Be Dangerously Good | Lila Rose Franciscan University Commencement Speech

Be Dangerously Good | Lila Rose Franciscan University Commencement Speech


First of all, a hearty, hearty congratulations to the largest graduating class of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Class of 2023. 

I am truly honored to be among you, and I am deeply humbled by this honorary degree. Thank you so much, Father Dave, all the professors, trustees, administration. It is truly an incredible honor. 

Class of 2023. You have just received four years of in-depth theology and philosophy formation. And I’ll admit I am a little bit jealous because you got to go to Catholic Disneyland and you’ve received some of the best Catholic formation that any institution of learning has to offer in this country. 

You here are singularly prepared to go out into the world and to discern truth from lies and lies from truth. You know, I haven’t given a university commencement speech before, and so I did what many of you may have done as you were preparing for finals, and I asked ChatGPT to tell me what I should say. And so, I went to ChatGPT and I typed in pro–commencement speech with pro-life themes, and ChatGPT responded and said to me, I’m sorry, I cannot generate a speech that goes against my programming to remain impartial and unbiased. So then I thought, well hm, what if I type in commencement speech with pro-choice themes?

And it gave me back a very long, not really elegant commencement speech telling me about how we need to defend the right to choose. So ChatGPT needs a little education. You should put your coursework at Franciscan into the ChatGPT search engine so it spits out a little more facts and a little less bias. But as you can see from ChatGPT, our fate, our world, is facing great crises today, a great crisis of truth.

People that do not know the truth. But when I look out at this crowd today, at all of you, I am deeply encouraged. Because when I look at you, I see excellence, I see courage, and I see vision to go out and change the world. 

So, I went to UCLA, which is close to a Disneyland, just not the Catholic one.And it was at UCLA that I investigated, along with abortion clinics, my faith more than ever. Reading the saints, reading Saint Thomas Aquinas, reading your own Dr. Scott Hahn, reading last year’s speaker, Dr. Peter Kreeft, and many others. And my investigation of faith would lead me to enter the Catholic Church in my junior year. I had chosen UCLA because I wanted a mission field, and I got one.

I spent my time at school, besides learning Catholicism, investigating my student health center, and traveling nationally to investigate abortion clinics across the country and uncover the exploitation of children, women, and girls. Remarkably, I did not get kicked out of school. I like to joke that at UCLA, I really got my degree in pro-life activism and Catholicism, not history, although I did take a few history classes.

It was so much time outside of class that I spent that when graduation finally came around, surprise, I was missing one unit to graduate. And so I took that one extra class, virtually, submitted the coursework and logged in to the portal and it said I had graduated. And I thought, great. But I never actually received a paper copy of my diploma.

So I actually never was sure if I had actually graduated. I was afraid that…maybe, I didn’t. And so you can imagine my relief when I received the call from your university to come today. And now I have a diploma. It’s over there.

So, I was homeschooled. The oldest daughter among eight children. And as a homeschool kid, we read a lot of books growing up. And one of my favorites that my dad read to us kids was The Chronicles of Narnia. At the beginning of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Lucy discovers Narnia through the wardrobe in her uncle’s sprawling home, in the fantastical land she experiences where good and evil wage war.

Lucy learns about Aslan, the great lion in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Lucy asks. “Mr. Beaver, is Aslan quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion. Is he safe?” “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver.” No. Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.” 

This is my commencement message for you today. Do not be safe. Be like Aslan. Be like Christ. Be dangerous. Be dangerously good. Our dangerously good Lord ate with sinners, with tax collectors, and prostitutes. He spent the first 30 years of his life in relative obscurity, working humbly alongside his father, Joseph. He was a servant before he was an activist. But when the moment demanded it, our Lord threw over tables, healed on the Sabbath, and even went undercover to foil his opposition. 

In short, Jesus wasn’t safe. But he was good. Jesus is truth. Jesus is beauty. Jesus is perfect. Good. A dangerous good that once you encounter it, you are changed forever. Our world today needs men and women of conviction who are dangerously good. 

We are living in a time of great confusion. Confusion about the good. Destructive ideologies have subverted our understanding of reality, of identity, and goodness. Most of today’s bad ideologies are just echoes of past bad ideologies. The reality is there is nothing new under the sun. But our unique challenge, your unique challenge today is this. You live in a once-Christian culture where many people are jaded and apathetic to what they think Christianity is.

