The 386 members of the Saint Anselm College Class of 2012 were awarded bachelor's degrees on the quad at the college's 119th commencement exercises May 19.
Abbot Matthew Leavy, O.S.B., Chancellor of Saint Anselm College, delivered the commencement address. The abbot has served as both chancellor of the college and abbot of Saint Anselm Abbey since 1986, and is retiring from both positions on June 5.
Isaac Saidel-Goley, a psychology major from Bedford, N.H., received the Chancellor's Award for the graduate with the highest academic average. Dr. Ward Holder, professor of theology, received the award for excellence in faculty accomplishment.
Photos: Commencement 2012
Speeches & Remarks
Father Jonathan Commencement Address
Your Excellencies, Bishop Joseph and Bishop McCormack, Abbot Matthew, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Board of Trustees, Distinguished Honorary Degree Recipients past and present, Members of the Graduating Class of Twenty Twelve Parents and families, my Benedictine confreres, faculty and staff, guests and friends:
I welcome you to Saint Anselm College's 119th 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.
To the parents and families of the class of 2012, 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 2012, please stand up, turn around, and applaud with me your families and friends.
Annually I take a moment at Commencement to recognize those members of our College Community who will be retiring this academic year. Today I offer congratulations for a job well done and our thanks first of all to Professor Arthur Kenison of the Economics and Business Department who retired from full-time teaching last December.
Congratulations also to my confrere, Father Mark Cooper, who after 33 years of distinguished service is retiring from the position of Vice President for Finance. I think it is safe to say that no one will ever again hold the position for as long as he did, nor bring the same set of skills that he has to his work...and so it is clear that no one single financial officer will ever have the impact that he has had. Thank you, Father Mark.
Congratulations and thanks also to two other members of the administration who are retiring this year: Doctor Duane Bruce, Associate Dean of the College, who has helped innumerable students to be successful in their academic careers and who has brought a level of professionalism to our College's assessment initiatives and Dr. Joseph Constance, the College Librarian and instructor in Politics who has for so long a time led the library to be a center of excellence for College and engaged us all in looking towards the future.
Finally, though not retiring but leaving the College after a decade of distinguished service to pursue a new opportunity, I offer a special word of thanks to the person initially most responsible for our seniors' presence here today, namely, Mrs. Nancy Davis Griffin, Dean of Admission, who read every one of the applications for the members of the Class of 2012 and judged you worthy to attend. Thank you, Nancy, and we assure you of our prayers for you at Johns Hopkins University.
While this Commencement is a joyful occasion of every member of the Class of 2012, today seven members of the class are unable to participate in the ceremony and will be granted their degrees in absentia. At the same time as their names are being called to receive their diplomas, these seven young men will be representing Saint Anselm College in the NCAA Division II East Regional Baseball Championship, at a game being played across the river. This is only the second time in the team's history that we have been part of the Regional Championship and we have already advanced further than any team before. Though we miss them here, we wish them a great game and an even greater victory! Go Hawks!
Dear Members of the Class of Twenty-twelve, at this point in my address, I usually say that "it is a pleasure for me to offer you a few final thoughts from what will soon be your alma mater."
This year, however, it is a little different, because someone else will be offering those final thoughts. Normally, we are pleased to welcome a guest from outside the college community to give the Commencement Address. Normally, it is a stranger to most of us whom we welcome to campus for the first time. But today the Commencement Speaker is no stranger or guest but some who knows Saint Anselm intimately and who has, in fact, been its spiritual and collegiate leader for nearly three decades and is retiring in early June. I am not going to repeat what will be said shortly in the citation, but since Abbot Matthew is the ultimate insider, I think it is appropriate for me to give you only some very short comments and leave your alma mater's final lesson to him.
That said, I just can't stop and sit down since this is by far my most favorite day of the academic year! So, let me offer a brief reflection.
When you drove on campus yesterday or today, I hope you noticed some new banners along the roadways. Over the last year or so we have been involved in an intense and inclusive process to redefine how we tell the Saint Anselm College story. Through interviews, meetings, focus groups and reflection, we settled on the concept that there is something that distinguishes everyone here, from pastry chef to President, from caretaker to Chancellor. And what is it that distinguishes us? Here is how we answered:
"There is an uncommon character that defines each of us. It is something that comes from deep within. It becomes part of us when we arrive on campus, it grows and deepens during our years here, and it forms the root of our spirit and the core of our being for the rest of our lives. It drives us to achieve, it enables us to make the hard choices, it confirms our faith, and it gives us the confidence and perspective needed to answer the world's most important questions.
