The academic year came to a close this weekend with a whirlwind of activities. Students finished up finals and checked out of the halls, faculty wrapped up a semester’s work and submitted final grades, while the Class of 2015 welcomed family and friends arriving at Ave Maria University to celebrate four years of hard work and success.
The Class of 2015 had some impressive accolades, including over twenty students graduating summa cum laude, sixteen Mother Teresa Scholars, and three Valedictorians ex aequo—each with a perfect grade point average (Benjamin M. Houde, Cody Nathan David, and Leea Genevieve Stroia).
[Above: Peter Atkinson receives award from President Towey and his wife Mary.]
The weekend events began at the President’s Dinner on Friday night, where the finalists for the President’s Award were honored and the winner was announced. The President’s Award is the highest honor bestowed upon a graduating senior, recognizing academic accomplishments, involvement in University life, service to others, and exemplification of the university’s highest Catholic ideals. The five finalists (Peter Atkinson, Thomas Helms, Lucille Pilarski, Caleb Weston and Angela Winkels) were nominated by university faculty, administrators and fellow students. The 2015 President’s Award was presented to Peter Atkinson, who during his four years at Ave Maria University founded the creative journal Contraries, cofounded the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) Society, volunteered locally and abroad, participated in the household Filii in Filio, worked as a Classics tutor, served as a Resident Assistant, and starred in two Shakespeare in Performance Spring productions. Atkinson has accepted a position as a Regional Director with ISI.
[Above: Dr. Michael Dauphinais, with his family, is honored at the President’s Dinner.]
During the dinner, the university community also applauded the dedication and service of Dr. Michael Dauphinias, who is stepping down as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty after more than ten years of academic administration at the university. “Few have done more for the building up of this university than Michael Dauphinias,” President Towey said. He continued: “Dr. Dauphinais has given his all, and done so with great integrity and faith.” Dauphinais will return to the classroom this fall as Chair and Associate Professor of Theology.
The evening wrapped up with an address given by the student-elected Faculty Speaker, Dr. James Peliska. Peliska, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Ave Maria University, spoke highly of the Class of 2015. “I placed high expectations on all of you my students,” he said, “and you responded, prompting me to place high expectations on myself.” Peliska went on to speak to the graduating class of the importance of relationships—particularly one’s relationship with the Creator. “In the end, when all is said is done, relationships are what’s important,” he said. He left them with the challenge: “In all that you do, in all that involves your reasoned intellect, unrelentingly and uncompromisingly pursue truth…for in this pursuit, and the joy that comes from your discovering contemplation of this truth, you are engaging in a most profound, real and direct relationship with God.”
[Above: Dr. James Peliska addresses the Class of 2015.]
Saturday morning arrived as crowds filled the Golisano Field House for Ave Maria University’s 11th Commencement Exercises and the remarks of commencement speaker Dr. Arthur Brooks. Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), began by speaking about how asking graduates what they are going to do for work after college misses the mark. “That’s the least important thing,” he said. “You’re going to change jobs a lot.” What are more important than your immediate career options are your goals, he stated. Referring to a 2012 University of Rochester study that broke the goals of graduating seniors into two categories, extrinsic (career, success) and intrinsic (relationships), he said the study found that, down the road, those who had intrinsic goals also had found greater life satisfaction—that is, greater happiness.
This is nothing new, Brooks said, but why do we forget it? He answered that there is a “deadly formula” in modern culture to “use people, love things, worship yourself.” He encouraged the Class of 2015 to focus on intrinsic goals and to follow the right formula: “Use things, love people, worship God.” Brooks offered two concrete steps that the graduates could take to follow the right path. First, he said, “invest in love, not in things…invest in experiences with those that you love.” Second, “never be at rest, never be at rest in the world,” he urged. “Remember, we are pilgrims.”
Brooks concluded with the words: “As you set out on your great venture today, set your goals…focus on experiences and on love, and be a pilgrim in the world that needs you to be a light for our Savior.”
[Above: AMU’s 2015 Commencement Speaker, Dr. Arthur Brooks.]
The graduation ceremony ended with the brief remarks of Benjamin M. Houde, valedictorian ex aequo. Houde, one of the two valedictorians graduating with a B.A. in Classics, was introduced by Dr. Joseph Yarbrough, Assistant Professor of Classics and Philosophy and Chair of the Classics Department. With open pride in the ten graduating seniors who studied Classics, Yarbrough said: “Allow me to say with justice that the Department of Classics is sending into the world a highly talented group of individuals trained in the traditional route to excellence in the command of language, mainly the philological study of Latin and Greek.” In praise of Houde, Yarbrough said that he “shines forth with charisma and excellence.”
Houde spoke on behalf of the Class of 2015, expressing gratitude for an education that “has, without a doubt, bettered each one of us.” He summed up, for any wondering parents, the education received: “We have been formed, spiritually and intellectually, we have been taught to pursue the splendor of Truth, we have been led to recognize this truth is ultimately a person, Jesus Christ… we have been guided to a deeper understanding of the dignity of the human person…[and] we have forged strong bonds of friendship.” Houde concluded by encouraging his fellow graduates to heed the words and deeds of the university’s spiritual patron, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who showed that faithfulness to God in day-to-day life is the only true source of joy and happiness.
[Below: AMU graduate, Benjamin Houde, celebrates after the ceremony.]