Most people think that they know what Christianity is and what it means to be a Christian, and they’ve rejected it. This makes the grip of bad ideologies even stronger and the need for dangerously good disciples even greater. Today, sexual ethics are eroded to the point where promiscuity is celebrated and pornography is ubiquitous. Children have become targets, too. Little boys are called girls, and little girls are called boys.

And if you object to this, you may be punished. Marriage is said to be meaningless, just a piece of paper or a social construct. It can be between two or three or more consenting adults as long as it’s consensual. And surprise, surprise, fewer people are getting married than ever before. Divorce is rampant. We face, in a post-COVID world, record high numbers of addictions and mental illnesses.

We are a generation in crisis. Lonely and disconnected. We face increasingly corrupt institutions intent on greed and domination, not freedom and human flourishing. We face new technologies that break natural orders. Reproductive technologies that pose a special threat because unharnessed they commoditize children and sex and threaten the very fabric of society. Worst of all, the country that you are going out in now to live and work in, we face the death toll of abortion with over 2500 of our youngest children killed every day in America. 

Your university sees the evil of abortion and recognizes the incomprehensible loss of over 60 million children killed since 1973 in the name of choice. I admire that you have lit a candle never to be extinguished to remember the unborn child at your Tomb of the Unborn Child.

So what do we do in the face of so much evil? Do we hide away? Do we deny the problem? Do we try to fit in? Do we just get busy with stuff? Do we stay at Catholic Disneyland forever? What is the dangerously good answer? My answer for you today is three parts. First vision. Then courage. Then love. 

First, you must have vision. My parents met in 1982 and were married just four months later. No pre-Cana for them. They don’t advise it, but they’re still married. My mom was gorgeous and outgoing. My dad was your quintessential geeky, sported massive-quarter inch glasses. He was quiet and cerebral. But what my dad lacked in physical eyesight, he made up with, he made up for with a clear vision for the future that he wanted to build and that he wanted for a family. A lover of people with a passion for generosity. My mother shared that vision. Nine months after their honeymoon, my oldest brother was born, and then they went on to have eight children. We weren’t even Catholic or Mormon. Few people they knew were having that many kids, but they accepted being different and the judgment that they received from others.

It was very countercultural at the time, but they chose to homeschool. Some of the original, the OG, homeschoolers. They wanted more for us than what the traditional school system had to offer. Money was tight, but they worked hard to start a classical academy for their community, even though their own children’s education was taken care of. Growing up, our door was always open.

Many friends and family found solace in philosophical conversations with my dad late into the night and warm meals cooked by my mother as she listened to their problems and cheered them on. Many people felt that my family was their family. My parents also let me start Live Action in their living room and over the years opened their doors to my fellow activists and friends.

When I started, I had no political platform, no major donors, no major connections. My work was made possible because of my parents living dangerously ordinary, dangerously visionary, lives. 

A dangerously good person is a visionary, not a naive Pollyanna thinker, but with their feet firmly planted in reality, someone who sees with expansive vision the possibilities in every person. Someone who sees all that is possible in God’s kingdom and in their everyday, ordinary, humble lives, works for it.

This is what the great Saint, Saint Josemaria means when he raises the battle cry of Christian discipleship. Sanctify your ordinary life. Vision is key to being dangerously good, but what good is vision unless it shapes your actions? And for action, you need courage. 

Courage, practically speaking, is persevering for the good. Even when it’s hard, lonely, or uncertain, you will find as you leave Franciscan and go where God sends you, there will be moments when you feel tempted to fit in, to be quiet, to be safe. Hold on to the vision God gives you. Fight for it and take risks for it. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Be daring. Remember, you were not made to be safe. You were made to be great. As our Lord says in John 16, in this world, you will face persecution. But take courage. I have overcome the world. Remember that despite the challenges we face, God promises us that where evil abounds, grace abounds all the more. We live in an era of abounding goodness, too. Almost one year ago, Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision, which found a false right to kill in America in America’s Constitution, was overruled.

What many said was impossible. Many people over the years told me and others said, “this is not possible.” What many said was impossible became possible. Since Roe’s fall, we have seen historic progress in protecting preborn children. Already, a dozen states have completely stopped elective abortion. And we’re just getting started. 

Thanks to our Constitution, each and every one of you possess the freedom to share the truth, to practice your faith, to work, to marry, to have children, and to build communities.

