Good morning, Father John, Janet, distinguished guests, faculty members, proud parents, and most importantly, the graduates of Stonehill College!

It is with great honor and joy that I stand before you today as we celebrate this significant milestone in all our lives.

Class of 2023, I’m so impressed with the hard work and dedication each of you put in the last four years – especially under trying times. 

The transition from high school to college is challenging -- even under the best of circumstances – but having your first year of classes, sports, concerts, internships, and more cut short by Covid – and only beginning to feel a sense of comfort and engagement as you stepped into your final year – well, that's a test that can't be fully comprehended by others.

We can't entirely grasp how deeply this has affected you – all we can do is stand in awe of the passion, grit, and resilience that has carried you to this stage today. You have my deepest admiration and respect.

To the faculty and staff; we also need to recognize that your lives were upended as well. Managing Zoom school, many of you with students of your own – thank you for your undying commitment to your students and the College. 

Parents – this is also a day for you to celebrate – and not just because you got a big raise with the last tuition check cashed.

I know how much your children appreciate the sacrifices and support you’ve given them. I know how much they love when you swing by for an impromptu “dad lunch” on campus – take time off work to watch a softball or soccer game, send a note of encouragement, or drop off a bag of clean laundry.

And to coaches, mentors, friends, and members of the broader community – you’ve offered stability in the chaos and opportunities for growth and leadership. The young people in front of me recognize you, and all of us are grateful. 

It seems like yesterday when I was in your shoes. When I was at Spellman, decades before this quad and these buildings existed, my friends and I would ride our bikes up the dirt path from our neighborhood in Brockton to play basketball in the old gym behind the Big House. It’s so great to be back … especially because I didn’t have to sneak in this time!

I feel like I know you, all of you. Not because I’ve met each of you personally but because for the last 22 years, my life’s work has been listening to you, your peers, your generation.  

Some people call me a pollster. A public opinion researcher. You might call me a professional listener. 

Being a researcher, especially having a platform to ask questions about what America thinks – in these times -- is one of the best and most rewarding jobs anyone could have. It also comes with a great deal of responsibility.

It has taken me to almost every state in America and around the world. I even managed to get in – and much more important -- get out – of North Korea – but I will save that for another day. 

You may not see yourself in every statistic or key finding I produce, but I hope you believe the experiences, perspectives, and values I share are real, valid, and alive within someone you know – or even someone you might never meet…maybe a classmate, a parent, that uncle we all see only on Thanksgiving.

Embracing this power of listening and understanding unlocks the potential for progress in our lives – and meaningful transformations to shape our world for the better.

The ancient Greeks reminded us that we were gifted with two ears and one mouth – a pretty clear hint that we should be listening twice as much as we're talking. And they stressed that through carefully listening, a deeper appreciation for the breadth of the human experience can be developed. Those guys were on point. 

Every person here knows that listening well builds trust and makes relationships stronger. Real listening makes people like you more. Listening hones our empathy, even if we cannot always understand every aspect of someone else’s experience. And it is the first step in making communities of every kind stronger and more vibrant.

And what some people might argue is a radical act -- listening is actually fundamental to social and political life. It's not just a nice-to-have, it's essential for human flourishing – and for your own flourishing.

Yet, as a nation, we often seem to be more interested in waiting for our turn to talk than actually listening. I am afraid we are letting these muscles atrophy.  In some of us, it’s worse – they are dying, making it difficult to recover and reconnect. But what truly fuels my hope, what keeps me optimistic for our future – is every one of you.

Yours is a generation of listeners.

In the immediate aftermath of a gunman killing 17 members of his high school community, David Hogg and the students of Parkland, Florida, listened to the thousands of voices from suburban, urban, and rural America and built a national movement – and six months ago, sent one of their own and the first of your generation to Congress. 

In 2020, 17-year-old high school student Darnella Frazier bravely listened to her gut while she held her iPhone still for 10 long minutes to capture what her 9-year-old cousin would soon call their “first murder.” The death of George Floyd.

And every day, young people like yourselves are volunteering in homeless shelters and staffing mental health crisis lines – lending an ear, identifying and pledging to eradicate some of the root causes of the distress. 

And let’s be real, I know that Chicken Wrap Thursdays aren’t just about the chicken. The secret sauce? It’s the Stonehill community – a society of listeners.

