During Saint Anselm College's 124th commencement exercises on Saturday, May 20, commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo addressed 442 members of the class of 2017, and Dr. Steven DiSalvo presided over his fourth commencement as president.
Dr. DiSalvo noted to the class of 2017 that, although they "will have turned a page on an amazing chapter" in their life today, no matter where their journey takes them, they are always welcome at Saint Anselm College, and always an Anselmian.
"I wish you Godspeed in your life's journey. Have faith in the future. And may God guide each and every one of you today and for the rest of your lives as proud graduates of Saint Anselm College. I leave you with one final thought: College is for four years. Saint Anselm College is forever."
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Photos: Commencement 2017
Speeches & Remarks
Robert Merritt - Student Address
President DiSalvo, Abbot Mark, the Benedictine community, members of the Board of Trustees, honorary degree recipients, distinguished faculty and staff, friends, families, and my fellow classmates of the Class of 2017, good afternoon and welcome to Saint Anselm College's 124th commencement ceremony.
Well, guys, here we are. The day is finally here. The "today" we knew was coming but hoped would always stay a "someday." Now, as you sit there daydreaming about what comes next, I want you all to take a moment and try to think of your favorite story. A story from freshman English or Humanities, maybe something from high school even, or perhaps something you read for pleasure on your own time. Now, imagine you're right in the middle of the best part of that story, right in the moment when something great is happening... and the chapter ends. Did you then close the book and say, "Well, that must be the best part, so what's the point in continuing?" Or did you turn the page and begin reading the next chapter? I'm willing to bet it was the latter. You kept going, whether it was to know how the story ends; or to find out if your favorite characters would make it through the rest of the book; or to see the main character's transformation from beginning to end. But whatever it was, you looked forward with anticipation, not backward with regret.
Today marks the end of our college chapter. It's been filled with long nights, sometimes of laughter, sometimes of tears, but for the past four years we've been a part of something great. Now is not the time to close the book; now is the time to turn the page.
But even as we look forward, we must not forget also to look back and reflect; that is what today is for. Today is to think about not the fact that we're leaving, but what we're leaving, and what (besides a diploma) we're taking with us into this next chapter. Today is to reflect on those we've met and gotten to know in this chapter, how they've grown and matured, and how maybe you look at life a little differently now because of the perspective they've given you. And just like in your favorite story, you hope that some of these people will continue on until the end, and some of them will. But some of them won't, and that's okay. Characters aren't any less valuable to a story because they were only in it for a short time. They serve their purpose – whether they teach you something, or make you feel all sorts of different emotions, or do something foolish that you can learn from. The impression these individuals make on you stay with you, even if they themselves do not.
But turning the page isn't always easy. It's okay to be sad about leaving. It means this school has given us so many things to miss. But let's use today to reflect on all those things, and remember everyone we met, everything we did, and everything we saw. After all, we deserve it. All of the times we've fallen in exhaustion into our tiny extra-long twin beds, or into a friend's arms, or against the back of a chair in the library at two in the morning – all of these moments have led us to this day.
And right now, across the country, it's also the end of a chapter for thousands of other students who are at their graduations, thinking about their next steps. The only difference is, those students aren't graduating from Saint Anselm College. They didn't get to shove people to the ground in the Christmas spirit to get that cup of blue frosting for their gingerbread house. They didn't have to learn how to pronounce the word "conversatio." They didn't get emails letting them know when someone had lost a paperclip in Perini lecture hall. Most didn't write a thesis or get interrogated by comprehensive exams. They didn't get to sit on the doorsteps of their townhouses and hand out candy to kids on Halloween, or cover their porches with Christmas lights and decorations in hopes of winning that Chipotle gift card. They didn't get to gather in the church to watch the blessing of the hands of their roommates, friends, and peers who wish to spend their lives saving others; or gather in their rec center with a thousand other people for an all-night, fun-filled, emotional relay for life; or simultaneously be in a building with a monk and the next President of the United States.
No. Only we got to go to college on the Hilltop – the place we would find ourselves referring to as "home" (to our parents' bittersweet horror), and the place where we would meet people that would become like family, and help shape us into the people that we sit here as today. We got to look up, every day, at our class banner hanging in the rafters of the dining hall – the same one that now hangs behind me for the very last time – and be reminded that we were part of something bigger than ourselves (and maybe cringe a little bit every time we realized the banner had moved up a rafter, closer to the Davison fire place and closer to our futures). Only we got to spend four years here, being taught not just the fundamentals of human kind, but about life, the whole life: the body, the mind, and the spirit.
So, when we're thinking about the future, preoccupied with finding a job or an internship or a service organization, we need to be confident. Because we are Anselmians, now and always, and even though we have about twenty-two free shirts to remind us of that, we need to make sure we never lose sight of what being Anselmian truly means.
