Ave Maria School of Law 2020 Commencement Speech by Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich
Filmed in Rome, Italy, July 28, 2020
Delivered on August 1, 2020
President Cieply, Chairman Monaghan, honorees, trustees, faculty, graduates, families, and friends:
Good afternoon and congratulations to the Ave Maria School of Law Class of 2020! I am honored to be with you.
You are now alumni of one the most devout Catholic law schools in the United States.
Today, you graduate from an institution that has engraved in your hearts the values of faith, service, and sacrifice.
Two years ago, I had the privilege of receiving an honorary degree from this outstanding school.
It is something that I will always treasure. In fact, it’s displayed in our residence in Rome.
For the parents watching this commencement ceremony, I suspect this is an experience you will remember and cherish for the rest of your lives, as your beloved son or daughter receives their degree. So, congratulations to all of you!
Graduates: In a few moments you will be recognized for your hard work and faithful perseverance.
The class of 2020 is a very special class. Each and every one of you is a veteran of adversity.
As one Ls, you faced the strong winds and storms of Hurricane Irma. This year, your lives have been challenged by a global pandemic – one that has forced our gathering today, and many of your classes, to be virtual.
However, while many students have struggled with recent challenges, you have persevered and succeeded. For you have a powerful source of strength that many others do not: an unshakable faith in Jesus Christ.
As Saint John Paul II said, “There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already born for us, and does not now bear with us.”
“This is our faith. This is our witness before the world.”
Saint John Paul II said these words 25 years ago at Camden Yards in Baltimore. As graduates of Ave Maria School of Law, you understand this powerful message. To face incredible obstacles and not lose heart – this is the virtue of being a Catholic leader.
Today, as you close one chapter and begin another, you embark upon life’s great journey. But first, take a moment today to reflect upon how blessed each of you are to have attended this remarkable school, in this exceptional country, supported by your parents, family, and friends.
Then ask yourself: How can I repay these blessings? What will I give back to my family, my country, and to the world? What imprint will I leave?
Here is a fact: You are leaving the confines of academia and starting your professional lives in a nation that is as anxious and divided as anytime in our lives.
It is also true that the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the world and our country – both economically and socially.
However, these are not insurmountable challenges. This moment in our history is your opportunity to be a part of our national story and to reaffirm what makes our country great.
This is your time – your opportunity to create a new story, inspired by your faith in God.
And all of you have a distinct advantage. You are graduates of a renowned Catholic institution, and one that takes seriously the principles of faith and reason.
Nothing worth doing is easy. Following the path of faith and good works is hard. Along life’s journey, you will face criticism. You will face doubts.
But through your faith, you will prevail.
It is your faith in Jesus Christ that will help you weather and overcome whatever storm is on the horizon.
To live in the path of your faith is not always easy. My own professional life has been filled with challenge, change, and opportunity.
I truly believe that you cannot live a meaningful life, personally or professionally, without God.
Faith is a guiding star. My own faith in Jesus Christ is more important to me than anything else in my life. It has made me the person that I am today.
When I graduated from college in 1988 and moved to Washington, D.C. to work on Capitol Hill, in a partisan and competitive environment, it was my faith in Jesus Christ that kept me grounded and focused. I was blessed to have a fulfilling career on the Hill for over 18 years.
It was my faith in Jesus Christ that gave me the courage to lead a production company, author seven children’s history books and produce nine documentary films, including, “Nine Days that Changed the World,” Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny, and “Rediscovering God in America.”
And it is my faith in Jesus Christ that enables me to meet the challenges of diplomacy, as our nation’s ambassador to the Holy See.
Now, I cannot let this opportunity pass without sharing an important piece of our nation’s history – one that exemplifies the power of faithful perseverance.
If we were together today in Naples, I would ask, by a show of hands, how many of you know the history of America’s diplomatic relationship with the Holy See?
As Ambassador, I am often asked to explain the reason we have a U.S. embassy to the Holy See.
After all, the territory of Vatican City encompasses less than one-quarter of a square mile. So, why do we have an embassy?
The answer is rooted in history – sparked in June of 1979 during Pope John Paul II’s nine-day pilgrimage to Poland. It was the first time in history that a Pope visited a Communist country.
During his journey, the Pope traveled across his homeland, inspiring a revolution of conscience that would transform the spiritual and political landscape of the late 20th century.
On the first day of his pilgrimage, in Warsaw’s Victory Square, Pope John Paul II declared, “There can be no just Europe without the independence of Poland marked on its map!”
It was a proclamation heard across the world – and by a future U.S. president in California.
Just a few months later, in November of 1979, Governor Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy for President of the United States. Shortly after winning the election and taking office, President Reagan requested a meeting with the Pope.
The two leaders met in Vatican City in 1982. It was here that President Ronald Reagan asked Pope John Paul II when Eastern Europe would be free from Soviet domination. When the Pope responded, “In our lifetime,” the President took his hand and asked that together they make it happen.
When he returned to the United States, President Reagan instructed the U.S. Department of State to work closely with the Vatican. He ordered a full-fledged embassy to be opened. Two years later, in 1984, the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See was established.
Before that time, the United States and the Holy See enjoyed a respectful, although unofficial relationship. This new partnership, as President Reagan said, “would exist to the benefit of peace-loving people everywhere.”
The Soviet Union’s collapse into the “ash-heap of history” on December 25, 1991, would not have been possible without their leadership.
Of course, the necessity of this historic partnership did not end with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Today, our governments face different challenges – equally great and perilous.
From advancing religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, to combatting human trafficking, to delivering humanitarian assistance, to preventing conflict and violence, our partnership with the Holy See is a worldwide force for good.
Like the United States, the Holy See engages on every continent, with access and credibility in the world’s most troubled areas – in places where many governments are unable to work.
Our efforts today would not have been possible without the vision and commitment of President Ronald Reagan and Saint John Paul II. Their partnership paved the way; and their example is ever-present.
I wanted to share this story of President Ronald Reagan and Saint John Paul II, because it exemplifies the power of perseverance through faith.
Both men were shaped by their faith in God.
Both had battled communism in their formative years in Kraków and Hollywood, respectively.
Both were shot within weeks of each other in 1981.
Both survived and saw their survival as a sign that God had spared their lives for a greater purpose.
Throughout their lives, they had ample opportunity to give up. But they stayed the course, anchored in their love of Jesus Christ, and their respect for human dignity.
I hope you will remember and use their example to guide your own lives, as I have.
Graduates, I encourage you to continue to live faithfully, to love your country, to honor your families and your friends, and to reflect upon and appreciate your many blessings.
Seek to know what is right — and have the courage to do it. People will often challenge you and say you’re wrong, or naïve. But don’t believe them.
And always remember your school’s motto: Fides et Ratio. Faith and reason. May these words guide you as you embark upon your life-long journey.
This wonderful day is a gift from God and a testament to your hard work and achievement.
Congratulations, class of 2020!
May God bless you and your families. And May God bless the United States of America.