Another Year Comes to a Close

Another Year Comes to a Close

Academic Year Round Up

Among the notable faculty publications of the past year, there was the release of Dr. Denise McNulty’s innovative nursing textbook, the publication of Dr. Travis Curtright’s latest book on Shakespeare, and the appearance of Dr. Michael Breidenbach’s essay, “Conciliarism and the American Founding,” in The William and Mary Quarterly. Not to mention the collection of essays, Wisdom and the Renewal of Catholic Theology, written in honor of Fr. Matthew Lamb, who founded AMU’s graduate programs in Theology. The essays were co-edited by AMU professor Dr. Roger Nutt, and multiple other AMU professors and graduates contributed to the work.

This past year also saw groups of students traveling to conferences and events at other universities, such as the Anscombe Society’s trip to the Love and Fidelity Network’s annual conference at Princeton, the Michael Novak Diplomacy Club’s participation in Harvard’s National Model United Nations, the group of students who received a grant to attend the Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame’s 17th annual conference, and the Thomas More Debate Club’s invitation to compete in the 2017 Values & Capitalism National Parliamentary Debate Association at Colorado Christian University. On a similar note, a group of twelve music majors had the opportunity to perform with Opera Naples in a semi-staged production of Puccini’s Turandot.

There were many conferences held on campus as well, including two in honor of the “Year for Mother”—a yearlong celebration of Mother Teresa’s canonization—namely, the Aquinas Center’s conference on “Mother Teresa and the Mystics,” and the Mother Teresa Project’s conference on adoption and foster care. Instructor of Modern Language, Dayami Abella, organized a conference on Cuban Science Fiction and Fantasy, which involved creative writing workshops, attendance at a poetry recitation and a field trip to the International Book Fair in Miami. The History Department hosted a mini-symposium on medieval charters, the student club Genuine Feminine held its seventh annual conferenceon synergy between man and woman, and the ISI Society, the James Madison Institute, and the Henkels Lecture Fund jointly sponsored a panel (featuring Catholic University of America’s Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, the Acton Institute’s Dr. Samuel Gregg, and AMU’s own Drs. Michael Breidenbach and Gabriel Martinez) on the late Ambassador Michael Novak’s contribution to Western thought.

Some of the notable speakers that came to campus for lectures and addresses include Dr. Jeremy Bailey from the University of Houston, who delivered the Constitution Day address, Fr. Patrick Madigan, editor of the Heythrop Journal in London, England, who was the fall semester Honors Colloquium Speaker, and the spring Honors Colloquium speaker, Danielle Pletka, Senior Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Over the course of the academic year, students also had the opportunity to hear from renowned theologian Dr. Scott Hahn, clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Paul Nussbaum, Holocaust survivor Peiter Kohnstram, Dr. J. Budziszewski, Professor of Government and Philosophy at the University of Texas in Austin, Stefan Gehrold, Head of the European Office of the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation, and retired U.S. Army colonel H. Donald Capps—to name just a few. The year opened with a Convocation Address from speaker Dr. Robert Kennedy, Professor and Chair of the Department of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, and the year closed with a Commencement Address from Mr. Daniel A. D’Aniello, co-founder and Chairman of The Carlyle Group.

This past academic year was also one of individual achievement among the faculty and students. Four professors (Drs. Baxa, Nutt, Scheck and Trabbic) were honored at the AMU Christmas party for ten years of dedication to teaching and guiding AMU students. Dr. Steven Long (Theology) was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, while Dr. Travis Curtright (Humanities and Literature) was named Editor of the journal Moreana. To pick out some remarkable achievements from among the students, music major Eileen Plunkett won the Southwest Florida Symphony Society Scholarship, while Kathleen Kelly was one of two individuals across the country to earn a perfect score for the advanced level of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS) Latin translation contest.