"As students, trustees, faculty, staff, and alumni, we endeavor to grow spiritually and morally as we lead lives of meaning. We are devoted to the pursuit of knowledge, guided by a commitment to the liberal arts and to the Catholic and Benedictine tradition. And bring it to life a community of capable, ethical leaders who are prepared to build a better world.
"When we are faced with the challenges that push our thinking and develop our character, we know we will rise to every occasion. Because each of us faces those challenges with a creative mind, a generous spirit, and a foundation in that most uncommon of character traits: Each of us in an Anselmian."
Today you take another step, entering more deeply into what it means to be an Anselmian. But it does not end today. No, for the rest of your life, you are now called to do something worthwhile rather than something easy; to make the right choice, even when it's difficult to do so; to know where you are going, and never forget where you've been. Being an Anselmian means that words like learning, commitment, spirit, community, service, and faith are always part of not only your vocabulary, but your life.
We are Anselmians, today, tomorrow, and forever!
Members of the Class of Twenty-twelve, today I salute your accomplishments and offer 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. I will truly miss the many of you that I have gotten to know well and 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!
Liam R. Concannon - Student Address
Good afternoon and welcome to Father Jonathan, Bishop Joseph and the Benedictine Community, Bishop McCormick, Members of the Board of Trustees, Honorary degree recipients, Abbot Matthew, faculty, staff, parents, relatives, friends, and you, my fellow classmates of the class of 2012.
So, this is it. We're here and it is time to remember the past and receive some advice for the future. It is time to ask the big questions. The one that really comes to my mind is "Have you ever seen a Starfish? I mean really seen it? It is by far one of the oddest looking living creatures in this world, like maybe the attachable end to some kind of tool that you would clean your bathroom. Odd as it may be, the starfish is the source of one of the most influential lessons in my life. It's a very common story, and I am sure many of you have heard it before, but it is worth repeating here before we step up on this stage and then take our leave of one another.
A young man off in the distance sees an older man gracefully tossing rock after rock into the sea. When the young man walks up closer he realizes the objects are not rocks but starfish. Once he reaches the old man he asks, "Why in the world are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" The old man explained that if the starfish stay on the beach, when the tide goes out and the sun rises higher, they will die. The young man responds "That's ridiculous! There are hundreds of miles of beach and thousands of starfish. You can't really believe that what you are doing can possibly make a difference!" The old man picked up another starfish, and tossed it into the waves, and said, "It makes a difference to that one."
I heard this story when I was studying abroad in South Africa, and a group of us were on a trip driving up though Mozambique on a dirt road that they call a highway. As we were driving, we witnessed poverty, but a type of poverty that most Americans never see. It was a type of poverty that creates a feeling of shock and frustration, a feeling that many of our classmates have experienced during Spring Break Alternative.
Needless to say it consumed my mind, and while my South African friend Grant was driving, he noticed. So he started to tell me the story of the starfish, and at the time I thought it was nice, but it wasn't until we pulled over for gas that it really had an impact on me. Once I got out of the car, groups of Portuguese speaking children swarmed trying to sell me cashews. I don't even like cashews. Naturally more and more kids came to hear the dumb American try to speak in what ended up being a mix of English, Spanish, and sign language.
I noticed Grant talking to a young special needs girl trying to sell a blanket full of inexpensive nick-nacks. Just then he took off his fairly new Puma sneakers, handed them to her and picked up only one object from the matt. While walking back he threw the object to me and when I looked at it I saw a dried out starfish. His only explanation was a quick wink and the simple response of "the starfish." That short response wisely summed it all up to me. You can't buy cashews from all of the children. You can't change their economy. So, why give up your sneakers? Well because it makes a difference to that one.
