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Father Jonathan Commencement Address

The following address was presented by Father Jonathan DeFelice, O.S.B., President of Saint Anselm College on May 18, 2013 at the 120th Commencement before to the Class of 2013 on the grounds of Saint Anselm College.

Your Excellency, Bishop Libasci, Abbot Mark, Mr. Chairman, Madame Vice-Chair and Members of the Board of Trustees, Distinguished Honorary Degree Recipients past and present, Members of the Graduating Class of Twenty Thirteen, Parents and families, my Benedictine confreres, faculty and staff, guests and friends:

I welcome you to Saint Anselm College's 120th Commencement Exercises.

To our honorary degree recipients, I extend a special welcome and the thanks of the entire Saint Anselm College Community for honoring us with your presence.   Certainly all of you have distinguished yourselves in your careers and in service to your communities. And most importantly, you have distinguished yourselves in the way you have chosen to live your lives.  For all of this, we are very grateful.

AUDIO: Listen to Father Jonathan's Commencement Address

To the parents and families of the class of twenty-thirteen, my greetings and congratulations!  We at Saint Anselm realize that the success of our graduates is in large part due to their own good work and choices combined with the guidance and expertise of our faculty.  That said, however, we also realize that the sacrifices and support of family and friends contribute immeasurably to the accomplishment we celebrate today.  Members of the Class of 2013, please stand up, turn around, and applaud with me your families and friends.

I take this moment to recognize a group of very special individuals who are with us today thanks to the fine efforts of our commencement speaker, The Honorable Louis Freeh.  The shocking bombing that took place just over a month ago at the Boston Marathon demonstrated not only the worst that the human heart is capable of in the ruthless disregard for human life, but that event also demonstrated the best that the human heart is capable of as well.  For the many good citizens who assisted the injured, for the health care workers that cared for them, and for the law enforcement personnel who brought order out of chaos and who daily protect our way of life, we are most grateful.  Earlier today, I presented a plaque from Saint Anselm College that read:  "Presented to with gratitude to the men and women of the Boston FBI Division and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, protecting us with valor, integrity and faithful service."  Please join me in thanking the representatives who are here today.

Annually I take a moment at Commencement to recognize those members of our faculty who will be retiring this academic year.  Today I offer congratulations for a job well done and our profound thanks to Professor John D'Espinosa of the Modern Languages Department who will be retiring this summer following a remarkable 43 years of teaching and service here.  John, may the good Lord grant you a long and happy of retirement.

I also offer our thanks to members of the staff retiring this year:

Bob Baron and Beverly Curry from Treasurer's Office,  Fran Deleault from Campus Ministry, Donna Guimont from Athletics, Robert Paquin from Physical Plant, and Faye Tresvik, Faculty Assistant.  Together they represent over 150 years of service to Saint Anselm.  May God bless them all abundantly.

Dear Members of the Class of Twenty-thirteen, it is a pleasure for me to offer you a few final thoughts from what will soon be your alma mater.

When you first heard me announce your commencement date on this quad on a hot August day four years ago, May 18th 2013 must have sounded like some fictional time in the far distant future:  something not to be too concerned about, since the challenge at hand was getting through Orientation, getting to know the names of people and places in your new world of Saint Anselm College.  And you may recall that I said these years would pass quickly, with ups and downs, successes and challenges, growth and development.  And so they have.  And because of your good work and the help of those around you, you will leave this campus today as alumni.

Hopefully during these four years you have deepened your understanding of what it means to be an Anselmian.  You have been given the opportunity to listen to the now-familiar voices of the great women and men of history and to the contemporary voices of faculty, staff, monks, and friends that challenged you to learn and to grow.  If you continue to hear those voices, if you continue to learn, if you continue to stand in awe at God, the world and the people around you, then you will forge the bond that makes this Anselmian Community a reality.  It is a bond that you will discover - as so many others have already - it is a bond that neither time nor distance can sever.

What you have had the opportunity to do here is founded on the reality of your blessed humanity, a humanity created in the image of God and redeemed by Christ.  You are part of a Catholic liberal arts tradition that profoundly respects who you are and what you are meant to be.  It is a tradition that respects your intellect as capable of coming to know the truth and your will as capable of choosing it.  It is the tradition that inspired the founders of this great college to provide this kind of education for the generations that preceded you, for you, and hopefully for your children and grandchildren who may come after you.

Today we are celebrating the historic occasion of the 120th Commencement Exercises of Saint Anselm College.  Don't worry, I'm not going to give you highlights of the previous 119, though one of my confreres suggested this morning that I could make my final commencement address truly memorable by talking for two and half hours!  I was tempted!

But I do hope you will indulge me for a few moments, however, to honor the memory of our founders and tell you something about the first commencement.

After its founding in 1889, after surviving the complete destruction by fire of its first building, and surviving too the temptation to simply abandon the project of building a Catholic college here, Saint Anselm College finally opened its doors to receive a grand total of 80 male students in September 1893.  Having thus taken its place among American Catholic Colleges despite the difficult economy of 1893 and the financial hardships which the College itself faced, a first Commencement was held on the bottom floor of the building in front of you on June 26, 1894.  Given that date, this should be the 119th commencement, but because of the intervention of the Second World War, two commencements were held in one year, thus making this the 120th.

At that first Commencement there were neither graduates nor the granting of degrees, because the College was still too young to have students in the upper classes.  So the first commencement became an occasion to celebrate a successful beginning.  The focus was not on the senior class - for there was no senior class - but rather on the sophomore class of eleven students.  Among them were two young men who were to become somewhat notable in the region:  John B. Peterson of Salem, Massachusetts who eventually became the fourth bishop of Manchester and Frank V. Thompson, who became the superintendent of the Boston Public School System.  It was the young Thompson who welcomed the several hundred guests present with these words that I offer for your reflection.  He said:

In welcoming you here today, there is no opportunity for me to refer to the past records of our College.  All we have to reflect upon is one short year.  Though it is generally presumptuous to predict great things for the future, yet we, the students of Saint Anselm, feel with just pride that the future of our College is most bright indeed.  We confidently assure ourselves that the reoccurring commencements at Saint Anselm will present an ever-increasing number of worthy students leaving her shelter to do her honor in their respective vocations; and we, of the sophomore class especially feel that it will indeed be an honor to have been members of the first class ever leaving Saint Anselm College.

Members of the Class of 2013, unlike the young Mr. Thompson, you and I do have the opportunity "to refer to the past records of our college," of the 124 years since our founding and the 119 commencements that preceded this one.  You are the heirs to the dream of our founders and that sophomore in 1894; the heirs of a century and a quarter of hope and hard work; of unshakeable faith and of the sacrifices and generosity of so many.  Now you are about to take your place in that history of Saint Anselm graduates:  men and women who walked this ground before you, who studied and prayed, and succeeded as you have.

Be ever grateful for all that has been and move on with confidence to form your future with the great gifts you have been given.

Members of the Class of Twenty-thirteen, today I salute your accomplishments and offer you the congratulations of the entire College community.  As I know it is for you, it is always a bit sad for me to bid farewell to another class, and today I do so for my final time at this podium.   You will always have a very special place in my heart. Be proud Anselmians forever.  Know that I certainly will pray for all of you that the grace of God who loves you in Christ will sustain and support you all the days of your lives. 

God love you all!