Inspiration, History and Emotion Mark Commencement Ceremonies at St. Bonaventure University, Siena College

Stephen Mangione In the Headlines

Commencement exercises at the two Province-sponsored collegiate institutions were held this month.  Highlights of the ceremonies at St. Bonaventure University and Siena College ranged from a Franciscan friar being recognized for his longtime efforts in peace and human rights, to featured speakers that included the executive of a global courier, a fourth generation descendant of a university president, and a death row inmate who was freed after 30 years of wrongful incarceration.

Joe Nangle receives an honorary doctorate from his alma mater. (Photo courtesy of SBU)

At Sunday’s 159th commencement of St. Bonaventure University, held at the Reilly Center Arena on the campus in Western New York, Joseph Nangle, OFM, a member of the class of 1954, was among a trio of individuals who received honorary doctorate degrees.

The other recipients were Dick Kearns – a 1972 graduate, former member of the university’s board of trustees, and longtime benefactor who, along with his wife Maureen, sponsors the annual Kearns Global Business Lecture Series – and Anthony Ray Hinton, the keynote speaker who had addressed the graduating class when they were freshmen in 2015, just seven months after his release from an Alabama prison where he spent three decades on death row before being exonerated.

“I could name dozens of friars who could have been honored instead of me, but it was a privilege to receive this honorary doctorate alongside Anthony Ray Hinton. Bringing him back to deliver the commencement address was a powerful and deliberate statement made by Bonaventure,” said Joe, who serves as secretary and treasurer for the board of directors of Franciscan Action Network, and who spent 15 years as a foreign missionary in Bolivia and Peru.

On Saturday, Joe was the celebrant and homilist at the Baccalaureate Mass attended by graduates and their families. Dan Horan, OFM, who was originally scheduled for the Mass, relinquished the responsibility to Joe since he was being honored at the commencement.

“That says a lot about Dan, that he would step aside for me. His humility epitomizes St. Francis and Franciscan values,” said Joe, a Province regional vocation director who lives at Clare House in Washington, D.C., where he also serves as an associate pastor for Hispanic ministry at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Arlington, Va.

During his homily at the Baccalaureate Mass, Joe referenced a new book titled “The Second Mountain,” which he said speaks directly to the graduates in the new chapter of their journey. “The first mountain has worthwhile pursuits of people in your position – careers, prominence, success, personal happiness, financial comfort, a nice house and vacations,” said Joe, noting that these pursuits are sometimes achieved by compromising values and principles.

“But a second mountain opens a deeper journey, shifting emphasis from self to others and increasing concern for the less fortunate and those who society tends to discard,” Joe continued. “St. Francis journeyed up both mountains. His final prayerful words to his followers particularly apply to you on this special occasion of your graduation: ‘I have done what was mine to do, may you do what is yours.”

A Meaningful Return
Hinton’s return as keynote speaker completed what he started four years ago.

Keynote speaker Anthony Ray Hinton,  who spent three decades on death row before being exonerated. (Photo courtesy of SBU)

“When I spoke to you as freshmen, I told you I believed in you. Four years later, here I am,” said Hinton, one of the longest-serving exonerated death row inmates in Alabama history.

“It is your time to change the world for the better, to do what my generation could not. You are the generation I have been waiting for,” said Hinton, who serves as a community educator for the Equal Justice Initiative, traveling nationally and abroad speaking about his experience and advocating for prison reform.

Hinton spent three decades in prison for two capital murders despite having an alibi and passing a lie-detector test. The bullets used in the crimes didn’t match the gun taken from his mother’s house. After EJI’s intervention in 1999, followed by 12 years of litigation, he was granted a new trial and ultimately acquitted of the crimes.

Hinton’s first campus visit was part of the 2015-16 All Bonaventure Reads program to promote a book titled “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson.

SBU President Dennis DePerro at Sunday’s commencement exercises. (Photo courtesy of SBU)

His message of forgiveness and redemption left such an impression when they were freshmen, that graduating seniors Soquania Henry and Brianna McKnight led a petition asking the university’s honorary degree committee and President Dennis DePerro to consider Hinton as the commencement speaker.

Henry was given the honor of reading the citation to nominate Hinton for his honorary degree, calling him the “inspirational bookends of our journey at St. Bonaventure University.”

In his address to the more than 620 undergraduate and graduate students, Hinton said, “The time will come for each of you to go out and make a difference. You cannot blame mom and dad, professors, or society. You will have no excuse. It is time to make plans to enhance your life and the lives of others.”

Flavia Pietrobattista’s delivery of the student address had deep historical significance. The international studies major from Magliano de’ Marsi, Italy, is the great-great-great-great-niece of Fr. Pamphilo da Magliano, the university’s first president (1858 to 1867). She visited the campus for the first time in 2008 when her family was invited to the university’s 150th anniversary celebration.

Surprises at Siena College
In addition to more than 850 undergraduate and graduate students receiving diplomas, two surprises were among the highlights of the May 12 Siena College Commencement – one that came by UPS special delivery, and the other courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

UPS makes a surprise delivery at the Siena commencement. (Photo courtesy of Siena College)

Keynote speaker Kate Gutmann, a Siena graduate (class of 1990) who serves as chief sales and solutions officer and senior vice president of The UPS Store, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters, which was uniquely – and appropriately – delivered to the stage by an employee clad in the courier giant’s trademark brown uniform. Siena president F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, signed for the package.

Toward the end of the ceremony, as graduate Kelsey Wasson walked across the stage to accept her diploma, there may not have been a dry eye in the Times Union Center, the arena in downtown Albany where the commencement was held. Wasson was overcome with emotion when she was greeted by fiancé Jonathan Himpsil, a senior airman with the U.S. Air Force, whom she thought wasn’t able to get leave to attend her graduation.

Emma McDonald delivered the student address, telling fellow graduates that they face every challenge together through the bond of Siena College.

The theme of unity echoed throughout the commencement ceremony, from the words of John Murray, chairman of the board of trustees – who praised the faculty and Franciscan community as a “blessing” at Siena and told the graduates they will move on together in their collective journey – to a video collage of students describing how the Siena experience impacted their lives.

In her keynote, Gutmann made it clear that her personal and career achievements were largely the result of her Siena education and experience. The Troy, New York, native’s ascent at UPS – the only company where she has ever been employed – began in 1989 when she took a marketing internship at its Albany offices during her senior year of studies for a bachelor’s degree in marketing at Siena. She is now responsible for global sales, solutions and customer engagement strategies.

Gutmann encouraged the graduating class to embrace opportunities and to always keep integrity and inclusion at the forefront of their lives.

“Say ‘yes’ to opportunity, despite the unknowns. You’re going to fail, but just don’t give up. Connect to global issues – and your runway will span your whole career,” Gutmann said. “Live a life of integrity, and always value diversity and inclusion. The world has endless opportunities for you. Forge your path and create your legacy. In the end, whether you know it now or learn it later, faith, family and friends are what matter most, so cherish them all.”

 – Stephen Mangione is a long-time public relations executive and frequent contributor to HNP Today.


Editor’s note: photos and videos of the commencements can be found on the websites of Siena College and St. Bonaventure University.