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Lydia Peña’s Commencement Address Shares Words for Daily Living

Posted on June 3, 2019, by Lydia Peña SL

Lydia Peña proudly displays the honorary doctorate she received from Regis University. At left is Regis University Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Engel. At right is Regis University President the Rev. John P. Fitzgibbons, S.J. (Photo by Regis photographer Brett Stakelin)

Thank you Father Fitzbibbons and all gathered here today. I am humbled that Regis has recognized me with an honorary doctorate. Like so many things in my life, this is a gift I will cherish always. Coming from Regis University, where I have spent so much of my life, it means even more. Thank you Father Fitzgibbons and the board of trustees.

Let us turn to you — the graduates. You’ve done it!   You have earned your master’s degree/doctorate. Congratulations! You are a gift to Regis University and to our world.

Lydia Peña greets her great-niece, Pryor MacEachran, following commencement. (Photo by MelissaP. MacEachran)

I am honored and grateful that I was invited to speak to you on this very important day in your life, this day when you end one chapter and begin another — this day when you give thanks for the process that has been — and say yes to the process that will be. As you have discovered here at Regis, no matter what you are seeking, if you are too focused on the end result you may miss the rewarding journey — the process.

Because of the way the rewarding journey of my first three years of life has influenced me, I want to share a brief story.      

A brief story

On a cold, starry December night in the village of San Mateo, N.M., my parents and five brothers awaited my birth, and they hoped it would be a girl. Three years later, this long-awaited little girl was diagnosed with double pneumonia. The village doctor told my parents that I would not live until morning.

Lydia Peña, at right, is joined by her niece Melissa Peña MacEachran following Lydia’s commencement address at Regis University. In her address, Lydia spoke about the importance of living out the values of these four words: useful, wonder, trust and gratitude. (Photo by Melissa P. MacEachran)

My Aunt Rosita came to our home and wrapped me in an herbal blanket — indigenous herbs, that saved my life. Many years later, in 1955, when I decided to say yes to becoming a Sister of Loretto, I was reluctant to talk about my decision. Mother told me there was one person I needed to tell and to thank — my Aunt Rosita. We visited her and when we were leaving, laughing, she said: “Remember, it was your Protestant aunt who saved your life.” So, thank you God and thank you my Aunt Rosita.

‘These values fill my daily living — four words: useful, wonder, trust and gratitude.’

The reason I shared this story is because the values I learned — from my parents, my brothers, my younger sister Dorothy, my Aunt Rosita, and the kind people of my village — have been honed and strengthened with my accumulation of 84 years of living. These values fill my daily living — four words: useful, wonder, trust and gratitude.

‘You will be useful.’

In my 20s, I received my first assignment as a Sister of Loretto. I was assigned to teach at St. Mary’s Academy here in Denver. I went to say goodbye to my mentor, Sister Mary Luke Tobin. When I was leaving she said, “Sister Lydia Marie, you will be useful.“

“Useful?” I was perplexed. “Useful?” At that age, I wanted to hear that I would be successful. That I would do well. But useful! With my curiosity intact, I looked up the meaning of the word. In bold caps I saw the word beneficial, doing something of value for the benefit of the other. Yes, many years later, the word useful is in my daily thoughts and actions. This is my purpose.

‘Wonder keeps us open.’

The next word is wonder. If you were to ask what brings me wonder, I would say, everything. I prefer wonder, instead of judging and proving. Wonder keeps us open, keeps us growing. Because of wonder you now graduate with a Regis master’s degree/doctorate, a result of curiosity, asking questions, and I am sure you have changed in the process. In his ageless book The Idea of a University, Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote, “To live is to change.” That is what it means to be educated. I would love to sit down with each of you and learn how you have changed because of your Regis education and how you will be useful as men and women in the service of others.

‘When I trust God, I cannot help but be useful.’

The next word is trust. If we are to wonder, we must have trust, because we never know where the questions will take us. We live in a world where it has become difficult to trust. We all need a connection to something bigger, greater than ourselves. For me, that greater connection is God. When we trust God and listen to God for some 15 minutes a day, we will be directed in what we need to do. When I trust only in my own judgment, I feel weak. When I put God in that equation, I feel strong. When I trust God, I cannot help but be useful.

Gratitude: Being thankful for the gifts we have been given

My final word is gratitude. We live in a time where there is so much we can own, and we can always have more. How often do I remember to be thankful for the gifts that I have been given? No matter how hard or challenging our lives might be, there is always something for which to be grateful. Gratitude leads to joy! It is gratitude that makes us joyful.

I have shared four words with you that are in my daily life. These four words last forever: useful, wonder, trust and gratitude.

I want to end by revisiting the wisdom of Cardinal John Henry Newman. “We have our mission. We have a part in a great work. We are a link in a chain, a bond of connection among persons. God has not created us for naught. We shall do good.

Thank you.

Given on May 4, 2019


Lydia Peña SL

Lydia has served the Loretto Community as an educator for 49 years, and as a fundraiser for 12 years, all in Denver. She has lived at Bridge Community with developmentally disabled women since 1985, and is presently fundraising for Havern School for children with learning disabilities. Lydia says she has never done anything alone. As one of her students laughingly said – yes, Lydia, others have opened doors and you've walked right through.
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