Class of 2019: Valedictorian urges grads to trust in God’s plan

Valedictorian Mary Margaret Payne addresses the crowd.
Valedictorian Mary Margaret Payne addresses the crowd.

We are reprinting portions of the commencement speeches given at Detroit Mercy commencement ceremonies last week. Today’s excerpt is from a speech by Class of 2019 Valedictorian Mary Margaret Payne, who spoke at the undergraduate commencement on Saturday, May 11.  Payne is a chemistry major who is entering religious life. Read more about her here.

As I reflected on my last four years at Detroit Mercy, I realized that there is a lot of information that I have not retained and a lot of calculus that I may never use. Ten years from now, the odds that I remember the anatomy of a starfish or the most common uses for the element polonium are low.

What I will remember, are the people I encountered on this campus. I’ll remember dozens of professors who supported me, and peers who accompanied me throughout our hardest courses. I’m sure you can all identify peers and mentors that have impacted your life, and I would like to take the opportunity today to speak about two individuals who have forever changed mine. Many of you may know them, because they have quietly made their presence felt on campus. A gentleman named Willy and a lovely woman named Sally have taught me what cannot be learned in a classroom. I would like to share with you how these individuals have taught me the joy of living with a simple heart and a radical trust.

My friend, Willy, can often be found sitting in the Student Union or the library engaged in conversation with whoever happens to be passing by. He offers a smile and the latest sports update to anyone who stops to say hello. Catherine McAuley said, “We must strive to do ordinary things extraordinarily well,” and I think that Willy does just that. When I first met Willy, I said hello and he asked if I saw the last Titan basketball game. I admit, I was on my way to class and it seemed an inconvenience to stay and talk about a game I had not seen. My impatience, however, was replaced with a certain interest as I saw how excitedly Willy spoke about something so simple as the score of the game.

It struck me that in the course of my day on campus, most of my conversations centered around academics. Over time, it became refreshing and even the best part of my day, to talk to Willy. In the short conversations on my way to class Willy would ask if I remembered to wear a hat that winter morning, or what I had for lunch, or what I was doing that weekend, and I was reminded to step back from my busyness. In those conversations, I was no longer worried about the assignment due in an hour or tomorrow’s exam. I looked forward each day to the simplicity of being present to another person. Willy taught me that to have a simple heart means to take joy in the ordinary, and really see the person in front of us.

The second individual I would like to mention is Miss Sally who, you may know, sadly passed away earlier this year. I saw Sally most often in the St. Ignatius Chapel. This small woman had the mightiest faith I’ve ever witnessed. St. Ignatius said, “Act as if everything depended on you, trust as if everything depended on God.” Sally became my model for this sort of radical trust.

I made an effort to make it to daily Mass on campus whenever I was able, and it was very rare that I did not see Sally there. She was committed to being there despite any rain or snow. Anyone who heard Sally pray or speak about her faith cannot deny her confidence in God. Sally prayed with confidence, because she knew she was heard. Furthermore, despite any difficulties of her own, Sally prayed out of concern for others. She trusted that God was taking care of her, and this allowed her to let go of her own worries and turn with compassion towards others.

Finally, Sally always prayed in thanksgiving. Always. She may have had a bad day, but she trusted so radically in the fact that God was caring for her and had a unique plan for her life that she thanked Him ahead of time for every small blessing.

The beauty in living with a simple heart and a radical trust is that no tragedy, disappointment or unforeseen circumstance can shake a peace built on this foundation. We are all going to face difficulties. There will be periods of high intensity and stress. our careers may seem like the single most important thing — after all, we have spent years and thousands of dollars in pursuit of these dreams. In the midst of the craziness ahead, I hope that you won’t forget to look at the person next to you and be present to them with a simple heart.

And when you face hardships, sadness or loneliness, look up to a God who loves you and trust radically that He does, in fact, see you and has a unique plan for your life.

You can watch the whole speech here.

2 Comments

  1. E. Michael McCann

    I graduated from the University of Detroit sixty years ago, 1959. Valedictorian Payne’s
    speech warms my heart for it reassures me that the Jesuits of my beloved Alma Mater
    are continuing to produce graduates who reflect profoundly deep Catholic spirituality.
    I never met Willy or Sally but I have no doubt that were Jesus to have attended U of D
    he would have known both of them.

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