I conclude my blog posts for the academic year with an account of the 2016 commencement activities and today’s exercises.
We had our largest graduating class ever: 214 undergraduates! They were accompanied by 10 Master in Theology recipients and one freshly minted Ph.D.
There were so many unforgettable moments over the last 24 hours that I don’t know where to begin.
Certainly the moving address by His Eminence Cardinal Sean O'Malley merits a big headline. He captivated the jam-packed Golisano Field House audience (I can’t believe our folks were able to jam in 1,640 seats - and we still had a spillover group in our ballroom watching the proceedings live). He is such a good man. His humility, keen intellect, understanding of academia and Catholic higher education’s potential, and love of people, particularly the poor and those fleeing persecution or seeking opportunity, were evident.
Last night he joined his fellow AMU trustees for dinner and you would never have known from how he carried himself, that he is a member of Pope Francis’ inner circle. He made everyone feel special. My daughter Marie and wife Mary had the good fortune to be seated with him at dinner - here you can see my daughter mugging for the camera shot her Dad surreptitiously shot!
I still can’t believe Cardinal O'Malley took two days out of his busy life to come to Ave Maria (and his trusted right hand man, Fr. Bob Kickham, who has the same humility and cheerfulness as his friend, helped make this happen). His Eminence received an honorary degree at the 2010 commencement so he didn’t have to come back to our campus, but he did. He said in his remarks that Ave Maria University was Mother Teresa’s university, but I would add, we are Cardinal O'Malley’s university, too.
There were two other highlights from last night’s dinner. First was Bill Bradt’s short and very sweet talk to the 600+ attendees. He gave all present an AMU hat and ten Miraculous Medals and invited them to reach out to 9 people and bring Our Lady’s medal - and love - to them. Bill and his wife Donna (a trustee of the University) have a true devotion to Mary. We are so blessed that they share their fervor with our students. Truly selfless people.
Bill Bradt speaks at the President’s Dinner
The other was the announcement of Mary Catherine Beller as our 2016 President’s Award winner. This award is the highest honor Ave Maria University confers on a graduating senior. She and the other four finalists truly model the difference an Ave education can make. All in attendance had the good fortune to hear Dr. Michael Dauphinais, chair of the Theology Department, address the assembly.
Mary Catherine Beller is presented with the 2016 President’s Award.
The five President’s Award finalists.
Today’s commencement had a very lovely moment when I introduced Tom Monaghan, our chancellor and founder, and a spontaneous, minute-long standing ovation arose from the crowd. The students got to their feet first. There was no prompting. They knew the difference this man had made in their lives and they wanted to show their affection for him.
Tom loves Ave students. Here he talks to graduating seniors Kendra Posch and Lexie Hammerquist (who, by the way, hit a towering homerun in her valedictory speech; Creighton University will welcome Lexie into their med school this fall and they have no idea how lucky they are).
Commencements are both alpha and omega. They come at the end of the academic year and of course, represent new beginnings. Cardinal O'Malley charged the graduates to be missionaries in America because our country needs to rediscover timeless values and the truth that resides fully in the person of Jesus Christ. I saw in the bright faces of the graduates as I handed them their diplomas a zeal on their part to go out into the world and set it on fire. They are ready, and the world needs them now more than ever before.
Ave Maria University is proud of our sons and daughters and confident that they will be able to make a living for themselves and a difference in the world. May they hold tight to Our Lady’s hand as they give their gift and discover God’s loving will in their lives.
I’ll be blogging again when I get back on the alpha and omega train in August!