Spirit of Endurance at 70th Commencement as Class of 2021 Graduates
More than 1,100 family members, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends were on hand to celebrate with 616 graduates who received their diplomas from President John Denning, C.S.C. at W.B. Mason Stadium on a sunny Saturday morning, May 15.
Of the 616 students who processed at this year's Commencement, 590 received undergraduate degrees and 26 graduate ones. The event, which had fewer guests due to health and safety measures, marked the 70th commencement in Stonehill history and, fittingly, a platinum theme of endurance and strength in the face of pandemic-related suffering emerged in the speakers’ remarks.
In giving the Invocation, Nana K. Amoh ’21 prayed for God’s blessings on the graduates and on their teachers, families and friends who helped them on their way. He concluded as follows:
Make us ever mindful of those on whose shoulders we stand as well as those who follow in our path.
Even as we celebrate accomplishment and transition, may we ever continue to seek wisdom and make your love known in the world.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Act Boldly, Passionately
In her address, Commencement Speaker Dr. Judy Salerno ’73 noted how well Stonehill has “weathered this tumultuous year” and that the remarkable sense of community she experienced as a student in the early seventies “still endures” on campus, which she hailed as a great credit to the students and “the College’s dedicated faculty and staff.”
She also spoke to the senior class about their new roles as “emerging leaders and life-long learners” and the opportunity they have to “create a world with greater compassion, resilience, equity, and justice, beginning with your own communities.”
Dr. Salerno told the graduates that, having successfully climbed the Hill at Stonehill, they will soon be “asked to climb more and steeper hills.” She urged them to “act boldly and passionately,” living their lives “with open minds and open hearts.” As she noted, “That is the power of Light and Hope. Whether you become a doctor or a DJ, YOU have the power to change the world.”
Selfless Days and Nights
Read by Associate Professor of Biology Irvin Pan, the citation in honor of Dr. Salerno shared how she put her “own safety and welfare aside to heed the call for retired physicians to take care of patients impacted by COVID-19.” Serving at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, she spent “selfless days and nights” comforting family members and letting them know that the “people they love most in the world had someone by their side—listening, diagnosing, treating, and helping them to heal.”
In her remarks, student speaker, Sophia Poveda ’21, recalled classes where she didn’t agree with her professors on a topic or issue, but, as a result of challenging, engaged conversations with them, she learned something more—how to shift her perspective and “look at things we can’t change differently.”
She also noted the impact of the College’s Think. Act. Lead. program in developing graduates who “will make their voices heard in their communities” and “bring justice to those who have been marginalized.”
In presenting their class gift to President John Denning, C.S.C., Senior Class President Brendan Ferrick requested that it go towards diversity, equity and inclusion.
“While I myself could never understand the struggle, my incredible classmates and fellow students have made their voices heard. Their echoes will fill our campus for years to come and I am incredibly honored to announce that this year’s class gift will aim at supporting diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Ferrick.
The gift will benefit The Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Social Justice, the Faculty of Color Association (FOCA) Student Leadership Award, and Graduate School Access Awards.
In welcoming the Class of 2021 into the Alumni Association, Alumni Council President Jacquelyn Tracy ’88 told the graduates that they follow in the footsteps of 69 previous classes and are now part of “a network of over 28,000 graduates who will open doors for you in the future.”
As she encouraged the graduates to “embrace the changes” that come their way, she noted that “your class has practice in facing challenges, as the final 15 months of your Stonehill education has been nothing but challenges!”
Lives Woven Together
In his remarks, President Denning reflected on a year of disruption and how, in the face of many hardships, seniors distinguished themselves by a “sense of community, togetherness, ability to adapt, resilience, and, above all, your commitment to equity and justice.”
He also referenced a recent letter that Pope Francis wrote celebrating the life of Saint Joseph. In the wake of the pandemic, he said, Joseph’s example reminds us that “our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people; People often overlooked,” but who understand that no one is saved by their own efforts alone but through shared responsibility and collaboration.
During the ceremony, Fr. Denning acknowledge three members of the College’s Testing Center for their dedication in Protecting the Nest and keeping our community safe and healthy throughout the academic year. On behalf of Stonehill community, he presented bouquets of flowers to Director of Health Services Maria Sullivan, P.A., Coordinator Monique Avila, MSN, FNP-C and Coordinator Doreen Vovcsko, RN, BSN, who were present representing the Testing Center’s team of nurses, EMTs, medical and administrative assistants, and volunteers.
In giving the Benediction, Professor of English, Rev. George Piggford, C.S.C. recalled the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich who lived through her own pandemic. To commune with the Lord, she sealed herself away from the world and used her seclusion to develop an understanding of God as both intimate and cosmic.
In praying for God’s blessing on the Class of 2021, Fr. Piggford concluded by saying:
God of the cosmos, divine fire, enlighten our minds. Draw us ever closer to you, most excellent teacher. Bless our graduates, this day and every day. Protect us and show us your way.