And what does it mean? Ask any of us what it means to be Anselmian and chances you'll get 471 different answers. But as someone once said, "From the outside looking in, it's hard to understand. From the inside looking out, it's hard to explain." That is the best way I can think to describe what it means to be a part of this community. As a junior in high school, going on my first ever college tour on this very campus, I was, "on the outside." I didn't understand why every student I passed welcomed me to campus. I didn't understand why a monk stopped our tour group and made a point to learn each and every one of our names. I mean, at that point I wasn't quite sure why there was a monk stopping our tour group in the first place, but that's beside the point. Now, almost six years later, as someone, "on the inside," I understand, though I can't fully explain it.
But I do know this: Being Anselmian is all of these things we've gotten to experience over the past four years. It's been finding that one professor, maybe more if you were lucky, that made a difference in your college experience. It's been getting to know a monk, and walking past him with the intention of simply saying a curt hello, and instead finding yourself twenty minutes later, deep in conversation about your life choices. It's been being part of a team that became your family, and supported you like one all the way through. It's hospitality, acceptance, sacrifice, community, coffee shop ranch.
Now: think back to that favorite story you conjured up earlier. Chances are it contains a round character: a term which, in literature, refers to a complex individual in a story – one who has depth in his or her feelings and passions, and one who inevitably encounters conflict, but upon overcoming these conflicts, is transformed and sees the world more clearly. As a result, a round character by the end of a story is never the same as he or she was at the beginning. This, right now, is our time to experience conflict. To make mistakes. So, remember: whenever you experience hard times in your life, whenever you feel like you've hit a wall, don't let yourself be flat – be round. Embrace the challenge with the knowledge that as a result, you will be all the stronger, all the wiser, and all the more interesting in the next chapter.
Some of us may have chapters in our own stories so far that we'd rather not read out loud. All of us have pages we'd probably like to skip over. But I think most of us have parts we like to re-read, time and again. I hope these past four years have provided many of those parts, and I hope you read them out loud proudly with as much energy and happiness as you lived them.
And I hope that we all remain in each other's stories after this chapter. Maybe it won't be until the chapter on Mackenzie Sullivan's 14th Annual 5K for Crohn's Disease, or the chapter on Kelsey Walsh's installment as the White House Chief Correspondent, or the one on Teresa Samson's award ceremony for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
Or maybe it won't be until we're right back here, however many years in the future, at the very place where our stories' roots will always be firmly planted. So as we sit here today, on our very last official day on the Hilltop, and we're fiddling anxiously with the corner of that last page, I hope you can realize that even though we're leaving this campus behind, we will never leave this place behind, and so because of your time at Saint Anselm College, you feel confident and ready to turn that page, and begin the next chapter. The best part is, it's your story this time, and you get to write it however you want.
Happy Graduation Day, Class of 2017. Go Hawks.
American Association of University Professors Faculty Award
Each year the Saint Anselm College Chapter of the American Association of University Professors presents the Distinguished Faculty Award at graduation. It recognizes excellence in teaching and scholarship, contributions to the academic community through active and positive relations with colleagues and students, and an involved concern for humanity.
A quiet leader, the faculty member we are recognizing today received a PhD from Cornell University and lectured there for two years before joining the faculty at Saint Anselm College. Once here, our honoree advanced quickly through the ranks from assistant to associate to full professor in just 13 years.
Since that time, this scholar has maintained an active, and evolving, research agenda and has guided dozens of student research projects.
This professor's service to students extends beyond involving them in research, and teaching them. He established a chapter of the Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society on our campus to recognize them.
An excellent and dedicated teacher, whose courses are challenging but fair, this educator offers a variety of small upper level classes to departmental majors, in addition to teaching large lecture classes, patiently explaining details of physiology and bringing a steady approach to hundreds of nursing students. He is known for spending long hours in the lab with any student who seeks extra review time. He also enjoys a solid working relationship with, and is greatly respected by, the Biology laboratory staff.
This academic has a distinguished record of service to both the Biology Department and the college. He regularly volunteers to cover year-long, lower-level courses to help the department, sacrificing the upper level courses closer to his personal interest.
This servant to the discipline has continued to write grants, attend workshops, and present at conferences. He has directed the department's majors, acted as department chair, served on faculty senate, and led search committees. He does not fear labor-intensive committees like Pre-tenure review and Rank and tenure. He is willing to engage in the difficult task of creating and maintaining a high-quality faculty.
He quietly steers a number of important initiatives for his department — from maintaining the catalog to building statistical assessments to guide curricular decisions. Again, doing the hard work that underlies good decision making.
He is a phenomenal colleague as well as a congenial, service-oriented member of his department. He has served as a mentor and role model for many. As a mentor he is calm, level headed, always supportive and generous with his time. He is one of those quiet and unassuming colleagues that can always be counted upon to be helpful, professional, and wise. Many have learned much by his example and benefited greatly from his advice. His quiet leadership has changed many lives for the better.
