Caryn Margaret Pavlak
Student speaker: College of Arts and Sciences (Arts)
Faculty, family, friends, and the Class of 2013:
I’ve been to a lot of Commencement ceremonies here at Loyola. Seventeen, if I’ve counted correctly. I played in the Commencement band during my freshman and sophomore years, so I’ve heard a lot of commencement speeches. The band has a lot of down time during the actual ceremony, so to keep myself amused, I’d count the number of times I heard some key phrases: “Jesuit values,” “the Loyola community,” and my personal favorite, “go forth and set the world on fire.” Band people, you’ll be hearing those phrases some more, so stay strong and do your best to ignore me.
When I arrived on campus in August of 2009, my parents and I were waiting in the car to unload at Mertz hall. Father Garanzini—I’m sure he doesn’t remember this, but my dad brings it up all the time—Father Garanzini walked up to the window and started talking with my parents, but then my dad interrupted him and said, “So, what’s the shoe record?” Father Garanzini looked confused and asked for clarification, and then my dad said, “This one over here’s got 16 pairs of shoes with her. Have you heard of anybody who brought more?” He said he hadn’t. Evidently nobody else’s parents had sold them out on their inability to leave a good pair of shoes behind.
Now, this was not the auspicious beginning I had anticipated for my glorious years of intellectualism at Loyola. I had big plans of graduating with a biology major and heading to med school. You know, like we all did. Well, as we can see, this didn’t work out the way I had thought. I’m here today graduating as a political science major, and I’m definitely not going to med school. Really, I don’t know what I’ll be doing in two weeks, let alone 20 years from now, but I’m so glad that things worked out the way they did. I’m glad I’m not a biology major.
What I really appreciated about my time at Loyola was that all my professors and advisors told me that it was okay to change my mind. They encouraged me to find what I loved and to run with it. Because of our Core Curriculum, I had the opportunity to take classes in a lot of different subject areas, and I found my passion through taking an introductory political science course. Loyola encourages growth, encourages you to reach beyond self-imposed limits—you just can’t leave Loyola the same person you were when you entered.
Because I worked in the Admissions Office for my four years here, I was often asked why I chose Loyola. Without fail, I tell them that it took a visit for me to decide. My dad and I sat in this very arena on a blustery November morning and listened to Father Daffron talk about the Jesuit values that are such a strong part of the Loyola community, and about the tenants of a Jesuit education that we all know so well. But what struck me the most was that he was so passionate about Loyola, about Loyola’s students and what this unique Jesuit University could offer, and this passion that I’ve seen in all of our faculty members helped me pick Loyola.
And I’m glad I did. Loyola gave me, as I am sure it gave all of you, the opportunity to discover who I am and what I’m passionate about. In order to set the world on fire, you need to have some fire in your soul, some fire in your very being that gives you the courage to change the world.
Now, let’s be honest—setting the world on fire is a hefty task. It’s not for the lighthearted. Even Loyola’s motto encourages excellence—Ad Majorum Dei Gloriam—For the Greater Glory of God. Think about it. You hear other mottos, like Wisdom and Knowledge or Character and Learning. No, Loyola goes with “For the Greater Glory of God.” That’s no easy task, and it requires some courage to own up to it.
But what I find hardest about being courageous—what I think a lot of people find hard about courage—is taking that first step. Looking at what is to come is so very frightening. Before taking that first step, all you do is consider everything that can (and probably will) go wrong. All you can do is fear failure. But regarding failure: Think about those you love, and how even when they fail, you still love them, think that they’re great, and believe in them. Extend that kindness to yourself. Give yourself permission to fail. We’ll fail a lot in these coming years, but that’s okay. We’re not done cooking yet. If you were a cake in the oven, you’d still be jiggly on the top.
Let’s remember that it’s the moment when everything goes wrong when we learn the most about ourselves. Take a deep breath, and start it, whatever it is. Failure will not ruin you. We cannot live our lives without risks, because it is through the risks that we are able to change the world. I believe so strongly in our ability to make this world a better place. More than anything, don’t be afraid to start over.
And some parting words of wisdom I’ve found along the way: Your goals are important, but make sure that you’re appreciating every moment of the journey. Don’t forget to learn about yourself while you’re busy making all these mistakes. Live your life well, and do what you love. Travel lots. Have fun. Do your best. Eat lots of good food, make lots of friends, and spend more time laughing than crying. Be the person you always wanted to be. And don’t pack 16 pairs of shoes, whatever the destination. You really don’t need 16 pairs of shoes.
So, thank you to our professors who spent too many hours with us and our endless questions, and to our families and friends who told us they believed in us, even when we didn’t believe in ourselves. I’m so proud to be a member of the Loyola University Chicago class of 2013, and I am so sure that we are all brave enough to set the world on fire. Thank you.