The 2015-2016 academic year came to a close this past weekend, marking the end of a year jam-packed with academic conferences and lectures. Graduation weekend—with Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane, an address from the 2016 Faculty Speaker Dr. Michael Dauphinais, and the honor of having His Eminence Seán Cardinal O’Malley, OFM, as commencement speaker—was no less packed with thoughtfulness, intellectual rigor, and inspiration in the Truth.
Graduation events began on Friday evening with a Baccalaureate Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane (Diocese of Venice, Florida). In his homily, Bishop Dewane reminded the graduating seniors that they should look backwards with gratitude, giving thanks for those who have given their resources and talents—the University faculty, staff, and administration—so that students might be “marked” as graduates of Ave Maria University, this “University dedicated to Our Lady.” He encouraged the graduates to look boldly forward into the future, heeding the words of Jesus to Paul in the First Reading: “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.”
This sentiment of boldness in the Truth was echoed on Friday night at the President’s Dinner, where the student-elected 2016 Faculty Speaker, Dr. Michael Dauphinais (Associate Professor of Theology), spoke of graduation as a “second orientation.” When the graduating class of 2016 first arrived at AMU, they were oriented towards a Catholic education focused on pursing Truth. What should orient these same students as they prepare to leave college and go out into the world? “I propose the virtue of hope,” Dauphinais said. Hope seeks the greatest good, he went on to explain, but this greatest good—union with God—is also the most difficult for fallen man to achieve. Bringing up the The Chronicles of Narnia (an address from Dauphinais isn’t complete without a reference to C.S. Lewis; his class on Lewis is a favorite among students), Dauphinais used Puddleglum’s act of stamping on the fire in the Underworld in The Silver Chair as an illustration of the virtue of hope. “The necessary thing,” Dauphinais said, “is to keep hope alive in the midst of the darkness and separation.” With this hope in the mercy of God, AMU graduates can bravely face whatever may lie in the future. Closing his address, Dauphinais said: “With the words of [Pope St. John Paul II], I tell you ‘have no fear. The outcome of the battle is already decided.’ We are invited to trust in being on the winning side though the virtue of hope. To my fellow Narnians, my hope is in our Lord and what He will accomplish through you in the years ahead.”
President’s Award Recipient
Each year at the President’s Dinner, one graduating senior is selected as the winner of the President’s Award, the University’s highest award given in recognition of academic accomplishments, involvement in University life, service to others, and exemplification of the University’s highest Catholic ideals. The five finalists (Mary Catherine Beller, Joseph Guernsey, Patrick Harrington, Mary Katherine Lee, and Tyler Neil) were nominated by faculty, staff, administrators and fellow students. The 2015 President’s Award was presented to Mary Catherine Beller on account of her academic excellence, exemplary attitude of service, participation in a variety of extracurricular activities, and her contribution to a vibrant student culture. Mary Catherine was a member of the Shakespeare in Performance troupe from 2014-2016, scoring leading roles and winning the troupe’s 2016 Burbage Award. She served her peers as a Residence Assistant, and was honored as the 2016 RA of the Year. Mary Catherine revived the Drama Club during her time at AMU, working as the club’s president and helping it earn the title of 2016 Club of the Year. She also was a member of the women’s household, Verso Il Cielo. Next Year, Mary Catherine will be teaching high school biology and drama at Holy Family Academy in Manassas, VA.
Saturday morning, the graduates and their families gathered in the Golisano Field House for Ave Maria University’s thirteenth commencement ceremony. President Towey began with a welcome to AMU’s Founder and Chancellor, Mr. Tom Monaghan—a welcome which was met with a standing ovation and a full minute of applause in recognition of all he has done for the Church and for the University.
With a nod to Mother’s Day, which fell on the Sunday after commencement, President Towey said: “Marriage is a noble vocation, a worthy pursuit, a means of sanctification and, in truth, our Western Civilization in large part depends on the preservation of the institution of traditional marriage and the propagation of children.” AMU was founded in part to help generate vocations—both to marriage and religious life—within the Church, he explained. One of the most notable features of the class of 2016 is the number of its members ready to commit themselves to the vocation of marriage: 27 are engaged to be married, and 24 of those are engaged to a fellow classmate. “No University promotes marriage like we do,” Towey remarked with a smile, “and I guess that’s why you can call us ‘Downton Ave.’” Another feature of the Class of 2016 is the number of Mother Teresa Scholars; 34 graduates fulfilled the program requirements, including a minimum of 50 hours spent in local service.
