Dear Governor Kernan,
This month marks 15 years since I graduated from the University of Notre Dame and sat about 20 rows up from where you gave the commencement address.
I have to admit that I don’t remember everything that was said that day. I do remember feeling fiercely proud that you were giving the speech because your name was always spoken with admiration in my South Bend, Indiana home. I remember that you made me laugh and cry on a day when I felt overwhelmed. I remember that your speech was about kindness.
And I remember this one short sentence: Let people get off the elevator before you get on.
I know it was far from the point of your speech, but I’ve thought about that line almost every single time I’ve gotten on an elevator since that day in May 1998.
Since moving across the country almost 10 years ago, I haven’t been in elevators much. I work from home and seldom visit the tall buildings in Seattle. However, since my daughter Ellie Jane’s birth, most of the places I’ve encountered elevators have been hospitals and doctor’s offices.
When she was a few weeks old, Ellie Jane almost died of heart arrhythmia issues. And then at four months old, she had open-heart surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
I was in and out of a lot of elevators during those months, moving from waiting rooms to appointments, to cafeterias, to the corner of the hospital reserved for parents to take showers while their children sleep in rooms above them.
Some of those days found me in a thick fog of fear and hope.
But in the moments when I would wait for someone else to get off of the elevator before I got on, I found myself grounded in this simple act of common courtesy. Kindness would cut through the fog and remind me that I was not alone. The other person often acknowledged me with a “Thanks” or even “Have a good day.” And more than likely that other person was in her own fog of fear and hope. We were seeing one another with kindness in the midst of the unthinkable experiences families have in children’s hospitals.
Today, I’m thinking about how we never really know what other people are experiencing when we pass by them in the everyday moments of getting on and off an elevator to paying for gas to picking our kids up from school to standing in line at the grocery store. For any one of us, a relationship is ending, a daughter is about to have a baby, a new job has been offered, someone has just been diagnosed with cancer. We could extend kindness in these moments if we would pay attention, look up, and even just smile at one another.
So today, I really want to tell you this: In the midst of all the graduation speeches that are given this time of year telling young people that they should get out there and live their dreams and change the world, I deeply appreciate you reminding me that one of the most important ways we change the world is when we look one another in the eye with kindness.
I’m happy to share that little Ellie Jane will be three in a couple of weeks and is doing great! The surgery was a success and she’s been off her daily medication for almost a year now. And before long, when we go on our adventures and need to go in an elevator, she’s going to be telling everyone around us that we need to wait for everyone else to get off before we get on.
Liz Morgan Lamoreux
University of Notre Dame
Class of 1998
While I seek out ways to get this letter to former Governor Kernan, I felt moved to share it here with you, especially because I hope you will take a few minutes and read his full speech that I was able to find here.