This speech was given on May 20, 2019. Delivered by the dedicated former member of the Heart of the Hall staff and Seton Hall University Class of 2019 Salutatorian, Anthony Tokarz, the speech examines how the Catholic Mission lends to Seton Hall a character which enlivens students beyond what another University could offer. Anthony’s words of wisdom will be a welcome guide to students beginning the new academic year.
Welcome parents, thank you faculty, and congratulations graduates!
Marine Lieutenant-General Chesty Puller famously assessed the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, one of the
most decisive of the Korean War, by reporting, “We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded.
That simplifies things.” That night, his unit won the battle, and he became the most decorated Marine in history.
Today, my fellow graduates, we have a direct connection to that legendary general, who, as a Marine, shares a patron saint with us Pirates—indeed, the patron saint of all seafarers is none other than
the first American Saint, our namesake: Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Today, graduates, we set sail onto new lives, and we too find ourselves surrounded, as much by our loved ones, thankfully, as by the enemies of our new lives: doubt, fear, and indecision.
Seton Hall, our home for the heart, mind, and spirit, has well prepared us to meet them and to triumph, having not only educated us in the knowledge that will lead to employment, but also formed us in the wisdom that will lead us over these enemies and onto fulfillment.
Let us not forget that Seton Hall has nurtured us in both of these dimensions: our knowledge prepares us for the challenges ahead, but our wisdom emboldens us not only to face them, but also to fail, and to persist until we prevail!
Our friends and mentors have nourished us on grand visions of our going out and making names for ourselves as we begin jobs or pursue higher education, and surely those words will resound in us when we, the Pirates of 2019, sail forth with the winds at our backs.
More importantly, however, Seton Hall’s motto, “Hazard zet forward”, reminds us of the fact that Seton Hall has staked its academic and cultural and spiritual reputation on another promise: that when the wind blows against us, and subjects us to adversity, to struggle, and, yes, even to failure—we will get
up, brace ourselves, and push back, undeterred, until we succeed.
But I am not here to preach or to prophesy, I am here to summarize the lessons of the last four years, so that they may anchor us as we set sail for the unknown that surrounds us. Hopefully, they too will simplify things.
First, past those doors, we can rent muscle and we can rent brains, for the labor market has set their price. What we cannot rent, however, is character, for this is priceless. It takes a careful lifetime to build, and a careless moment to destroy. Seton Hall imparted in us the virtues of servant leadership, and filled its chapels, its classrooms, and its walkways with shining examples of this.
Now, each of us has an opportunity to fix in our minds that one special servant leader we have encountered, and commit ourselves to living in such a way that idol becomes our rival.
Second, professional success does not guarantee happiness—indeed, jumping from success to success for too long feels less like growth and more like stagnation. At Seton Hall, we learned to hope and to fight for every victory, large and small.
The world fears struggle and the world fears failure, but we celebrate these and we bond over them, for we know that they are where we forge ourselves, transforming the raw material of who we are now into the finished product of whom we must become from now on.
“Hazard zet forward.” It is more than a motto. It is a roadmap. It is a promise. It is what distinguishes us from the thousands of other graduates who have read the same books, earned the same degrees, and aspire to the same careers.
It is the whisper borne on the breaths of our two guiding spirits: the American spirit and the Holy Spirit.
The American spirit reminds us that everything worth doing seems impossible until we have done it and so in retrospect make it seem inevitable.
The Holy Spirit teaches us that the only way to conquer our Cross is not to run from it, but to run toward it, to carry it, and so to let it lift us to heights we could not have otherwise climbed ourselves.
We leave here today not merely as graduates and not just with degrees. We leave here today with four years’ supply of memories and a lifetime’s supply of resilience. We leave here today as brothers and sisters of Chesty Puller, as sons and daughters of Mother Ann Seton, and as fellow Pirates. Thank you all.