Baccalaureate Address
Transformation & Resilience

President Antoinette M. Hays, PhD, RN
May 10, 2013

Today the word “transformation” seems to be everywhere. We hear of transformation genetics, transformation math, transformation art, transformation stories bacterial transformation, and transformation protocol.

At one, still controversial extreme, for example, bacterial transformation is used to genetically engineer bacteria to produce medicines. On another, more social plane, the way living cultures of the world are changing and adapting to external or internal forces is called transformation of cultures. And we all know what that is like in the melting pot that greater Boston has become, for this affects us every day.

The Regis campus is a diverse and multicultural place, and you are a wonderfully multicultural, multiethnic graduating class. Being at Regis has meant that you have had to grow in your identity to recognize, adapt to, and work with other distinct cultural identities. You are the “new normal,” the contemporary student and, now, the graduate. Regis has changed you, and you have changed Regis.

This past fall you were faced as students with the challenge of another kind of transformation as you lost your classmate Michael Kaplan and your fellow student Darner Alteon in tragic accidents. That week at the end of September you were asked to learn the kind of transformation called “resilience,” which absorbs and transforms human grief.

So, then, there you are: Transformed lives, and the transformers. Over two hundred and thirty of you. Whoever you were when you arrived on the Regis College campus, your lives are certainly in continuity with that identity, yet somehow also dramatically changed. More significantly, your college education has now included you in the class of those who are meant to do the research, the analysis, the interpretation, the expression, the leading, and the transforming.

That entails a lot of responsibility relating directly to being an educated human being in today’s world and being a transformer who is also transformed.

Are you transformed?

The great cellist Yo Yo Ma delivered the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy on April 8 at the Kennedy Center concert hall in Washington, D.C. He spoke about diversity and what he calls “the edge effect,” something that happens when two different kinds of creative artists collaborate with each other across the arts – the musician with the sculptor or, as we have seen in our own Carney Gallery this spring, the poet with the painter. Interestingly, however, Yo Yo Ma the cellist illustrated his point with a biological example, stating that where two ecological systems meet is where there is the most diversity and the most new forms of life, which come about because of the influence of the systems on each other.1

We have our own local versions of that as an educational community in the United States of America. For example, the development of new ideas to apply to new situations has moved Nursing from being an adjunct to the practice of medicine to being a profession and an academic authority in its own right. Nursing as a profession now has its own particular practice in health research, policy-making, and high quality care, and a major place in the future of all health care.

The changing view of slavery from an acceptable practice to an abhorrent one is a  good example of a replacement of an existing cultural value with a new one, well illustrated in the recent film, “Lincoln,” as it portrayed the fight for change both on the Civil War battlefield and in the U. S. Congress. A more recent example is the election and re-election in this country of an African-American president.

Climate change, globalization, and the technological web cast around the earth like a new nervous system (Thank you, Dr. Claudia Kemfert, Thomas L. Friedman, and Marshal McLuhan) are leading instances of the making of conceptual links between previously unconnected realities.

Recently, all of greater Boston lived the process of grieving and becoming resilient as it came out of the tragic and criminal bombing of spectators at the Boston Marathon finishing line on April 15, 2013, with all kinds of people  saying, “We are one community, one multiethnic and multicultural community, and we will run again!” Yo Yo Ma returned to Boston on April 18 to play a cello solo in the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Cross as pastors of all faiths and political leaders across the spectrum of American life joined in prayer for the victims. The Boston Children’s Choir sang “Up to the Mountain.”

And then there’s you: The transformed lives of the now college-educated person, the transformers. What new idea are you going to apply to a new situation? What existing cultural value are you going to replace with a new one? What conceptual link between previously unconnected realities are you going to make? What transformation of the human spirit has your time here put you in touch with, made you long for, helped you begin to realize?

As President of Regis College, I give you my heartfelt congratulations upon your achievement of the baccalaureate degree. I also challenge you to be the transformed and the transformers you are called to be. Resilient, sensitive, thoughtful, smart. Love is louder than bombs.

Some of you know that dance is a cherished art form in my family, and I leave you with that image to think about as you begin your new challenge and adventure of life. In the end, no matter what life will bring you, you will have the option to grow and transcend, to take contradictions and make of them a new unity, a new peace, a new dance.

Then, as poet William Butler Yeats once put it walking through a classroom, “Who can tell the dancer from the dance?”

1 Eloisa Perez-Lozano, “Yo-Yo Ma speaks of the fruit that comes from diversity,” NCR Today (April 10, 2013).

Regis College Commencement 2013: Baccalaureate Address