To Thine Own Self Be True: Sr Mary’s Occasional Address

Good Samaritan Sister Mary O’Shannassy OAM received an Honorary Doctorate from Australian Catholic University on April 29, 2021 in recognition of her service as Director of CatholicCare Victoria’s Prison Ministry and in prison chaplaincy.

Mary gave an Occasional Address to Graduates at the ceremony in the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

To Thine Own Self Be True

I acknowledge the Aboriginal people of Australia, the traditional custodians of the land and waters on which we reside, work, travel and meet. I pay my respects to Aboriginal elders past, present and emerging, and to any who may be present here with us this evening.

Our experiences, during 2020, have challenged each of us to be adaptable and to embrace the unexpected – anything can happen at any time! 

Our learning introduced us to different approaches and ‘platforms’, enabling us to be here this evening for this graduation ceremony. 

Have we the ongoing ability to ‘seize the moment’, to take the opportunity to understand what is important in life, and what wisdom we can learn?

Life does throw us curved balls at times. At such times, it would be our values, and our belief system, that can support, or maybe even challenge us, as we reflect on our experiences.

Our interests can broaden, opportunities shift; and our mind begins to open out to different paths, different horizons.

Our personal focus on what we want to achieve in life, on becoming our best selves, and our attitudes to the circumstances and events in our lives will benefit us greatly.

It is 10 years since Jessica Watson, as a 16-year-old, became the youngest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe on a yacht. What an adventure!

With this, two things stand out for me:

  • Jessica prepared well.
  • She set up her support structure for this journey.

As a child Jessica learnt within family, a love of water, a love of the ocean.

Jessica on her journey, whilst physically alone on her yacht, was never really alone.

It was a journey that required an enormous level of skill and self-belief.

It was not the norm by any means, but as persistence, resilience, fortitude and courage had long been companions of Jessica, it was achievable.

Along the way Jessica battled huge storms. Throughout, she kept her focus on her goal.

She also delighted in the unexpected, like the dolphins surfing the waves around her, after seeing nothing for miles.          

Jessica was also in constant communication with her support team – an integral component of her planning and adventure.

Today, Jessica reminds us that in life we don’t have to take on the whole ocean all at once – rather it’s just one wave at a time.

This attitude, Jessica said recently, helped her through COVID times.

Another young woman, Ash Barty, our Australian tennis star, strives to be true to being her best self. She refuses to be pressured by the media.

“There is no extra pressure on me,” she tells the media. “It doesn’t change the way I prepare or play, regardless of what match or tournament it is.”

For Ash, her priority is keeping her focus and giving her best.

Ash, too, has her professional trainers and her support group.

Whilst acknowledging her disappointment in defeat at the Australian Open this year, Ash added, “but we learn and we go back to work” and this she has done, retaining the Miami Open Crown, earlier this month.

 “We make the right decisions that are the best for us. We make the right decisions for the right reasons,” she said. “I come out here and do the best that I can, so I never feel like I have to prove anything to anyone.”

Two insightful young women! Two women living true to themselves, and to their values and ideals.

Mitch and Morrie offer us a precious story from a quite different perspective.

Mitch, like each of you, graduated from university and had his young life before him. He pursued his career in journalism, as a sports writer.

He had his long and short-term goals.

He gave of his best, and before long received high recognition for his achievements.

This brought with it even more expectations and responsibilities until Mitch was becoming burdened, and really feeling pressured.

Mitch was busy about his own things coping with his ‘deadlines’, etc. but more was being asked of him.    

Constantly pressured, Mitch soon became a cold-hearted sports journalist.

He was so absorbed that his work life consumed him.  

Mitch, though materially extremely successful, was not happy.

Around the time when all this was becoming more stressful, Mitch heard that Morrie, his old professor from university, was quite ill.

Mitch had very high regard for Morrie and he knew within himself that he needed to visit him.

How could he find time? There was the pressure of work. 

Mitch had a real dilemma but he was determined to visit with Morrie, and this he eventually did.

This visit became a transforming moment in Mitch’s own life.

Morrie’s wisdom, gleaned from his life experiences, met a place in Mitch’s life.

Very quickly Mitch then reassessed what was of value to him.  

He prioritised a time each week, on a Tuesday, to visit with Morrie.

Morrie’s attitude to life, and to living and dying, is inspirational.     

“No one exists alone. We must love one another or die,” Morrie tells Mitch. “We learn from what hurts us, as much as from what and who loves us.”

In one special moment, Morrie speaks about his memory of Mitch’s love of music and skill as a musician.

“What happened to your music? Weren’t you passionate about that?” asks Morrie.

Reflecting together, Morrie learnt that this was something that Mitch no longer had time to enjoy, due to his busy work life.

Sharing regularly with Morrie, each Tuesday, brought clarity for Mitch:

  • Who he was as a person, and
  • What he wanted for himself in life.

Mitch realises he isn’t fulfilled in his busy life.

He is challenged to review the values he holds and what is important in his life.

Shared wisdom enabled Mitch to prioritise a more balanced lifestyle, and to give the things that he loved a place in his week.

He made time to restore meaning to his life, and to rekindle loving relationships.

What a beautiful friendship was rekindled and nurtured with Morrie, who becoming the wise elder, imparted so much of his daily learning from the pages of the book of his life.

Your formal learning has brought you to your Graduation this evening.

However, our learnings can continue. 

I encourage each of you to be students of life, with your ongoing teacher life itself!  

I encourage you to bring your curiosity, interest and compassion to your experiences and encounters.

Be sure to ‘tune in’ to the valuable lessons, available for all of us, each and every day.

In these times, when there is much pressure in the workplace, and people get ‘caught up’,  like Mitch, in the whirlwind of their own or management’s expectation, remaining true to yourself and to your goals is important.

Young and keen to contribute, I wish you well.

Don’t wait till, like Mitch, you become overwhelmed.

Remember a place for leisure and pleasure – for what you love being involved in!

What is the ‘music’ in your life that you need to nurture and continue to enjoy to maintain that balance?

I would like to sow a seed for each of you: to seek a wise elder who can be a mentor for, and with, you on your journey of life.

You will enjoy the ride even better!

I conclude with this advice that Polonius gave to his son Laertes, and we read in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

“This above all to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to anyone.”

Shakespeare: Act 1: Scene 3, Hamlet
Polonius, King Claudius’ chief Minister, giving his son, Laertes, his blessing and advice on how to behave whilst at University.

Further reading:

To read Chaplains called to be a ministry of presence, click here.

To read Sister Mary’s award ‘an honour for the whole of the chaplaincy team’, click here.