A university president, a famous major league baseball player, and a cardinal from the Vatican were the graduation speakers at the three colleges in New York state where Franciscans are the presidents.
Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., where Holy Name friar Kevin Mullen, OFM, is president, and St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y., led by Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF, graduated their students on May 13. Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y., where HNP’s Kevin Mackin, OFM, is the president, held its commencement exercises on May 19.
More than 2,000 students received their degrees from the two Franciscan colleges sponsored by Holy Name Province — Siena and SBU — and from Mount St. Mary, which has Dominican roots.
One of the most exciting occurrences took place at Siena, which heard from Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter after giving him an honorary degree. Jeter was honored for his athletic accomplishments with young people through his Turn 2 Foundation, which encourages children and teenagers to choose healthy lifestyles.
Since Jeter had a game on graduation day, he was unable to attend, but sent a video message that was played on a huge screen at the Times Union Center in downtown Albany. His degree was accepted by his sister, Sharlee Jeter, president of the Turn 2 Foundation.
“I am proud to be recognized as a son of Siena, which is such an amazing institution that promotes the values that are most important to me,” Jeter said. “Academic success and the importance of giving back to the community are fundamentals that were instilled in my home growing up and also that my Turn 2 Foundation is built upon.”
Meanwhile, at SBU, a Bonaventure alumnus and president of Duquesne University, Dr. Charles Dougherty, told the graduates at the Reilly Center Arena how the university would shape their lives.
“St. Bonaventure will shape your choices and, while it may be in subtle ways, what you learned here will guide you in some of the most important decisions of your life,” said Dougherty, a 1971 SBU graduate and a college president for the past 10 years.
Dougherty said SBU students, at what many people perceive to be an isolated location in Western New York, will often be far more worldly and open-minded than students graduating from metropolitan campuses. “Their actual talents are limited to A, B and C, but they won’t be able to see their context, the lasting value of the entire alphabet, like you will,” Dougherty said. “They will be far more isolated and self-absorbed.”
Mount St. Mary College conferred an honorary doctorate on Elizabeth Ailes, publisher of The Putnam County News & Recorder and The Putnam County Courier; His Eminence Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Joseph Reilly, CEO of the Empire Broadcasting Corp. Ailes gave the commencement address, and Turkson also spoke.
“Our Mount St. Mary College graduates, of whom we are very proud, will be inspired by these examples of regional, national and international leadership,” said Kevin Mackin, who celebrated a baccalaureate Mass with Cardinal Turkson.
Graduates also heard from student speakers. Siena’s Amanda Filippazzo, ‘12, delivered the senior commencement address. She reflected on transitioning to college life, making friends and connecting with professors who pushed her to become a better student and a stronger person.
“Those pivotal moments, however grand or small, have lasting effects,” she said. “They have shaped our character, our beliefs, our sense of humor and our views on the world. Siena has helped us transform into adults, and, through our experiences, we have gained a deeper understanding of ourselves. As we drive off of this campus today, we will be taking with us the knowledge we have learned. But also, we will take the memories and friendships that we have made. These have shaped us into who we are today.”
Siena 2012 class president Tara Keough also spoke. “Twenty-five years from now, most of you will not remember me speaking before you,” she said.
“Each and every one of us has created life-changing friendships and unforgettable memories that stretch far beyond the confines of our four years here,” she said. “While our journeys here at Siena have ended, our new expeditions into the world have just begun. But there is no doubt in my mind, that each and every member from the class of 2012 will never forget to bring Siena along with them.”
Siena’s graduation class was lauded this year for raising a record amount of money as its class gift. Seniors raised almost $16,000, exceeding a goal of $10,000, to dedicate a lounge in the new academic building. The building will house the rapidly expanding departments of education, social work and sociology, and will also include areas for students and professors to collaborate outside of the classroom. Siena plans to break ground on the new building this summer.
At SBU’s graduation, MBA candidate Brian Michel was the student speaker. He recalled wondering how he might be able to change the world for the better when he came to college.
“But the reality is, it’s the Bonaventure community that changes you,” Michel said. “We’ve gone from being followers to leaders, from being thinkers to being innovators, from being good to being great.”
— Wendy Healy, a freelance writer based in Connecticut, is the author of Life is Too Short: Stories of Transformation and Renewal after 9/11.