After 24 commencements at Stonehill, things were a little different for Vice President for Advancement Doug Smith this year. That’s because his son, Brett, received his diploma from President John Denning, C.S.C. on Sunday, May 19. Below , Doug reflects on Brett’s experience at the College.
Commencement at Stonehill is an all-hands-on-deck affair and usually my job has been to welcome honorary degree recipients at the pre-ceremony reception and guide them to the staging area so they’re in place for the procession to begin.
It’s always a wonderful day. The weather usually cooperates with spring sunshine. And without fail, the campus looks its Sunday best: flowers in bloom in freshly mulched beds, framing expertly trimmed shrubs. It’s also always a time of emotions, with family and friends assembled, greeting their graduate with hugs and most often a few tears.
While I’ve been moved at Stonehill’s commencements during my tenure here, mostly I'm focused on doing my part to ensure the event runs well. Not this year. Last Sunday, my only job was to sit in the stands and be a proud father and I basked in the occasion.
Being Brett’s dad gave me a new perspective on Commencement just as being Brett’s dad gave me a new perspective on the Stonehill experience. For two-plus decades, I’ve talked with alumni and parents about the advantages of a Stonehill education: inspiring professors, outstanding academics and study abroad — to name a few.
Over the past four years, I’ve experienced all of this through the eyes of being a parent. I’ve heard Brett rave about the professors and classes he has really enjoyed (and a few he hasn’t). I’ve marveled at the semester he spent abroad in Argentina and the 10-day trip he took to Washington, DC, to meet alumni with Dean Peter Ubertaccio and fellow political science majors.
He has done service-immersion HOPE trips to Maine, Florida and Peru, where he’s learned respectively about the challenges of indigenous people, victims of sex trafficking and the poor living on the margins of society.
On campus, I’ve seen him step up as the volunteer coordinator at the Farm. When he talks about delivering produce to families served by My Brother’s Keeper in Brockton, I’ve heard compassion in his voice.
OBSERVING FROM THE SIDELINES
Brett didn’t do any of this because he was my son—I wasn’t guiding him or orchestrating things behind the scenes. A last name like Smith gave him plenty of breathing room, allowing him to attend Stonehill in relative anonymity. It’s been good for me as a parent to observe him from the sidelines as he’s handled challenges.
Over the past four years, he has undergone a transformation. When Brett first came as a freshman, he had doubts and wondered if he belonged at Stonehill. Was he going to do OK? We made it a point to meet every other week for lunch to check in. Of course, as time went on, those lunches became more infrequent. In fact, he was so involved by his senior year that we barely saw each other this past semester. Now, he manages his own life. After graduation, he’s going on a trip to Iceland and then he will devote a year to urban service in Pittsburgh.
OPPORTUNITIES TO EXPLORE
As an employee, I feel proud that Stonehill gave Brett so many opportunities to explore the world and challenge himself. As a father, I’m proud that the College inspired him to be more independent, responsible and compassionate.
And while Commencement is the end of Brett’s student career, I know that it’s just the beginning of his life as an alum. What does the future have in store for my son? I don’t yet know. As Vice President for Advancement, however, I can tell you one thing is certain: Brett will make a gift to Stonehill College next year—and every year, faithfully, thereafter. He is my son, after all.
I’ve always believed in Stonehill’s commitment to educate the heart and the mind. Seeing the impact of this approach on my own son, who has been visiting campus since he could walk, that’s been one of life’s great joys for me.