Commencement 2019 Honorees Announced

February 15, 2019


Alumna Heather Abbott ’96, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor and philanthropist has been named as the speaker for the College’s 68th Commencement on Sunday, May 19 at 10:00 a.m. on the main quadrangle.

In addition to giving the Commencement address, Abbott will also receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the College. Joining Abbott at Commencement will be former Provincial Superior of the Congregation of Holy Cross Rev. Thomas O’Hara, C.S.C. who will receive an honorary Doctor of Theology, and Dr. Carolyn Woo who will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Heather Abbott '96, Doctor of Humane Letters

On April 15, 2013, Marathon Monday in Boston, 38-year-old Heather Abbott of Newport, RI, and Charleston, SC, set out on an annual tradition with several of her friends. They would attend the Red Sox home game and then walk over to Boylston Street to watch the marathoners cross the finish line. Little did Abbot know – this day would change her life forever.

Two bombs exploded in the crowd of well-wishers that afternoon. Abbott was impacted by the second blast.

After three surgeries in four days, Abbott was faced with an agonizing decision – face a lifetime of pain from her injuries or allow doctors to amputate her left leg below the knee. With the counsel and comfort of amputees who came to visit her in the hospital, and after much soul-searching, Abbott made the difficult decision to live as an amputee.

Her recovery was a journey through pain, anger, fear, disbelief, self-doubt and questioning. For Abbott, the ability to move forward came through the support of family and friends, fellow amputees and the countless strangers who not only sent her cards and letters of encouragement, but who also generously donated to a special fund to help her transition and receive the customized prostheses she needed to live the life she once knew.

Today, Abbott is once again doing everything she loves to do, including paddle boarding, running and even wearing high heels!

Embodying Stonehill’s mission to lead with courage, Abbott has remained a model of strength and perseverance. Her determination and passion to help other limb loss victims is evident in everything she does. As a certified peer counselor for the American Amputee Coalition, Abbott is able to provide hope and emotional healing. As a nationally-known motivational speaker, she reminds audiences of the power of positive thinking and the real impact compassionate giving can have on the life of someone in need. For Abbott, the Heather Abbott Foundation is both an obligation and an opportunity to “pay it forward” – to give other amputees who have suffered limb loss through traumatic circumstances the chance to live their life – again.

A frequent visitor to the Stonehill campus, Abbott received the President’s Award for Excellence from Rev. John Denning, C.S.C. at the President’s Dinner in 2015. In 1996, she graduated from Stonehill with a BSBA in Accounting and in 2003 an MBA from Providence College.

Rev. Thomas J. O'Hara, C.S.C., Doctor of Theology

Fr. Thomas O'Hara is the former president of King’s College in Wilkes Barre, PA, and a former provincial superior of the United States Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Upon stepping down as provincial superior in 2018, he used his sabbatical to assist the Congregation of Holy Cross in Chile and in Rome, as well as in Lourdes as Chaplain to English speaking pilgrims. He now works at King's College with at-risk students, helping them to meet the challenges of college life.

The first alumnus to be named president of King’s, he guided the College with distinction from 1999 to 2011. After stepping down as the eighth president of Kings, he served as provincial superior of the United States Congregation of Holy Cross, making numerous visits to Holy Cross missions in South America and Africa. During his six-year tenure, large houses of formation were built in Kenya and Chile. In addition, US Holy Cross Seminarians had international experiences in Holy Cross missions in Peru, Chile, Mexico, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, India and Bangladesh. 

Father O’Hara earned his master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame and his doctorate in political science from The American University in Washington, D.C. In addition to his faculty and administrative appointments at King’s, he was professor of English at Notre Dame College in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and professor of political science at the Philosophical Center of Jinja in Uganda. He worked in parish ministry in Brooklyn, New York, and Washington, D.C.

A member of the Board of Trustees at the University of Notre Dame, Stonehill College, and King’s, he serves on the Board of Regents of the University of Portland, and is a member of the board of Holy Cross Family Ministries. 

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, Doctor of Humane Letters

Dr. Carolyn Woo is the Distinguished President’s Fellow for Global Development at Purdue University. In this role, she assists Purdue in various international collaborative efforts.

From 2012 to 2016, Woo served as president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. As president of CRS, Woo was hailed by Foreign Policy as one of the 500 Most Powerful people on the planet and one of only 33 in the category of “a force for good.” During her time leading CRS, Purdue University and CRS established a strategic partnership.

Prior to CRS, Woo was as dean of the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, one of nation’s leading business school in ethics education and research. The first female dean to chair the accreditation body for business schools — AACSB: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business — she also directed its Peace through Commerce Initiative. She helped launch the Principles for Responsible Management Education for the United Nations Global Compact.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, she came to the U.S. in 1972 to attend Purdue University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in economics, her master’s degree in industrial administration and her doctorate degree in strategic management. She joined the faculty in the Krannert School of Management and later became associate executive vice president for academic affairs.

In 2016, Woo gave the André Lecture at Stonehill. In her remarks, she explored climate change in the context of the papal encyclical Laudato Si: On the Care of our Common Home. In addition, she spoke of how we are stewards of creation and that caring for the environment also means caring for each other, especially the poor and the vulnerable.