Today, I am honored to present the 2017 AAUP Award for Excellence, in Faculty Accomplishment to Professor Don Rhodes.
President DiSalvo Commencement Address
Members of the Class of 2017, Family and Friends, Abbot Mark and Members of the Monastic Community, Members of the Board of Trustees, Bishop Barron, Sr. Thomas, and Dr. Woo,
It is with great pride and joy that I welcome you to our 124th commencement exercises and offer my personal congratulations to the Class of 2017 on the completion of your academic degrees. The rigorous path to obtaining a Saint Anselm degree is not designed to be an easy task. Your academic studies have prepared you well to enter the workforce or to continue with graduate studies. Our curriculum, rooted in the liberal arts, has sharpened your oratory abilities, critical thinking skills and theological foundation.
You have celebrated game-winning moments with teammates, and earned hard-fought championships. You have questioned humanity alongside fellow volunteers during service trips. You have worked hard in the classroom. You have matured academically spiritually and socially. And each moment taught you something: About being part of a team. About contributing to the common good. About being prepared. About knowing who you are, and where you want to go.
You had a front row seat to a memorable New Hampshire presidential primary and historic presidential election, during which more than twenty major candidates were frequent guests on campus. For years to come, you will hear the familiar words: "live from Saint Anselm College," and appreciate the quadrennial chaos, and unparalleled opportunities that descend on our Hilltop when the candidates visit. But remember: Saint Anselm College and the Institute of Politics are non-partisan. We take not credit for the outcome, and we take no blame!
Together, your class has shared a four-year opportunity to create a legacy for those who will follow in your footsteps. I have been honored to be part of your journey during a transformative period of time for our college.
Do not underestimate the importance of your voice in shaping the future of our college. Your ideas, and calls for action during your time here have been heard, and are being implemented. We have worked to develop a more inclusive community, guided by the aspirations and expectations of the student body. We have strived to be more environmentally conscious and have established various clubs and organizations pertinent to your interests.
You have also been witness to an exciting transformation of our campus infrastructure. The Living Learning Commons introduced a new model of co-curricular residential life. The beautiful Grotto brought our community a new space for prayer and reflection. And thanks to the single largest gift in the history of the college, the Roger and Francine Jean Student Center Complex renovation is well underway to serve future students. Many of you helped to design the spaces that will serve our community for years to come.
A new core curriculum has been implemented, and our study abroad program in Orvieto, Italy continues to grow. And thanks to the dedication, skill and passion of our dining services staff, the college has moved up the rankings, from twelfth during your freshman year, to eighth in the nation for best campus food! Most importantly, our academic ranking continues to improve, as evidenced by the 558 new students that have deposited as part of the Class of 2021! Together we have built a legacy of which you should be very proud.
In a few moments, you will hear from Dr. Carolyn Woo about her work with Catholic Relief Services. Dr. Woo has traveled across the country and around the world, bringing hope, faith and material goods to those in need. Dr. Woo was called to serve, and has lived her life guided by the principles of what is good and what is right. As have many of you.
Pope Francis tells us that "young people are formed with a thirst for truth and not for power, ready to defend values and to live out mercy and charity, which are the main pillars for a healthier society." Consider this as you listen to Dr. Woo's remarks.
Last fall, Saint Anselm College earned the distinction of being ranked among the top colleges and universities across the country that are most engaged in community service. Among the many commendations and recognitions bestowed upon this college, none speaks more clearly to the root of our community's character.
When you leave campus later today, you will have turned a page on an amazing chapter in your life, and will continue to write your story in new places among new people. Know that no matter where your journey takes you, you are always welcome here.
Through the best of days, and particularly during the most challenging, you have had family and friends at your side. These years would not have been the same without the support of your loved ones. They share in your joy today. There are so many people to thank and rather than have me mention them I would like to share a letter I received two days ago that was written by a parent in attendance today.
So, thanks to YOU, Ms. Persichini and to all the parents here for entrusting us with your children for the past four years. Your love and support helped to shape them into the adults they are today.
Members of the Class of 2017: I wish you Godspeed in your life's journey. Have faith in the future. And may God guide each and every one of you today and for the rest of your lives as proud graduates of Saint Anselm College.
I leave you with one final thought: College is for four years. Saint Anselm College is forever.
Thank you and God Bless you.
Baccalaureate Mass Homily by Abbot Mark Cooper, O.S.B.
