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Your World Awaits—and It Needs Your Help, Kennedy Tells Graduates 


Our fates are united, Joseph Patrick Kennedy III told the Fordham Class of 2024, and peace is possible when we recognize that “our pathway forward is together.”

Speaking at Fordham’s 179th Commencement on May 18, the U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland for Economic Affairs recalled that region’s painful history—and eventual peace—to illustrate that even amid longstanding war and division, there is reason for hope. 

“While we may come from different backgrounds and perspectives, the lesson Northern Ireland teaches is that our future is shared,” he said from Keating Terrace on the Rose Hill campus, just after receiving an honorary doctorate from the University.

“It is as true in Belfast as in Boston. It is true across our United States. It is true in Israel and Gaza, where terror and heartbreak, violence, and suffering must give way to a shared future. And it is true in every other corner and cranny of our planet.”

Joseph P. Kennedy III addresses the class of 2024.

A Bostonian who told graduates he loves New York (even if he can’t quite get behind the Yankees), Kennedy is a grandson of the former New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy. He represented the 4th Congressional District of Massachusetts for four terms before assuming his diplomatic role in 2022.

Northern Ireland’s journey from the strife known as the Troubles, which ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, is proof that change is possible, he told graduates.

“It’s not perfect. Like everything human, it is really messy and really hard. But 26 years later, the region is still at peace,” he said.

As the sun shone through clouds on the crowd of more than 20,000 people, Kennedy shared anecdotes about meeting people in Derry and Belfast who once were enemies but now are working together. 

“There is a difference between being guided by the past and being held hostage by it,” he said. 

“If we are bold and brave enough, we can learn to make space for each other, even when we disagree on really big things—if not for our benefit, then for those whose futures are yet to be written.”

He told graduates that the world they inherit needs them.

“It is a world that needs your vision and your grace. Your empathy and ambition. Your courage to choose to leave the world a little better than you found it,” he said. 

“And please hurry. Your world awaits, and it needs your help.”

A Time to Celebrate

In her second Fordham commencement address, President Tania Tetlow acknowledged that this year’s ceremonies hold special resonance for many students whose high school graduations were disrupted by the COVID pandemic. 

“What makes you special is how you use your gifts to matter to the world,” President Tetlow told graduates.

“Today is the day to glory in what you have achieved,” she said, noting that even the Empire State Building will be shining in the graduates’ honor tonight.

In graduating, students joined the ranks of millions of Jesuit-educated people around the world who can bond with each other simply by referencing the phrase cura personalis, or care for the whole person, she said. 

“But this isn’t the kind of secret handshake that gets you insider entitlement. Instead, it’s an enormous responsibility that you carry with you forever,” she said.  

“You came to Fordham with blazing talent, each of you blessed by abundant gifts from God. But—and this may be a rare thing to say at commencement—those gifts do not make you better than anyone else,” she said.

“What makes you special is how you use your gifts to matter to the world.”

The University officially conferred roughly 3,300 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees at the ceremony. Including those who graduated in August 2023 and February 2024 and those who are expected to graduate in August 2024, the University will confer nearly 5,700 academic degrees in all.

In addition to Kennedy, Fordham conferred honorary doctorates upon two other notable figures: Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking and a leading global activist against capital punishment, and the University’s former board chairman Robert D. Daleo.

—Photos by Chris Taggart, Bruce Gilbert, Hector Martinez, and Taylor Ha


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