Most importantly, we know that regardless of the shape of our society, no matter how bad it may seem to get, Jesus Christ is king today, yesterday, and forever. We also have the assurance that despite the failures of any of us here, of any of us inside the church or anyone outside the church, the gates of hell will not prevail against the church.

Finally, a courageous vision must be infused with love, a radical generosity for others, and a focus on building community. My grandmother passed away last fall. College and onwards is a time when many of us begin to lose our grandparents, and it forces us to think about what we’ve learned from them and to apply their example to our own lives.

My grandma modeled for me a deep love for others and community. 

A daughter of Italian immigrants, Carmela grew up the youngest of eight Genovese age children in a one bedroom flat in Boston. Her family was so poor that she and all her siblings dropped out of school after the eighth grade to help provide for household necessities. 

At age 48, my grandma would proudly become the first person in her family to graduate high school. She married at 21, had four children, and stayed married to my grandfather for 71 years until death did they part. Family, hospitality, and community was everything to my grandma until her dying day. Every weekend for decades, she filled her small home with friends and family and even new friends, strangers she had met. 

For Sunday dinner, no one was a stranger to Carmela. You and I are related, she would say in her Boston accent to everyone she met. She inspires me to live with that same spirit of community and radical connection. The world needs each one of you to be our next generation of community builders. People who get to know their neighbors and apartment mates, who invite others into their homes, who get off their phones and screens and make connections in real life.

People who aren’t afraid to love like a grandma. Humbly, persistently putting love into the little ordinary things. Ograndpa, if you would prefer. They’re good, they love too. 

Love, after all, is where our faith came from, and it is how our faith is best transmitted. Love is how we best model Christ to others. So, Franciscan Class of 2023. In a world that is cynical about marriage and scared of commitment, be open to love. Marriage, one woman and one man freely choosing each other until death do they part is humanity’s founding institution and even more a holy sacrament.

In a world of broken families, build strong ones in perfect, hospitable and passionately loving families. A community that will last. In a world of motherless children, women: be mothers, fiercely embrace your femininity. Like our mother, Mary, the world needs your tenderness and your courage. And if you are not called or able to bring biological children into the world, be an adoptive or spiritual mother for others.

In a world of fatherless homes, men: be fathers. Embrace your God-given role as head of the family, like Saint Joseph, offer the world the uniquely masculine strength of protection and provision that God has created you for. Don’t be afraid to commit to love sacrificially and to love tenderly.

In a world of lonely people, be friends. Practice radical hospitality. Befriend the lonely. Befriend the elderly person. Invite the new neighbor for dinner. Befriend the young single mom. Befriend those who disagree with you. Learn from them. Listen to them. 

In a world of chaotic confusion, be truth tellers. Dangerously speak the truth clearly, simply, and unapologetically. If something is wrong, speak up. Don’t let any employer tell you to do anything that violates your conscience.

Don’t let any school teach lies to your future children. Pray outside abortion centers. Get involved in local government. Build schools. Or home school. As institutions crumble or grow more corrupt around us, fight to save them. And build new organizations, apostolates, and businesses that are excellent. That never compromise the human dignity of those they serve. Be unapologetic and unembarrassed by your faith.

Saint Catherine. Saint Catherine of Siena says, “Preach the truth as if you had a million voices. It is silence that kills the world.” The truth that you each have been entrusted with, the moral and theological riches of our faith, will be medicine for many weary souls. Your job is to plant seeds. Even when you don’t see the fruit.

And finally, be people of prayer. You can’t be dangerously good if you don’t pray. It’s prayer– Might be dangerously bad instead, actually– It is prayer, being silent with God in the midst of the noise of this world that will open our hearts to hear the quiet prompting of the Holy Spirit. Only with prayer can you sanctify your ordinary life into something extraordinary.

As you leave behind the harmony and faithfulness of your beautiful university, your faith and community will look different. They should. Hold on to vision, courage and love. Remember, a Christian is not a political activist, although sometimes following our faith requires what the world calls political activism. A Christian is not a pundit, although sometimes following our faith requires risking our comfort and security by speaking unpopular truths. A Christian takes the everyday events of our ordinary life and allows God to make them extraordinary opportunities to live His grace.

As Saint Joan of Arc, my confirmation Saint says, “Act and God will act. Work and God will work.”

 Franciscan Class of 2023 together, let’s build the kingdom and share the treasure of our faith. Be dangerously good.