President Towey went on to introduce the Commencement Speaker, Seán Cardinal O’Malley, saying, among other thing, that “he teaches us that one can’t be pressed into service and remain stationary… It’s fitting that Ave Maria University’s only commencement exercise during the Year of Mercy has this gentle, humble man on our campus to speak to you.”
Cardinal Seán O’Malley began his address by recounting the “unparalleled violence” of the 20th century: the Armenian genocide, two world wars, the legalization of abortion and euthanasia, and so on. “The extraordinary enthusiastic response to the Jubilee of Mercy declared by Pope Francis is…very telling,” he said.
Referring back to his experience serving as a young priest in Washington, DC, Cardinal O’Malley spoke of the enthusiasm for and “great interest in the social doctrine of the Church” at the time. The Catholic Worker Movement was strong; Dorothy Day was championing the cause of the poor; Nellie Gray founded the March for Life. “Pope Francis tells us that in evangelizing we must make use of the via pulchritudinas, the way of beauty,” he continued, “and certainly the Church’s social gospel, and the works of mercy, care for creation, are all part of that beautiful way that can attract young people to discover the beauty of the Church’s message.” Cardinal O’Malley spoke of the increasing secularization of Western culture and the difficulties of bringing the Gospel to the contemporary world. “Graduates,” he said, “this America of the 21st century is where you are going to live out your vocations. As we go forward with the work of the Church in the 21st century, business as usual is not enough… We must move from a maintenance to a missionary mode.”
How can the Class of 2016 become missionaries of the via pulchritudinas? Through living in communion with Christ, and learning tenderness for one another in that communion. “Pope Francis is always talking about the fact that God put us here to take care of each other,” Cardinal O’Malley said. We bring people to Christ by living out the Gospel in the here and now, showing the way of love to others by example. “We need mentors who are ready to pass on the faith,” he went on, “and here at Ave Maria we have those mentors.”
“Today, Graduates,” O’Malley said in conclusion, “we send you forth with this sacred mission. … The Risen Lord is back to gather the scattered, to put the Gospel of joy in your hearts. We are counting on you to take Christ’s love and joy to our world.”
After the class of over two hundred graduates walked the stage, Dr. James Peliska (Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry) introduced this year’s valedictorian speaker. Alexandra Hammerquist was selected to give the address from among the four valedictorians ex aequo—each of whom earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average. She shared the honor with Joseph Guernsey, Michael Hayes, and Colleen Kilpatrick. In his introductory remarks, Peliska said of Lexie that she was someone who reflects to others “the profound beauty of the integration of faith and reason.” She will go on to attend Creighton School of Medicine this fall. “I have every reason to believe,” he went on, “that she will exceed in her future endeavors, as she embraces both the intellectual challenges of medical school and the pursuit of a vocation as a physician firmly routed in truth, reason and the Catholic Church.”
On behalf of her fellow co-valedictorians and the Class of 2016, Alexandra thanked the University’s Founder Tom Monaghan, President Towey, the trustees, administration, staff, and particularly the faculty for their devotion to the mission of the school and to its students. She then recounted how, before she began writing her address, she found herself looking up past valedictorian speeches. She had to catch herself. “What am I doing?” she thought. “Why would I simply aim to say what has been proven to be most well received by everyone else at other universities? Ave Maria University is not like other universities. Ave Maria is fundamentally different. Our students are fundamentally different.” Going on, she explained: “Through our liberal arts education and our participation in service, as inspired by soon-to-be St. Teresa of Calcutta, we have been taught the importance of forming such supportive relationships with each other, and this is based on our understanding of the immeasurable dignity of each person.” Lexie asked her fellow graduates to look around themselves and appreciate anew the unique relationships formed during the past four years, friendships to last a lifetime. She encouraged the graduates not to take the gifts they’ve received for granted. Rather, they should commit themselves to doing something noble with their lives: Bringing to a thirsting world God’s message of truth, goodness, and beauty. Echoing the strain of going forth with boldness and confidence in the Truth, a sentiment that marked all the events of graduation weekend, Lexie concluded with the words of Mother Teresa:
Yesterday is gone.
Tomorrow has not yet come.
We have only today.
Let us begin.