Things wound up before they wound down

The year was packed full with academic events, but as is so often the case, things came to a climax before they wound down to a close. As the University community entered the last week of classes, the Shakespeare in Performancetroupe was still going strong with its 2017 production of Love’s Labours Lost. Music majors were giving their senior recitals, the Chamber Music class held its end-of-the-year concert, Rhetoric students offered the public orations marking the end of their course, theology graduate students were defending their Master’s theses, while graduating seniors were delivering their own required thesis presentations. Some students took a break for “Art in the Park” outside the library, but even more students were inside the library, glued to their books, making last preparations for their final exams.

The President’s Dinner

The whirlwind continued through finals week, culminating in graduation weekend. On Friday, May 5th, Bishop Frank Dewane celebrated the Baccalaureate Mass in Ave Maria Catholic Church. Following Mass, graduating seniors with their friends and families headed down the academic mall for the President’s Dinner, where they heard from the 2017 Faculty Speaker, Dr. Travis Curtright. As the seniors prepared to begin life after college, Dr. Curtright challenged them with the question of how they will, like actors, take on new roles throughout their life while remaining the same self. Looking to the example of St. Thomas More, Curtright suggested:

As an Ave Maria graduate, like the Man for All Seasons, you will become something of a character actor… Character actors are those who specialize in performing what are considered to be unusual or unique traits. And perhaps, as young men and women of charity, conscience and integrity, you will strike [many] as rare indeed. For such rarity, I thank you.

During the President’s Dinner, the five senior finalists (Victoria Antram, Clare Eckard, Josephine Hartney, Michael O’Donnell, Hanna Sternhagen) for the President’s Award were invited on stage and recognized for their academic accomplishments, involvement in the life of the University, service to others, andexemplification of AMU’s highest Catholic ideals. The honor was awarded to Mike O’Donnell, who goes on to teach at nearby Donahue Academy next year.

Alumni Reunion Weekend

After the President’s Dinner, many seniors headed over to the local Oil Well Craft Beer, where they joined AMU alumni kicking off the 2017 Alumni Reunion Weekend. Many of the alumni present had younger siblings graduating. The next morning, AMU alumni continued to celebrate and reconnect over brunch while graduating seniors began lining up in the Golisano Field House for Commencement Exercises.

Commencement 2017

Saturday, May 6, was a typical morning in Southwest Florida: sunny and bright with a light breeze. Inside the Golisano Field House, the members of the graduating Class of 2017 gathered to receive their diplomas.

Once all were assembled, Dr. Seana Sugrue, Vice President for Academic Affairs, offered a welcome address. She was followed by Fr. Matthew Lamb, who said the opening prayer. Graduating senior and music major Anna Kunza sang the National Anthem before President Towey introduced the 2017 commencement speaker, Mr. Daniel D’Aniello.

Daniel D’Aniello, Co-founder and Chairman of The Carlyle Group, a global alternative asset management firm, began his address to the graduating seniors by remarking on how proud they must be “to be graduating from one of the finest Catholic universities in the country, and maybe in the world.” Going on, he drew an analogy based on his experience in the investment world: The graduates had, he said, spent the last four years “investing” in themselves. Now, they must face the “hard work” of closing the deal of their college education.

As the Class of 2017 navigates the difficult task of managing their investment in their education to a fruitful outcome, D’Aniello offered them some advice:

  • Be not afraid. “[F]rom time to time, you’ll be challenged for your beliefs. And that’s when your Christian formation will give you the most strength—the courage of your convictions to be an unwavering defender of the faith. Of course these occasions won’t be easy, nor comfortable. But always remember that you have a course of saints behind you.”
  • Follow your conscience. “Your moral compass…is all-important as you negotiate and navigate unchartered waters of building your personal and professional career in the secular world. We live in an age of moral ambiguity and relativism, where we’re rarely called upon to make stark choices between right and wrong. Rather, we constantly and covertly are pressured to give in to what is popular, socially trendy, or politically correct. This is particularly true when the compromises seem trivial or inconsequential. So remember what St. Teresa of Calcutta told us: ‘Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.’”
  • But also depend upon good advice. “Keep in mind that the world makes it easy to talk yourself into decisions that you know may not be right. So, listen to your conscience. Yes, listen to it, but don’t let it play tricks on you. Stay close to the safe harbor of trusted friends, family, mentors, for advice you can depend on when confronted with the really hard choices and the close calls in life.”
  • Foster a spirit of gratitude. “I ask that each of you take time to reflect with love and appreciation on those in your life you have supported you, who have been there for you in good times and bad, and whose dreams are being fulfilled today by your great achievement.”
  • Let gratitude inspire you to give back. “If you leave with one thought on this graduation day, it would be this: I hope that you will find a way to turn your appreciation for what has been given to you into the inspiration toward helping others, including your family and friends, your communities of faith, the poor in corporal needs, the poor in spirit. In the end our personal relationships are the most important thing we have in this world. And none more important than our relationship with Jesus Christ.”
  • Real success is in striving for holiness. “The focus on materialism perpetrates the myth that success means career success… Yes, it’s great to have a fulfilling professional life. And yes, we can all prosper together. But success in life might best be defined in non-economic terms. Having a loving family, a wonderful marriage, trusted friends. Definitions of success are as unique as each person in this room today. St. Francis de Sales said it best when he said, ‘Be who you are, and strive to be that perfectly.’ And in doing so, be guided by the words of Leon Bloy: ‘The only real failure in life is not to become a saint.’”

D’Aniello concluded his address by urging the Class of 2017 to use their talents in pursuing their dreams, but to do so with humility and faith. That is the formula for true success as witnesses to the truth and beacons of light. “We need you,” he said, “and we know you’re up to the challenge. [T]rust that you’re not alone.”

Valedictorian Address

The privilege of valedictorian was shared ex aequo by Linwood Richard Schwartz (Philosophy) and Kathryn S. Van de Loo (Classics and Early Christian Literature). Dr. Bradley Ritter introduced Kate, who was honored to give the 2017 Valedictorian Address. “I have personally noticed in her an intense curiosity of the best intellectual kind, a strict clarity of thought, and the tenacity which can produce research of real merit,” Dr. Ritter said. “But if I may add on another personal note, she balances that intellectual seriousness with kindness, charity, and tremendous warmth.”

Kate, who earned the Classics Departmental Award and goes on to a Master’s program in Classical Studies at the University of Notre Dame, recalled in her address the many experiences of the past four years—enjoying the natural beauty of Florida, theatrical student performances, spontaneous game nights, late nights studying, and serious discussions among friends—experiences that, although simple, were meaningful because of the people with which they were shared. “Of all the gifts that have filled my life during the last few years, it’s the people I’ll remember the most,” Kate said. “So as I set out from here, it is my goal to be attentive to the people I encounter and to grow in gratitude for them—not just after the fact, but even as I share moments with them, that I might learn from St. Teresa of Calcutta to recognize Christ in each one, and to love Christ in each one.” With these thoughts echoing in their hearts and minds, the graduating seniors exited the Field House and went on to celebrate in gratitude with family and friends.

Saturday, May 6, 2017 marked Ave Maria University’s thirteenth commencement, and it was a milestone in this Catholic institution’s history. In the tenth year on its permanent campus, which also coincided with Founder Tom Monaghan’s 80th birthday, Ave Maria University saw its first graduating class of nursing students, and the largest class of total graduates (232 diplomas were bestowed: 217 undergraduate, 13 master’s, and 2 doctorate).

It was a momentous year at AMU, and, as Fr. Robert Garrity prayed in the benediction: 

May the Lord guide us and direct our journey in safety.
May the Lord be our companion along the way.
May the Lord grant that the journey we begin, relying on him, will end happily through his protection. 
Amen