So what does that starfish story mean for us today? Well when we leave here we are walking onto a beach head covered in starfish. Our world is daunting. It is a world that, regardless of what career path we choose, comes with overwhelming waves of adversity. These challenges at times can seem hopeless, and make us feel helpless. How can a teacher change the education system? How can a business advisor change the financial system? How can a nurse change the medical system? How can any of us walking off of the quad today make an impact in the fields we have chosen when the needs are so overwhelming. Where do we even begin?
Well, we already have. We began four years ago when we walked into JOA and Dom and met that strange quiet roommate for the first time, who somehow became one of our best friends. It began at freshman orientation when the hypnotist made Caitlin Donovan forget what was after the number 3. It began the first day we sat in the class room and wondered why the teacher was wearing an all black robe.
During four years of our Catholic Liberal Arts Education we have been taught the importance of the individual. Humanities and Theology might have seemed like an absolute pain at the time, but they drove home how influential individual's actions can be on their environments. Out there waiting in that world there may be thousands of children needing your help, thousands of patients that need your aid, thousands of clients that need your assistance, thousands of starfish lying on the coast. The task we are given is not to take on the world as a whole, but to focus on its smallest component, the individual.
Help just one child comprehend math. Help diagnose just one elderly man with and early case of pneumonia. Help the finances of just one struggling family. Throw just one Starfish back into the ocean. Why? Because we have been taught that it makes a difference to that one.
The power of the individual and the power of the community were certainly clear when we each woke up this morning, feeling triumphant and also sad. These two emotions, sadness and triumph have just been wrestling inside of us for the past few weeks. Within the hour we will have finally graduated college. Once Caroline Wintersteen gets her degree we will be done. There will be no more lectures, drafts of a thesis, or comprehensive exams. We have passed every challenge Saint A's has placed before us, and yet with these significant achievements, we end a stage in our lives and therein lies the paradox.
During our quest to receive this degree, we have created such deep personal relationships with so many special individuals. In doing so we have formed a community. And now the friends we have made over these short four years will no longer be across the hall from us. We will never be walking into their classroom. We may never hear them say mass again. It is natural for us to branch off from one another and follow our own path across the country or the world. But what are we suppose to feel? Triumph? Or sadness? Well here is the best advice I can give.
There are few moments in our lives, when we can stop and realize how important the very minutes of the day are. When it happens to me, though it may seem odd, I take myself out of the situation. I pull back from whatever is immediately going on, and I just sit. And while sitting there I try and record every single moment that occurs, so that I can always remember it, so that I can remember till the day I die: the sights, and the sounds, and the smells, of the place, the people. I take it all and place it in my heart, because the things that we keep in our mind are always changing, but the things that we keep in our heart last forever.
This, right here, right now, is one of those moments. So take it all in. Take in the image of Alumni hall, the smells of a spring day in New Hampshire, the image of each one of us in our cap and gown, the gratitude you have for the monastic community, teachers and faculty, the feeling of pride your parents have for you, and most importantly the faces of your friends. Place it in your heart. Keep it there.
Life is a challenge. So in the future during triumphs and disappointments, when you are overwhelmed by the amount of dying starfish on the beach, or feel rather like a dried out starfish yourself, may this moment, these day, these years be enough to keep your heart full.
Godspeed Class of 2012!
Abbot Matthew Commencement Address
Thank you! What can I say but “thank you” for the honor of this doctoral degree.
Bishop Joseph, Bishop John, Fr. Jonathan, Bro. Prior and my Benedictine confreres, fellow Trustees, faculty, staff, alumni, fellow honorary degree recipients, guests, parents and families of the graduates, a warm welcome to Saint Anselm College for this very significant moment on a splendidly beautiful day. You should all be very proud. I know I am. Thank you all for being here to celebrate. Your presence means the world to your graduate.
And to you, members of the Class of 2012, actually my fellow classmates, now that I too have received an Anselmian degree, my sincere congratulations. I am honored to join you in receiving our Anselmian degrees together today. But remember, you received yours after only four short years of work, it has taken me 30 years of working here at Saint Anselm to get mine!
Ordinarily, commencement speakers are chosen from outside the life of the college. They are often famous for their work and their contributions to society. They typically speak about what it will take for you to be successful in the domains of work and life in the so-called “real world” you are about to enter. Sometimes the speaker is actually a celebrity of sorts. Exactly 35 years ago here at Saint Anselm it was Bob Hope who delivered the commencement address. Bob Hope?!! (Come on parents, bail me out!)
