WJU Speaker: ‘Give Away Your Sneakers’

 Chris Lowney offered graduates of Wheeling Jesuit University three lessons to success and happiness during his commencement talk — give away your sneakers, seize your leadership opportunity and use the wisdom app, every single day.

Saturday, University President Dr. Debra Townsley conferred undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees on nearly 300 students during Wheeling Jesuit’s commencement exercises.

Lowney, the author of Heroic Leadership and the recently released book Make Today Matter: 10 Habits for a Better Life (and World), served as the speaker during WJU’s 6oth commencement. The chairman of the board for Catholic Health Initiatives asked the graduates to consider who they thought were good leaders and offered them some secrets to success and happiness. Lowney told the graduates, no matter what they choose to do in life — nursing, engineering or banking — “your work will be a ministry.”


His first lesson: Give away your sneakers, every day. “I’ve heard plenty of motivational speakers strut across stages telling people to go out and change the world. Here’s my motivational advice: forget that crap. You’re not going to change the world. But, you can change something, every single day. Instead of waiting for a golden opportunity to make a world-changing difference, just find the gold in the opportunities that arise every single day. I don’t know what the metaphor of ‘giving away your sneakers’ will translate to in your daily life.”

Lowney said for him it translates into a doctor working in one of the hospitals within Catholic Health Initiatives. A patient came in with a minor problem, but when it was time to release the man, the doctor noticed he didn’t have any shoes. Lowney said the doctor took off his sneakers, handed them to the patient, and sent him on his way. The doctor didn’t share the story with Lowney — he found out by another staffer, because the doctor was too humble to advertise what he had done. He said giving away your sneakers could be as simple as talking to a lonely neighbor, or giving a street person some spare change.

“Granted, such acts are in themselves small, even insignificant in the grand scheme of things; none will transform this world, plagued as it is with violence and injustice. But in the words attributed to Mother Teresa: ‘we cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.’ And, in the end, it’s those small things that will matter. I’m very honored that Wheeling has given me this degree, but it won’t impress the Lord at the end of my earthly lifetime. Instead, when the Lord separates sheep from goats, the criteria won’t be honorary degrees but this: I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was sick and you looked after me,’” he said.

Second: Seize your leadership opportunity each day. At the beginning of his speech, Lowney asked: “Who are our leaders?”

I wonder who thought of their own names? I guess no one. We associate leadership with super-famous people, like Pope Francis or Bill Gates. But, that way of thinking won’t solve any problems, in Wheeling, in your families, or in the places you’ll end up working. One of the dictionary definitions of leadership is to point out a way or direction and to influence others toward it. And isn’t it true that every one of you is doing those words all the time: we’re pointing out a way and having influence on those around us through our example; how we treat the marginalized, whether we strive to use our God-given talents well, whether we behave with integrity or not,” he said.

Lowney added the question for the graduates is not whether they will show leadership, but rather what “kind of leadership you will show, not in 20 years if you become a corporate president, but starting this afternoon. To put it in Wheeling Jesuit language, just live by your motto: Luceat Lux Vestra — Let your Light Shine.”

Lastly, Lowney encouraged the graduates to download the wisdom app into their hearts and minds, to remind them what really matters each day.

“Wheeling’s tradition includes a wonderful technique for staying on track every day. Jesuits sometimes call it the ‘examen.’ Let me call it the Wisdom App. Take two brief mental pit stops each day; during that sacred time, no phone calls, social media, or music: just you and your God,” Lowney explained.

He said during those pit stops, do three simple things: remind yourself why you are grateful; what ultimately matters; and review the past few hours and take away some lesson for the next few hours.

Lowney ended his talk by saying, “And when I remind you of the question that opened my address: who are our leaders? I hope you will now think of your own name first, when I say our hurting world needs a new graduating class of conscientious, competent, compassionate Wheeling Cardinals to step up and lead, starting now.”

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Abigail Moffit, valedictorian and a member of the Cardinal volleyball team, offered her fellow graduates an inspirational quote from Elias Zerhouni, “I would say you should have big dreams, full dreams, not half dreams. You know, it’s very simple. You can’t put a large box in a small box. Well, you cannot put a full life in a small dream box.”

Valedictorian Abigail Moffit addresses the graduation class.

She said the “quote tells us to have big, full dreams. Dreams that scare us. Dreams, so big, and so incredible, they almost seem impossible. We all left high school and entered Jesuit with these incredible dreams: dreams to become doctors, teachers, lawyers, scientists, CEOs, writers and philosophers. We arrived here as scared freshman, and if you say you weren’t scared, you’re lying.”

Throughout the past four years, Moffit said chasing those big dreams each learned “how brave we are, and how brave we can be. Our fears have seemed crippling, yet we faced them daily. From attending classes that we didn’t fully understand, to standing up for what we believe in, and even trying a new experience, we have demonstrated the greatest amount of bravery that each individual in this building can exemplify.”

Those dreams, she added, made the class question their intelligence. “Whether you were just beating the curve, or setting it, we all exemplified the sheer amount of intelligence that this university beholds. We are the future and subsequent leaders of this world. Our intelligence, while constantly tested, is never hindered, only growing. Intelligence is not measured by the grade of a test, your GPA, or class rank, but more a measure of what you are willing to accomplish and how you will accomplish it. Intelligence is immeasurable and ever growing.”

With the next chapter in life about to begin, Moffit reminded her classmates to think back to their childhood when they got scared – “take a deep breath and say to yourself what Christopher Robin said to Pooh, ‘You’re stronger than you seem, braver than you believe, and smarter than you think.’ My fellow graduates, Wheeling Jesuit is our Christopher Robin, it is the place that taught us how strong and brave we are, and how smart we have the potential to be. It has provided us with a Jesuit, liberal arts education, giving us the ability to communicate to the world our humanity, compassion and intelligence.

As we graduate today, class of 2018, as athletic trainers, nurses, scientists, writers, philosophers, psychologists and engineers, remember to live your life to the fullest, chasing after your greatest dreams. Remember that it’s okay to be scared, it’s natural. But with the voice of Christopher Robin in the back of our heads, our friends and family at our sides, and everything we have learned at Jesuit, we can do anything.”

Dillonvale natives Brandi (Richards) Waligura (left) and Tara Richards (right) welcome their sister, Halli, to the WJU alumni ranks. All three sisters are graduates of Wheeling Jesuit.

Student medals and awards and their recipients that were given during the ceremony include:

Henry F. Pauls Medals for Highest Four-Year Averages

  • Paige E. Gaydos, Bachelor of Arts
  • Abigail M. Moffit, Bachelor of Science

Wheeling Jesuit University Medals for Second Highest Four-Year Averages

  • Scott A. Gwyn, Bachelor of Arts
  • Megan I. Boyle, Bachelor of Science

Anthony T. Basil Medal for Adult Education

  • Ashley N. Flynn, Highest Average

Russell E. Younkins Medal

  • John M. Helfe, Jr., MBA
  • Jonathan J. Hawkshaw, MBA

Mark W. Bischof Medal

  • Leslie Sherlock, MSA

Frank R. Haig, S.J. Science Award

  • Stephen P. Hansknecht

Katherine Fouts Medal

  • Micah Tatebe

Mary Woomer Medal

  • Kailee Latocha

Archbishop John J. Swint Medal 

  • Micah Tatebe


  • Abigail Moffit


  • Megan I. Boyle
Devin Nickerson of Wheeling gets hugs from her family members.