He is a young man with sprawling interests, daring wit, unrivaled enthusiasm, and, above all, humility.
When valedictorian Gus Hardy ’16 was in high school, he wasn’t expected to go to college. “But on my 90-minute commute to school every day as a high school senior, I would read Santa Clara Magazine,” he says. “It was a kind of inspiration for me.” Shall we talk inspirational? From this student of religion and political science, the 2016 valedictory address.
Father Engh, Provost Jacobs, President Poor, Dr. Woo, guests—and graduates:
It is a great joy for me to be here with you today and speak as valedictorian of the Class of 2016! Mom, Dad, and all parents—first and foremost, thank you. The word “valedictorian” comes from the Latin “valedicere”—to say farewell. They are the ones charged, in a very real sense, with saying goodbye on behalf of all of their fellow students. It was after I first read this definition when I sat down to write this speech that I realized I was faced with an impossible task. You don’t need me to tell you that Santa Clara is so beautiful and incredible a university that no one person can ever fully encapsulate all that we have to say farewell to in one speech—all while testifying to their own experience as a Bronco. Having meditated on this challenge, the best that I can do is weave all of our stories together, if you would allow me. My hope is that together, we can all say “goodbye” to our beloved University, and at the same time welcome a future as yet unknown.
My very being here on this stage is a testament to the good that Santa Clara does in the lives of the students. As some of you know, I came here from a high school for kids who had autism. There, I was discouraged from even attending college—they said it would be impossible—and I overcame both my academic and social struggles to earn a seat at this University, once I resolved with all my heart, soul, and strength that I would get here. This was always a prize—that Mission Church was a guiding light that reminded me I could do more, become more than what society believed I could be. I studied hard, took college classes to make up for a lack of APs, drilled myself on speech therapy to get over a stutter, and finally ended up here.
And I knew I was not alone in this.
There are those of you in the crowd today who I see who had a difficult journey just to even enroll here. Some of you fought through failing grades and unlikely odds. Some of you also knew that if you came to Santa Clara you would be the first in your family to attend college, and would have to undergo a level of fear and apprehension that I can never comprehend. There are those of you in the crowd who told me how you survived the deaths in your family, loss of dear friends, and cancer. Every single one of you had challenges and overcame them to walk through these doors not as visitors but as students.
So to all of the students who struggled, fought for, and earned a place at this University, will you say “goodbye” with me?
Eventually though, we all received our acceptance letters and each made the life-changing decision to become Broncos. We all arrived on campus and were greeted promptly by a gaggle of passionate orientation leaders and one poor, sweaty student in a Bucky the Bronco suit. During those days, I remember my heart was stirred by all of the opportunities the University offered—retreats, immersions, chances at leadership—all of the ways that I could do what I loved. You no doubt remember similar feelings, and when given the chance, each one of us chose ways to not only explore our passions but be formed in our time here, whether it was through Into the Wild or Alpha Phi, ResLife or CLC, Orientation or ASG, Pike or ROTC, or good ol’ Campus Ministry.
Each one of you found something you loved and let it shape who you are. As I look out on each and every one of you, I see all of the experiences, opportunities, and discoveries that you found while here at Santa Clara. Taken together, these individual stories become an epic, to which we have all added our own beautiful chapters.
So to all of the students who threw themselves into what they loved and discovered who they truly are, will you say “goodbye” with me?
Of course, we must not forget why we were here in the first place. It was not—no matter they told us—just to get a job, but to learn. Whether in the classroom, in the streets at an Arrupe placement, or on the other side of the world while studying in Rome, El Salvador, Germany, or the Philippines, we all found ourselves in our studies and took courses that changed our lives. Business Writing and Argumentation taught us new ways to put pen to paper, Engineering and Chaos Theory gave us new ways to visualize reality, Theology of Marriage taught us how to explore how we should truly relate to one another, and the acting and music classes that we took taught us how to free our bodies and create art with our very being. We could imagine none of these coming in to Santa Clara, and yet we found them here. Our educations have been the focal point around which our entire experience of self-discovery rotates.
To all of the students who, in their education, learned about who they were as human beings, will you say “goodbye” with me?
Now, here comes the moment we all dreaded every time someone asked us, “So what are you doing after graduation?” From the moment that our hands touched these diploma cases, we ceased to be undergraduates and entered a world of great prizes and risks. Yet in spite of this shift, we must never forget as we journey onward that our identities were formed and forged by the years that we spent together on this campus. We are at a moment that, as Winston Churchill would say, “is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” To venture forward into the future, we have to make a great leap and leave our undergraduate years behind us. It is the only way we can continue to truly live the lives we have cultivated here.
To that end, I invite you to do one last thing together. Will you join me and make this goodbye—ours? In a minute—in a minute—I’m going to say “goodbye” three times. If anyone wishes to join me when I raise my hand, please feel free. That way, together, we can say a proper farewell to this University that we love and the years in which we became men and women for others.
So please, take a moment. Look to the person at your left. Look to your right. And as you do so, please think hard about them, the students and your friends that surround you, and everything to which we wish to say farewell. Are you ready?
Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.
Thank you all, so very much.
AND GO BRONCOS!
Watch his whole speech here.