Holloran Center

for Ethical Leadership in the Professions

Commencement Speech by Thomas Holloran to St. Thomas Graduates

Thomas Holloran, the Holloran Center's namesake, gave the following speech at the December 2007 commencement for St. Thomas graduate program students:

President Dease, Monsignor Callahan, Dr. Herman, Deans, Administrators, Faculty, Graduates and Friends:

Over the years, I have been to many commencement exercises. I know that I am all that stands between you and the awarding of your degrees. I will endeavor to keep my remarks mercifully short.

My mother had an only brother, John. My uncle John. During the very dry dust bowl years of the 1930s, he lived in Minot, North Dakota. His job was selling farm machinery to farmers who were too poor to buy. As you might expect, he didn’t have much money. Yet, when he came to visit us he always brought a wonderful and expensive toy to his four-year-old nephew, me. I remember the year he brought me a car. It was green, had a horn, and was big enough for me to climb into and pedal and steer. What a magnificent gift.

My mother complained with vigor, as she did with every gift he gave me; it was too extravagant, too expensive. A waste of his hard earned money.

John was direct and outspoken, as he had learned to be on the Dakota prairie. “Florence” (my mother’s name) he started—“Florence. You want the kid to grow up to be somebody; you have to give him expensive tastes.”

I believe his meaning was to give me expectations. Expectations that would be useful in my later life. Every child should be so fortunate as to have a loving Uncle John. I think about him often.

Now not unlike my Uncle John I have several expectations for you. Expectations to carry beyond graduation.

First: I expect that you will be caring. Caring for those who have given you loving emotional and financial support through the considerable effort needed to reach your graduate degree. The sacrifice you have made to arrive at this evening has been extraordinary. It has stretched over years and absorbed week-ends and evenings. But it also has altered the plans of husbands, wives, children, parents—all those who love you. I know you will be caring of them as they were of you as you enter this new phase of your life.

But, I also expect you to be caring of your communities. You have so much to give to civic life. Your energy, your experience, your intellect, your ability to work in groups needs to be shared. You are precisely what this community needs for leadership in its not-for-profits, its school boards, its planning commissions.

In service to others you will find fulfillment and experience and more profoundly you will be acting in response to the great commandment of Jesus, “Love your neighbor.”

Second: I expect you to be curious. Your education is not over—there is more to come. I believe your experience here has given you only a taste of the depth of information in your profession. Here you have studied the “what is’ now you must progress to the “what could be.”

Some think being curious is a personality type. I think it can be learned. Ask questions. Dream of solutions—many may be useless but some will take you to discovery in unexpected places.

Curiosity is essential to moving beyond the status quo. It is the catalyst for better teaching methods, new medical products, improved social services and a more creative and equitable business life. It is what will make you an expert in your field.

Creativity does not spring from thin air—it comes from being curious.

Third: I expect you to be courageous. Courageous when it comes to ethical matters. The identification of an ethical issue is easier than it is to boldly seize and wrestle it to solution. I am convinced that most ethical issues are best treated not only by ethical frameworks but also by forthright discussion.

Too often, I and others have recognized an ethical issue but not addressed it. Maybe we avoided out of an apprehension of our looking too pious or too sanctimonious. But, more likely, it was a lack of courage. Courage to speak against a popular practice or position. Know that if you are reluctant to speak probably others are too.

Ethical courage—moral courage is different from physical courage. Different, but these days very much in demand. ”
Moral courage is not about challenges facing the body. It’s about challenges that could harm ones reputation, self-esteem or well-being. Moral courage is strengthened by use and repetition.

So I urge you to not only recognize ethical issues as they occur, but to focus on them and by your moral courage bring them into discussion and resolution.

And Fourth: I urge you to stay connected. While here you have developed a remarkable network of friends. You have come to know each other in class and in group projects and in coffee breaks. Don’t let your connection to this valuable group of friends wither away. Rely on each other. Consider you have a mutual obligation to keep these relationships alive and fresh.

Stay connected to the University of St. Thomas. We and you are intertwined like the double helix of one’s DNA. Our identity is carried by you—the St Thomas graduate. After tonight, forever attached to you name will be, “Masters Degree, University of St. Thomas.” How we the University are seen by the public is how you are seen. You give tangible recognition to who we are.

Something you carry within your professional persona originated here—perhaps concepts, or vocabulary, or methods of analysis or professional qualifications. It exemplifies the bond that remains between us.

So, though you graduate tonight, we remain together.

Consciously stay with us. Join the alumni association and attend their events. Stop by or call from time-to-time. Stay in touch. Write a note occasionally to a favored professor, it will warm his or her heart. Continue to be a part of us—continue to be connected.

So there are my four expectations for you—
-- Be caring
-- Be curious
-- Be courageous in matters ethical, and
-- Stay connected.

On behalf of the faculty and administration I tell you how proud we are of your accomplishment.

And how pleased we are that you carry our degree and our name.

May God bless you and your family in this joyous Christmas season.