Emmanuel College celebrated its 94th Commencement Exercises on Saturday, May 14th, adding nearly 600 undergraduate and graduate students to the global network of Emmanuel alumni who are making their mark on the world. The pursuit of justice and the importance of practicing grace in these challenging times were the predominant themes expressed by Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient Reverend Liz Walker, veteran television journalist and current Pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church, and honorary degree recipient Patricia McGuire, the longtime President of Trinity Washington University.
Honoring dedicated staff and faculty
Several Emmanuel College staff and faculty members were recognized during Saturday's ceremony. Associate Professor of Chemistry Bryan Sears was given the 2016 Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award for his commitment to his discipline and for his dedication to his students' academic success.
Three longtime members of the faculty and staff who retired at the end of the 2015-2016 academic year were recognized for their collective 81 years at Emmanuel College: Dr. Susan von Daum Tholl, Director of Library Services, was recognized for her 19 years of dedicated service; Dr. Arlyn Sanchez Silva was awarded Associate Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages status in recognition of her 21 years of dedicated service; and Dr. Joel Kowit was awarded Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biology in recognition of his 41 years of dedicated and distinguished service. This marked the first time the College has bestowed Distinguished Professor Emeritus status.
"Start with 'why'"
Student speakers representing Graduate and Professional Programs and the Arts and Sciences also addressed the crowd of more than 3,000. Two-time Emmanuel graduate Regina Margaret Barr Davis (BSN '13 and MSN '16) encouraged students to be lifelong learners and to "strive for what you think you cannot do."
"Today is a day that no doubt holds more emotion than we can pin down," said psychology major Danielle Rose '16. Speaking to her fellow undergraduates, she encouraged them to continue forgoing the "what" in favor of the "why" in their actions, and expressed confidence that her classmates would go out and face the world with determination, courage and spirit.
"[Because] we are determined; we are courageous; we are spirited. And now, we are ready," Rose said.
"Practice grace; ultimately, it will save us all"
The College bestowed an honorary degree on Trinity Washington University President Patricia McGuire in recognition of her extraordinary leadership at the institutional for the past 27 years. As the head of another Sisters of Notre Dame-founded institution rooted in the charism of the Sisters, she compelled the Class of 2016 to continue living out St. Julie's mission by touching, teaching and transforming their communities through social justice.
"True justice is what we do for others," President McGuire said. "You need to know how to put the needs of others before your own."
She urged graduates to take the risk of demanding justice for others and to live as if peace and justice are possible wherever they find themselves.
In her address, Reverend Liz Walker called the present time "a kairos moment," a word from ancient Greece for "when the stars were lined up, and the universe was right and ripe for change."
"This is a wonderful time, an incredible time, to get out into the world," she said. "And yes, this is a time of great peril, but it is also a time of great opportunity...You have been educated, and you have everything you need to get out into the world."
Rev. Walker offered graduates a practical, real-world application of "grace"-a term with its foundation in the church. Grace is, by definition, "the unearned favor of God," or "divine forgiveness," she said, but argued that there is more to grace than forgiveness. She spoke of rush hour on the Jamaicaway, an historic roadway that runs through the nearby neighborhood of Jamaica Plain.
"Around nine o'clock in the morning, maybe starting at eight, and at four in the afternoon, maybe starting at three, it turns into the roadway from hell," Rev. Walker said. "Cars are going too fast, there's too much traffic, the road cannot hold all the people there. There's no light where my intersection is, so I am at the mercy of the traffic. And I can stand there-I can take off all my clothes-nobody will let me in. This is extraordinary to me. One in every 10 cars might stop and let you in, but unless there's a light nobody does it...Nobody wants to give anybody a break.
"That's my definition of grace," she said. "Give somebody a break. It costs you nothing. Just give somebody a break."
The minister of a small church in Roxbury since May 2014, her mission in working with gang-involved children is to practice grace by introducing the notion of forgiveness and developing an art of hospitality.
"We have to let them know we are all members of each other; we belong to each other regardless of race or social or economic status," she said.
Rev. Walker also spoke of the grace she experienced when she traveled to South Sudan in 2001 to report on allegations of slavery for WBZ-TV. After inadvertently stepping a bowl of grain a village woman had spent hours preparing, the woman was hospitable enough to later volunteer to carry Rev. Walker's luggage to the next village. A decade later, on one of her final trips to the country, she and her party lost their luggage. Women from the village brought pots of goat and okra to eat. Children brought sticks so they could brush their teeth. Men brought hand-hewn cots to sleep on, and young women brought brightly colored garments to wear.
"It dawned on me that we had come to save Africa, and Africa ended up saving us."
But the Class of 2016 needn't go to South Sudan to practice grace, Rev. Walker said, as there is reciprocity everywhere in the world, and what you put out comes back to you.
"Practice grace," she said. "Ultimately, it will save us all."