Xavier University President Michael J. Graham, S.J., gave the keynote address to the 90th graduating class of the Cincinnati Police Academy on Friday, June 16. In the address, given at the Masonic Temple in downtown Cincinnati, Graham encouraged the 29 new police officers to be courageous and compassionate as they go about their jobs of protecting and serving the community.
“You’ve been trained well,” he said. “It’s now time to take all of the learning and put it to the true test, where the risks are real and you have to live up to the ideals you’ve been sworn to uphold, whether you want to or not.
“You will not serve anyone who is not a sister or brother of yours,” he added, “so let compassion be your constant companion. Your training will teach you what to do, but let your heart guide you. … Maybe you won’t get a lot of public recognition for what you do and the decisions you make, but you will know, your family will know, your friends will know, your community will know and your God will know. That’s not a bad audience.”
Graham’s invitation to address the police academy class comes on the heals of his being asked by Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken to chair one of the six teams that comprise Cincinnati-CAN, a task force assembled to recommend and implement policies to improve racial equality in the city. The task force was created following the three days of race riots and social unrest in the city that were sparked by the shooting death of a black man by a white police officer. Graham will chair the police and justice system action team, which is responsible for addressing police-community relations, police department structural reform and racial disparities in the justice system.
In addition to going out into the streets to uphold the law, he told the graduates, they are also being thrust into the complex, sensitive and highly strained issue of police-community relations. Although they may not like that part of their new job, he said, it is very clearly a fact of life that they must deal with. It is not unlike the Xavier grads, he added, who work hard to get into medical school, only to have their ideal of the medical profession unraveled by the realities of HMOs and managed care.
“It is too bad that so much attention is focused on the police-community relations,” he said. “It is a flash point that is beyond your control and that you are unable to change, yet for which you are held accountable. The Chinese symbol for chaos, though, is also the symbol for opportunity. Perhaps I’m just a starry-eyed optimist, but I see this as our opportunity. For the city to be healthy, though, all of its parts must be healthy as well. That comes down to its individuals, its people. And you, for better or worse, are more important than any elected official, because you are the people who are out there and dealing with the community face-to-face on a daily basis.”
Not allowing the address to be bogged down with such a heavy issue, Graham joked with the graduates and the several hundred friends and family members who filled the auditorium, that he was well suited to serve on the Cincinnati-CAN task force and to address the graduating class because “your profession and my profession are two of the oldest professions in the world. They aren’t THE oldest profession,” he joked, “but they’re ancient nonetheless.”
He added that he was also well-suited for being the ceremony’s principal speaker because he was still fresh off presiding over his first University commencement as president, and because he now lives with their brethren. Graham’s current residence used to be on the second floor of the University’s honor’s house. The honor’s program was relocated, however, and the University’s police department moved into the space. Now, he says, instead of walking into a house with a painting of Madonna and Child on the wall, the first floor is decorated in “early squad room” and the walls adorned with pictures of police uniform patches, Barney Fife posters and a Norman Rockwell painting of a police officer sitting at the counter of a diner. “And, I might add,” he said, “there isn’t a doughnut in sight.”
Following the speech, the police division thanked Graham by making him an honorary member of the Cincinnati police academy.