By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
Recently, I participated in the Freshman Investiture Service at Joseph’s College in Patchogue. I have been privileged to be a faculty member in the social science department for more than 30 years. This service of welcoming is very simple. It is an ancient tradition practiced in many colleges and universities around the world as a formal way to welcome the new community of scholars and learners to the college. This year the theme for the Class of 2020 was integrity.
As I watched more than 500 college freshmen walk into our athletic center, representing every community on Long Island and beyond, I said to myself: “What an important theme for this class!” It seems that genuine integrity has truly been lost or buried in the rubble of human selfishness and narcissism. The present political and social landscape in our country seems to be devoid of any real sense of integrity.
What is true integrity? It is honesty, truth, principal, character and respect woven together in the fabric of one’s soul. It should be the foundation of every person’s life! It should shape how we treat each other, socially, politically, morally and religiously. Integrity is critical to sustaining a peaceful and respectful world.
Unfortunately, it seems like some people in power on every front have lost their way in this regard. Dishonesty and lack of respect is infectious everywhere. It wears many faces. It is the senseless violence in our streets. It is the blatant lack of respect for people who risk their lives to protect us every day — as well as the lack of respect on the part of some who use their power abusively.
We lack integrity when we discriminate against people because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their immigration status, their race and their ethnic origin. That Investiture Service provided for me a renewed sense of hope because more than 500 college coeds were reminded in a variety of ways of how profound and important real integrity is, if they hope to reach their goals and live their dreams.
The world desperately needs a new generation of leaders who are grounded in integrity. The class of 2020 potentially has the next generation of business leaders, college professors, compassionate doctors, lawyers and trades persons. The next generation of political leaders are among this class; our next representatives and senators and possibly the next president of the United States of America!
We must work hard to change the national discourse because of our integrity. We must work harder at being more inclusive, less judgmental; we need to build less walls and better bridges. We need to celebrate that which unites us and not that which divides us. We must focus on building people up and empowering the next generation to use their gifts and talents to make the world a better and more peaceful place to live. Hopefully, we in education will challenge the members of the class of 2020 to strengthen their integrity as they begin this new chapter in their lives.
Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.