Gen Z isn't just the most educated generation; you’re the most empathetic, too. Why? Because you’re curious, you're connected, and you care. But we must cherish and protect this quality. It needs to be nurtured and exercised. It’s a simple principle: use it or lose it.

I urge you to keep challenging complacency by piercing the bubbles we find ourselves in. Strive to connect and engage with those outside your trusted circle of friends. 

Chat with your Uber driver and learn their story.

Go to lunch or dinner in a different part of town.

Seek out individuals with different viewpoints and strive to understand how their values were shaped.

If you're a fan of MSNBC or Fox – give the other a chance once in a while – resist the eye roll.

And most importantly, listen. 

Despite surface-level differences, I guarantee that you have more in common with others than you might think.

This is for the parents, grandparents, and people like me who are not part of Gen Z.

It is important that you hear what I hear when I step outside my bubble and meet with your children and grandchildren:

I hear concerns about their future. 

One-third of young Americans in my most recent Harvard survey are fearful that one day they could be homeless. 

I hear concerns about their safety.

Nearly half of young Americans have felt unsafe in the last few weeks. Forty percent are concerned about being a victim of gun violence or mass shooting.  

I hear concerns that rights and freedoms are under attack.

The right to clear air and water;

To feel safe in school;

To health care;

And a quality education.

I hear concerns about their mental health.

Half of college students have felt depressed or hopeless for several days in the last two weeks – and the same number have felt lonely.  

A quarter of young people under 30 have had thoughts of self-harm in the last two weeks – 5 percent nearly every single day.

What I hear a lot about – far too much -- is fear. 

But not everything I hear is dark. I also hear about hope, compassion, and determination. Despite the real anxieties and fears that you face, the Class of 2023, you haven't turned away. You haven't shirked the responsibilities that your Stonehill education, which values service to others, has instilled in you.

You're an integral part of your community. You volunteer your time and resources, and you vote at rates surpassing those of older generations in their youth. You are fighters, not fleeting snowflakes, but enduring diamonds.

While every generation has its own unique challenges, I can't help but admire how adeptly you've dealt with the rapid chaos presented to you. This is especially remarkable given that you're doing this before neuroscience tells us your brains are fully mature.

You fight, not just for yourselves but for those without power and are under attack. With no memory of the unity we experienced the days after 9/11 – you strive for a united America that stands for justice, freedom, and moral leadership across the globe. 

You gauge success not merely by your personal achievements but by the positive impact your actions have on others.

When you leave here today, I hope one of the things you carry with you is the empathy and fighting spirit you developed on this campus. This is truly a gift. Your fighting spirit is a gift to us all.

But, Class of 2023, I also know you’re anxious. Many of you feel overwhelmed with the sense that the world is counting on you to repair, in just a few years, what has taken the rest of us a lifetime to, well, let’s say, “mess up” to keep it family-friendly. And that’s not fair. You have enough pressure to kick off your career, find roommates – and your best life. 

As you navigate the years ahead – remember to just keep doing what you’re doing: listen to yourself and the concerns of others. 

Soon, some of you will be educators, molding our future leaders. Others will care for the sick, protect communities, promote justice, or harness the power of data in business, government, or media. Remember, with great data comes great responsibility.

Whichever path you choose, all of you, I hope – all of you, I believe -- will find ways to tune out the chaos, listen to what’s important, and shape an America that reflects your values. An America that is full of light and kindness. 

But in the coming years, especially in 2024, I urge you not only to listen but to amplify your voices and the voices of those more vulnerable than yourselves. Your voice, your perspective, your experiences, and your votes are what will shape the America of tomorrow. 

We are in an era where listening – while so vital – is just the beginning; action must follow. Don't be a spectator. Stand up for your values, challenge what you believe is wrong – wherever you find it – and fight for what you know is right.

Remember, the power of change isn't just in the hands of a few elites – but in the hands of the many. It's in you. Exercise it.

Class of 2023, take this education, these experiences, and this community that you've built, and use it to shape wherever you call home.

Students, please stand up. Go ahead, rise. Look around at your friends and classmates, your companions in countless classrooms, coffee shops, study sessions, and Shoveltown trivia contests.

This is who you’re fighting for. This is who is fighting for YOU. 

And honestly, I don’t think we could be in better hands.

Thank you, Class of 2023, for listening. Thank you for all that you do. You embody the best of Stonehill. You are the very best of America.

Congratulations. Your time has come.