WASHINGTON - True happiness exists in the love of faith, family and fresh guacamole, comedian Jim Gaffigan and his wife and writing partner, Jeannie, told more than 1,700 graduates of the Class of 2016 during The Catholic University of America's 127th annual commencement on May 14.
"Your studies here at Catholic University have enlightened your hearts and your minds and prepared you well for the challenges that lie ahead in your life, but it was your family that prepared you for Catholic University. Family is of the utmost importance," said Jeannie Gaffigan. "As you put your trust in God, things that seem impossible will become possible. The love you are given and the love you give will be the most important force driving you through life. Life is nothing without love."
Under clear blue skies in the nation's capital, following a record-breaking streak of rainy days, Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, the university's chancellor, began the commencement exercises with an invocation prayer. The university's board of trustees, the faculty and administration also were on hand for the graduation ceremony held on the east steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Sharing the podium, the Gaffigans, who are Catholics and the parents of five young children, teamed up to address the graduates, their families and friends with witty banter and sage advice.
"Remember happiness is not found in accomplishments, income or the number of Twitter followers you have," said Jim Gaffigan. "(It's) living for each other, sacrificing together and enjoying the blessing of fresh guacamole delivered promptly to your door."
Jeannie Gaffigan praised the class of 2016 for their years of "hard work, many sacrifices, long hours of classes and studying," and lest the new graduates forget, Jim reminded them, "And tens of thousands of dollars."
"You have come to this moment of incredible achievement: receiving your degree," said Jeannie.
"Then again Jeannie and I are getting a degree and we have only been here for an hour. So it's not that incredible an achievement for us," Jim said. The Gaffigans were among several recipients of honorary degrees bestowed by the university.
Jeannie said that when they were asked to speak at Catholic University's graduation, although they were honored, they thought it would be impossible because of busy work and family commitments.
But Jim had another initial reaction. "When President (John) Garvey asked us to speak at the commencement of The Catholic University of America, I had only one question: Who canceled? I'm kidding. My actual question was, "How much are they going to pay us?" he said.
"It's impossible. We are in the middle of producing a television show," said Jim. "And we have children," Jeannie said.
Jim said, "Yeah, four wonderful children." "Jim, we have five children," scolded Jeannie. "But only four of them are wonderful," joked Jim in his famous deadpan manner.
Throughout their lives together, Jim and Jeannie shared that they thought it would be impossible to get married, to have more children, to write a book or -- as Jim joked -- to open a mail-order guacamole business. With the exception of mail-order guacamole, the couple said they have accomplished all of their goals because of the support of God and their loved ones.
"In spite of our self-doubts and our flaws, the impossible became possible," Jeannie said. "But neither of us could have accomplished much of anything by ourselves," said Jim, the author of two books, "Dad is Fat" and "Food: A Love Story," a Grammy nominee for his successful comedy specials, and the star of a TV Land cable series, "The Jim Gaffigan Show." The couple married in 2003.
"We needed each other. We needed our family. We needed our friends and we needed God," said Jeannie.
Following their own college graduations -- Jim from Georgetown University and Jeannie from Marquette University -- and before they met years later in New York City, both worked hard to conquer the show business world.
"I had it all figured out. And I didn't need anyone else's help. I didn't want it," recalled Jeannie. "I was going to do it by myself, and I would show all of those haters that didn't believe in me."
After seeing the long audition lines, she soon realized she needed a day job and went on to found "Shakespeare on the Playground," an after-school theater program for urban youth. Meanwhile, Jim began work on a comedy series pilot. The two met in a New York City Korean grocery store and soon began helping each other with their careers. They quickly realized they had changed for the better, in both their personal lives and their work.
"When you have true love, you don't only work for yourself. In working with Jim, I realized that I could also work for his career, toward his dreams and it was actually rewarding," Jeannie said. "And of course all those years of working with troubled kids prepared me for a lifetime with Jim Gaffigan."
Sharing one's life is not easy, she said. "Because it involves sacrificing control. (But) something beautiful can happen."
Jim, too, said he finally found career success, with an appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman" that propelled him to stardom, but something in his life was still missing.
"Maybe marriage wasn't giving up freedom. Maybe faith in something wasn't naive. Maybe putting others first wasn't weakness," he said. "Maybe guacamole could be sold through the mail."
On a serious note, Jim credited his wife, Jeannie, for bringing him back to the Catholic faith. He had lived across the street from a Catholic Church in New York City, but for 15 years never once went inside.
"Because of Jeannie that same church became the place I was married, the same church my five children were baptized in and the church where once a week I'm reminded to keep focused on my priorities: God, family and then work," he said.
Jim and Jeannie advised graduates to value their families and place their trust in God so that impossible things will become possible.
"Even though you are the proud graduates of Catholic University, you are probably not as proud as your parents are of you. You have not completed this major accomplishment alone," Jeannie said. "Take a moment and look around you. Your classmates, your friends, your family here with you, cheering you on. Even the ones supporting you from thousands of miles away."
Jim added, "They all love you ... and they would love my mail-order guacamole."
The couple also told graduates to look beyond worldly success to what is truly important.
"Love what you do. Love who you are and love those around you," said Jeannie.
"Getting anywhere without doing that?" said Jim.
"Now that's impossible," both agreed.
Boyle writes for the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.