Maura Dougherty, 18, is the baccalaureate speaker for Merion Mercy Academy.
Maura was President of the French Club, the Communications Officer for Student Council, Captain of the Golf Team, and is a member of five honor socities.
Here is the speech Maura will give at graduation.
Good evening Sister Barbara, Ms. Danovich, faculty, family, friends, and my fellow classmates. I would like to begin this evening by talking about Charlotte. As some of you know, Charlotte was my worst nemesis. She was difficult; always doing the opposite of what I wanted her to do. She stalled when I wanted to move forward and she lost her swiftness when I depended on it the most. Charlotte was my first car, and she was “different”: she was a stick shift, and, as it turned out, the perfect car for me, especially at MMA. You see, living mercy on the road of life is much like operating a stick shift: tricky, strenuous and requiring constant work. It is not a journey like in an automatic car where driving comes easily, but rather a quest that requires shifting and at times stalling. Although Charlotte is just a car, she stands for so much more; she is a metaphor for each of our lives, our lives moved by empathy and centered in mercy.
Shifting into gear one requires releasing the clutch and gently putting a foot on the gas, trying to create the perfect balance to start the car and move forward. Our first gear was the rudiment of our very own Merion career and our first true encounter with the quality of mercy known as empathy. I have once heard someone refer to the empathy inside us as our empathy switch. So it was in our first year that that switch was turned on for us. We began to use our empathy switch each passing day as we felt compassion for each other. We may have been strangers at orientation, but together we were learned to navigate the hallways, schedules, our first mixer, and of course weenie roast. We learned this year that empathy is an essential quality of mercy and is completely different from sympathy. Empathy is feeling compassion for others, and placing oneself in their shoes. It is a feeling that requires action and passion, which is how we live mercy. So, from that first year we were brought together, rooted in this mysterious world of mercy and empathy, and we mastered our first gear.
Next, we continued our journey, beginning to speed up ever so slightly. It was at this point we were a tad weary, still unsure yet gaining more knowledge and self-confidence. This second gear was our sophomore year. It was during this year we faced the infamous Sister Christie, and the general clumsiness of just being sophomores. We may have not have been upperclassmen just yet, but we did, in fact, show our maturity through our merciful deeds on Sophomore Service Day. As other classes journeyed to far off places, we stayed right in our own community, embracing this day with open minds and hearts. We traveled to many numerous sites, spreading our mercy to those we encountered and showing our true, empathetic hearts. I think in one respect we were much like Catherine McAuley.
Empathetic towards people who were poor and needy, Catherine wanted nothing more in the world than to meet the needs of the poor. As a result, she was proactive and knew that to get what she wanted; action had to be taken, and taken immediately. As sophomores, we did the same thing, there was a need and we took action serving others. To help those around us, we must do something not just feel pity. We showed empathy and compassion to those who were less fortunate than us and we grew in our understanding of what it means to live mercy. We moved through second gear picking up speed and growing in a greater understanding of who we are as Merion girls.
We finally reached a normal speed. Shifting into third gear brought us onto faster, newer roads. Roads we had not yet journeyed. Roads where life moved quicker and where challenges greeted us at every turn. This was our junior year. I believe this year, where empathy and mercy emerged, can be summed up in one quote from the notable T.S. Elliot: “Do I dare disturb the universe?” You see, mercy is something that is not just felt, it is acted upon. When we felt the desire to travel across the United States through MVP, that was action. When many of us stepped up to become a leader of CSC, that was action. And each time we did this, each time we strengthened our empathetic and merciful hearts, we disturbed the universe. As a class we disrupted the world by showing empathy and acting with mercy. Through this third gear we slowly yet surely began to leave a mark everywhere we went and we began to truly realize that action is a key principle to mercy.
Gear four. Year four. We’ve sped down this highway of senior year, sailing along at racing speeds. It was during this year many of us experienced the inspiring Kairos in which we were truly brought into the sisterhood. We began to bring our journey to a close but not once stopped showing mercy. In my mind, we grew the closest this year and we showed our mercy to each other. As our basketball team reached great heights in their season, we were there on the sidelines cheering those girls on. As we felt the grief of losing Jackie, we all stood together offering words of comfort or a simple shoulder to cry on. And as our friends and classmates opened up those fateful letters from colleges, we were waiting with open arms no matter what message that envelope held. It was also during this year that we were forced to look ahead into the mysterious abyss that awaits us when we leave Merion. I, myself was scared for what would happen next and the uncertainty of it all, until I received a letter from my Grandmother. She wrote the letter before she passed away in January, and I received it much later in the spring. So, to say it was emotional to read would be an understatement. In it, she told me “Maura, God has a plan for you. Listen, pray, and be thankful for all the good things in your life.” God has a plan for every one of us. We will be doctors, engineers, artists, actresses, and anything in between. We will do extraordinary things in our lives but ladies, we must always remember to come back to our roots. We must remember to live mercy and seek justice and we always must keep our empathy switch turned on.
Soon we will encounter the unknown, the mysterious fifth and final gear. It is at this gear where no extra shifting is required; however, that is not to say it will entail zero work. There will be times in this fifth gear when we will stall or hit traffic, causing us to start back up from the very beginning. So, at this very moment we cannot know what fifth gear holds for us. We may know where we are going or what we are studying but we do not know the events, and people we will encounter on the way. The only thing that is certain is that we will take that idea of mercy and reach so many more people through our deeds. I know that in this gear we will not just show our mercy but we will live it as well, because mercy is something that is done not just felt. We will disturb the universe even more in this fifth gear. The possibilities are infinite, the roads are wide, and for us anything is possible.