on violence. In my Social Science classes and Graduate School classes we discussed the war in the Middle East and the senseless loss of innocent life, among the Israelis and the Palestinians. War never resolves conflict; it only perpetuates more violence and hate. 

Teaching Social Science and Graduate School Social Work provided a forum at the end of the semester to begin this important conversation. As always, I urged my students to be sociologically mindful and when it comes to this very sensitive issue to respond, not to react.

Graduates, as you continue your journey, do not let the social filters of our time enable bigotry, exclusivity and social injustice. Always speak up and work for human rights. Try to realize that being human and sensitive to others is more important than any successful academic record. Try showing compassion and understanding rooted in justice. 

May a kind word, a reassuring touch and a warm smile be yours every day of your life. Remember the sunshine when the storm seems unending. Teach love to those who only know hate. And let that love embrace you as you continue in the world.

Don’t be blinded by those who tend to use shame, blame, guilt and religion to shackle people down and divide them. Set people free with your respect and non-judgmental way.

May your moral compass be grounded in respect for all human beings no matter what their color, their race, their creed or sexual orientation. May this compass guide you on a path that is committed to working for peace and social justice. As Gandhi once said, “be the change you hope for the world.”

Congratulations college graduates of 2024. Thank you for making the world a little richer, a little brighter, and a little bit more hopeful.

Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.