I am not famous nor a celebrity nor from outside the life of the college. I am from the inside of this institution. In fact, I have helped lead Saint Anselm College as the Chancellor, abbot, administrator, teacher and pastor for more than a quarter of a century.
So, what I have to say today comes from a very internal perspective, a personal perspective, an anselmian perspective, a long-term perspective of more than 30 years, drawing upon my experience with you and other students, and with generations of alumni who were educated here in this place which is Saint Anselm.
And it is quite a place – especially on a beautiful day like today. Our college anthem which we sang last night at the close of the baccalaureate Mass refers to Saint Anselm as “that fair place which steadfast stands upon the hill so high”.
“That fair place”, what does “fair” mean here? I don’t think it has to do with grading policies or procedures, but rather “fair” in terms of beautiful, balanced, well-proportioned, integral, harmonious, memorable and sacred, words you yourself have used in describing this place to me.
The list of why it has been a “fair place” for you could go on and on and might include: the beauty of the campus, the program of studies, the quality of the relationships you have made here with classmates, faculty, staff and monks, the quality of food in Davison Hall, sports (our baseball champions are playing as we speak), drama, choir, volunteering, SBA, study abroad, campus ministry, and the list goes on.
But all these good things focus on externals, realities outside of yourselves. As I said, I am a so-called “internal” speaker and will reflect upon a more internal theme. We need to go beyond the details of this place to the essence of this place, it’s very identity and purpose, why it exists at all. What is this place really meant to do for you?
The purpose of education, especially in the Catholic, Benedictine Liberal Arts tradition is not just to delight your senses with geographic beauty or great friends or good food or good times. You can find all these things outside the field of higher education, and purchase them more economically. Imagine how may cruises to exotic places you could buy for more than $40,000 a year!
I propose that we take a look at a more unique and exotic place which is not far away at all.
What I am suggesting is that this fair place which is Saint Anselm exists for the purpose of forming and developing an interior space within each Anselmian which is every bit as fair, beautiful, well-proportioned, harmonious, balanced, memorable and yes, sacred. This “inner space”, call it heart, soul, psyche, conscience or core is what makes you most human. It is to this space within that you return for processing what goes on outside of you and within you. It is from this inner, sacred space that you make sense out of things through deeper understanding.
It is in this space that you make choices about yourselves, about what you really believe and value. From this space you make decisions that will affect you, your family, children, your parents, and far beyond. Decisions that are about matters personal, moral, political and practical. Alums report all the time that in times of critical decision making, they retreat into that space within to weigh options and discern what is the best course of action.
What your Anselmian education has helped you to realize is first: that such a space exists. It also assists you in making sure you have everything you need to make that space functional and fruitful. And finally it encourages you to continue to develop this space every day of your life.
What has Saint Anselm College contributed to that space?
-The accumulated knowledge and wisdom of others from the past and present;
-Tools to help you use that knowledge and wisdom in coming to wise decisions by weighing the truth and merit of all you encounter;
-And the ongoing support and example of others in learning to live well.
Mature adult life is essentially about making choices, deciding, based upon your values, beliefs and convictions, and objective truth. If you do not choose to exercise this gift, this right, I would go so far as to say this “duty” of solid decision-making, then someone else will decide for you. Your humanity will be diminished; your “space within” will shrink.
Our college anthem further describes Saint Anselm as “A place where souls seek God and minds seek light and faith seeks understanding.” And acclaims “You our minds set free.”
Our brand of liberal arts education is designed to set you free from ignorance, error, evil, deception, and from one of humanity’s greatest enemies: default, that is, not engaging your power to decide.
Fellow anselmians, life is about decision. Do not succumb to the subtle temptation to live by default. You deserve more, you are capable of more. You have been endowed with so much more. In fact, you have been given too much for you to use for yourself alone. What you have been given is meant to be shared, to be spread out among those whom you relate: family, friends, colleagues, and with those unknown to you who may be in need. Think back on your SBA experiences, how they changed your lives forever. Recall your mentoring and tutoring experiences with children, and the joy of sharing knowledge with others. This is part of the Anselmian way.