I have two questions for our 400 graduating seniors. Both these questions were asked and answered, just moments ago in our readings from the letter of James, and the gospel of Mark. Saint James, asked: "Who among you is wise and understanding?" And in the gospel the scribe asks Jesus: "Which is the first of all the commandments?" I believe that one could claim that the answers to these two questions are of vital importance to every human being. Indeed, one could argue that honest answers provided to these questions by anyone running for the highest office in the land, would, for the rest of us, quickly separate the wheat from the chaff. Yet neither of these questions, nor anything quite like them, to my knowledge, has ever been asked of Mr. Trump, or Senator Sanders, or former Secretary Clinton, at least not directly.
Yet they are questions of the greatest import. They challenge us as individuals, and as institutions to state where we stand....to declare where ultimate meaning resides. These two questions from Scripture are pretty much one in the same. Perhaps we could cover both by asking our seniors: "Where do think wisdom lies?" or, "What, or who, will guide you for the remainder of your lives?" As you leave Saint Anselm College for work, and marriage, and family....for travel, and service, and for maintaining old friendships, and making new ones (your future unfolding in ways you can't even now imagine), in which direction will you turn in times of great joy, and in times of great difficulty?
It's our hope that during your four years on this hilltop you have weighed the importance of the many experiences of your young lives; that you've carefully assessed the various readings and lectures and seminars of your academic career at this campus; that you've learned and grown through conversations with friends and faculty; and that you've reflected with care upon things that others believe to be true. And it is especially our hope that you've attained knowledge and experience and belief here at Saint Anselm, and used what you have attained to come to some conclusions. While one would not expect unanimity, still Saint Anselm College certainly hopes that there are not 400 entirely different answers among our seniors, to those 2 questions posed by Saint James and by the scribe in the gospel.
As a College that operates within the context of a belief system which references a 2000 year old intellectual tradition, we have tried to guide you, while at the same time respecting your freedom of will, toward what our founders deemed, and our College today affirms, to be the best answers to those vital questions asked of us by today's Scripture readings.
The original founders of this school firmly believed that it was not enough for the educated person to master different fields of knowledge. They believed that in addition, in order to use one's learning well, the individual needed to understand how the various areas of study relate to one another. Is there an area of knowledge that can help us knit together all that we experience and learn, such that we might have a more complete understanding of things? Such that we might know what is justice; or what is true. Such that we know the difference between running our own business simply for our gain, and running it to be of service to others. I may be efficient at business, I may be a competent nurse, and I may be a popular teacher. I may be any of these, but it is still possible that I may not be wise, or that I do not possess understanding, or that I may not know what is the first principle or commandment to follow, when life, with the passage of time, confronts me in varying ways.
Perhaps the first day after graduation you won't need to worry about where wisdom and understanding lie. Perhaps on your first year of a new job you won't find it necessary to search for an overall guiding commandment. But most assuredly, at some point in the not-too-distant future all 400 of you will have to provide answers to the kind of questions posed by our readings in this liturgy, for life will most assuredly put them to you, and postponing your answer will not be an option.
Just 11 days ago an article appeared in America magazine by John Cavadini, professor of theology, at the University of Notre Dame. Cavadini stated that in the last many years, as scholars struggled to define the nature of institutions of higher learning they split into those who feel the university should give witness to core values, and those who feel it should be a purely neutral place of dialogue, with nothing to jump-start the dialogue, and no opinion on how the dialogue should conclude. Cavadini himself calls for both witness dialogue for any University. And quoting our last three Popes, he suggests that particularly, there is a great balancing act that must define the nature of the Catholic University or college. He believes that the Catholic institution of higher learning should be that special place where there is encouraged an encounter between the incomparable richness of the gospel revelation, and the care and exactitude of reason and dialogue.
If any college demands that it be a place of pure neutrality, if the intellectual endeavor refuses all consideration of thoughts derived from belief, then the answers by those studying at such an institution, to the types of questions posed by St. James, and by the scribe in the gospel, will likely be quite different, and far less complete, than any answers enriched by the consideration of revelation.
This institution has desired from the beginning that you learn to see that faith and reason work together...fides quaerens intellectum...faith seeking understanding, as Saint Anselm has put it. We at this College wish for you the ability to clearly discern good thinking from poor thinking, right from wrong. We believe that faith will assist you in doing so. We have believed from your first day here on this campus that framing your discussions with the rich tradition of Jesus Christ as the answer to the yearnings of the human heart, and setting your experiences in the context of Christ as the truth of the cosmos, was the most precious gift we could ever give you. We have every hope in the world for all of you. We believe we have provided you something, the context of a system of faith, that, though scorned by some, is the most helpful means for learning and understanding you will ever acquire.
Who among you is wise and understanding......which is the first of all the commandments? We believe because of what you have considered here, in a setting open to both faith and reason, that you are well on your way to answering those vital questions with lives of beauty, significance, compassion, and integrity. As long as this monastery is here, you have our daily prayers. May the Lord be with you, and bless you and your families, and our faculty who have served you so well, and guided you to this day.