KERNS: Class of ’09: live rightly



Bryan Kerns

In little more than two weeks, retired Admiral William Fallon (Class of ’67) and Sister Teresita Hinnegan will ascend at the dais at the University’s 166th Commencement Exercises and honorary degrees will be conferred upon them at the hands of the University President. It’s hard to imagine two more radically different paths.

Admiral Fallon started out in NROTC at Villanova and rose to become one of the two-dozen most important officers in the entirety of the U.S. armed forces. Sister Teresita graduated from St. Hubert’s High School just a few miles from Villanova in Philadelphia, entered religious life and became a nurse and teacher working on maternal and children’s health issues.

What you won’t read in the University press release about Admiral Fallon is that in a 2008 interview with Esquire Magazine, he was called the only thing standing between the Bush administration and Iran. He advocated rapprochement with Iran and diplomacy with the rest of the Middle East. Upon publication of the interview he retired, and it was later reported that the retirement was the result of a protracted turf battle between Fallon and General David Petraeus, to whom President Bush deferred over the timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sister Teresita has described her mission “as working at the policy level to effect better health care for poor women during pregnancy and childbirth.”

The message the University sends in its selection of them as recipients of honorary degrees is that they are both people whose lives square with Villanova’s mission as a Catholic and Augustinian university.

Some would – and will – argue that Fallon’s military career precludes him from being worthy of either receiving an honorary degree or speaking at commencement. Others would say that it’s impossible to reconcile the good works of a nun with the life of someone whose responsibilities included sending soldiers into harm’s way.

That reconciliation begins with these words from St. Augustine: “You say, the times are troublesome, the times are burdensome, the times are miserable. Live rightly and you will change the times. The times have never hurt anyone. Those who are hurt are human beings; those by whom they are hurt are also human beings. So, change human beings and the times will be changed.”

Both the good admiral and the good sister have led lives that call for human beings to change in order that the times might be changed. That’s the message Villanova sends when it presents these two as recipients of honorary degrees – people whose lives have been lived for the betterment of others.

That, too, is the responsibility which Villanova entrusts to its graduates, a responsibility that one ought not to take lightly.

It really must sound cliché to read something like that. It’s almost as much of a cliché to write it. Banal, preachy tropes about responsibility and the common good are certainly tired. That said, we would do well to listen to them – especially if those who demand action on our part are as qualified to do so as Admiral Fallon, Sister Teresita, and Augustine.

Yes, the times may be troublesome – the country is engaged in two wars. Yes, the times may be burdensome – the economic wellbeing of the nation for generations is quite possibly at stake. They could be miserable – one in two marriages fails. The charge to the Class of 2009 is to live rightly. Live as Admiral Fallon and Sister Teresita have. Heed their examples, the words they will speak, and listen to those spoken about them. They have lived to change human beings – and they have changed their times in ways small and large.

If you can do that, then the world might be a better place after all – what a cliché. There’s some truth to it, though, you know?


Bryan Kerns is a sophomore honors and humanities major from Drexel Hill, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].