The education received here was expensive but is meant to be expansive. You “space within,” your heart, is meant to expand, as St. Benedict reminds us. It is meant to stretch not shrink, stretch in service to others.
Yes, life is about decisions, but it is even moreso about love, that highest, most noble and sacred of decisions, that which makes us not only fully human, but partly divine because God is love. As I mentioned last night at the Baccalaureate Mass, children measure love by how much they get; mature adults measure love by how much they give. Always love and give generously.
How, you might be asking, is all this going to take shape in my life?
I believe that education is more a matter of planting seeds than of picking fruit. So when it comes to you and me realizing all of the above, we must admit that it is a process that doesn’t happen overnight, that doesn’t happen all at once. And certainly your four years are only the beginning of the Anselmian way. Be patient with yourselves and others, while never forgetting what you are ultimately called to.
When will the anselmian seeds start to grow in your life? Maybe they already have. I hope that your being here for four years has nurtured and nourished those seeds, I know that for some of you your experiences here have challenged and even accelerated the growth of those seeds
But what if some seeds haven’t grown yet? Trust that they will someday and be prepared for that day. Be confident that what you have learned here and what you will continue to learn will enrich you and prepare you well for a life well-lived. So that when those big questions and choices pop up unexpectedly in life and, trust me, they will, you will neither be clueless or despairing, or by default settle for somebody else’s easy solution. You have the resources available within you and outside of you to help you grapple with whatever life brings.
I, and others here, not infrequently receive calls like the following:
“Hi, Abbot Matthew! Remember me? I’m xyz for the class of whenever. Remember, you married me and my wife and you baptized our first child four years ago.”
“Of course, I remember. Great to hear from you. What can I do for you?”
“Well Father, its my daughter, there’s a problem.”
“What happened? Is she sick?”
“Well, sort of… it’s a spiritual problem.”
“Your daughter has a spiritual problem and she’s only 4 1/2?”
“Well, maybe its not really her problem.”
“Father, the problem is that she is asking me about God and going to Church and stuff. I don’t know what to tell her.”
“Well, what did you tell her?”
“Ask you mother.”
“And what does she say?”
“She said that I should talk to one of the people I am closest to about it. I asked her if she meant the bartender or the abbot.”
“She suggested I try the abbot first. Can you help us?”
“Of course I can help you, but I am not talking to your daughter about God and the Church. You and your wife are. Remember that as part of the liturgy of Baptism for your daughter, I prayed a blessing over you and your wife which said. ‘You are the first teachers of your child in the faith. May you also be the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what you say and do’. Now’s your chance. You know and believe more than you think. You have just let the default position take over. This is a moment of grace. Let’s get together and talk this out. You will do fine.”
And of course he, they, did, because they connected with the anselmian family and activated their own lives of faith, first for the sake of their daughter, but later for themselves. It was love for their daughter that brought this question to the fore and allowed their own seeds of faith to grow and flourish.
I can’t tell you how many times I am edified and humbled by the lived faith of Anselmians. It is overwhelming to me. And when I ponder how people on this campus witness to the anselmian way in ways great and small, in circumstances unexpected, I am edified and grateful. Just a small example. In the middle of last night I received a text message from one of our campus safety officers who just got out of a 5 hour surgery in Boston. He wanted to be sure that before they started him on pain meds, he wished us all a beautiful and successful graduation. That’s anselmian. Does that happen at Harvard or anywhere else?
Classmates, trust the anselmian way. It has been proven over and over again to work. Always stay connected with your alma mater, Saint Anselm, with your friends, and with your greatest of friends, the Lord himself, never doubting his love and providential care for you.
In whatever place in this global world you find yourselves, never forget this fair place from which you depart today. But more importantly never forget that fair inner space within you that was cultivated at this place “which stands upon the hill, no mountain more commanding where souls seek God and minds seek light and faith seeks understanding.”
Let us conclude with the final verse of our anthem:
“Saint Anselm be our patron true
And guide us in God’s ways,
Who calls us all to seek the truth
And orders all our days.
O, hear our prayer most gracious Lord
And mighty God of love,
And gather us to praise your name
With all the saints above.”
May God bless and love you all!