On Saturday, May 13, Emmanuel College awarded degrees to more than 550 undergraduate and graduate students during the College's 95th Commencement Exercises. According to William Leonard, Ph.D., Emmanuel's Vice President of Academic Affairs, the College has conferred degrees on nearly 24,000 individuals since 1923.
At the ceremony, speakers congratulated the graduates on their achievements while also calling on members of the Class of 2017 to serve their communities and work for a greater good. This message was central to the remarks given by Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient Rosanne Haggerty, M.A., President and Chief Executive Officer of Community Solutions, a New York-based organization dedicated to ending homelessness, strengthening communities and fighting poverty.
Emmanuel's other honorary degree recipients were also praised for their dedication to helping others and for their professional achievements. At the event, the College conferred an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree on Wayne A. Budd, Esq., Senior Counsel at Goodwin Procter LLP, and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree on Elaine El-Khawas, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of Education Policy at George Washington University and long-serving member of the Emmanuel College Board of Trustees.
Recognizing faculty achievements and service to the College
During Commencement, four members of the Emmanuel College faculty were recognized for their achievements and service. Raymond Devettere, Ph.D., was awarded Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Philosophy status in recognition of his 48 years of distinguished service. In recognition of her 43 years of service to Emmanuel, Bette Weiss, Ph.D., was awarded Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biology.
In addition, Christine Leighton, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Education, received the 2017 Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award, and Sister Karen Hokanson, SND, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Education, received the 2017 Faculty Excellence in Service Award.
"How can I be of service?"
Addressing the graduates, Emmanuel College President Sister Janet Eisner, SND, said "Today, we send you forth to continue to be leaders and people of conscience, of compassion and of action, committed to shaping a world of justice and peace for all." This message of service was echoed in remarks given by two student speakers from the Class of 2017. Representing Graduate and Professional Programs, Staisha Monique Stephens-Brown said that for her and her fellow graduates "getting paid is not enough." She called on her classmates to "chase your mission" and always ask "How can I be of service?"
Arts and Sciences student speaker Mary Katherine Roffey also spoke of service. Calling Emmanuel "a school with a special mission," she talked of how the College emphasizes community service and ethics, and she praised her classmates for "going all in" to help others.
"Take ownership of what happens here"
For Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient Rosanne Haggerty, the importance of service was learned at a young age. In her talk, she recalled how her parents would take her to Mass in her hometown of Hartford, Connecticut, at a church largely attended by low-income elderly and disabled individuals. Her parents, she said, would bring food to these people, help them with government paperwork and healthcare issues and even invite them to their home for holidays.
As an adult, when Haggerty began working on the problem of homelessness in New York City, she drew on the lessons she learned from her parents. "Having watched my parents take ownership of the problem of elderly poor people in our community, I developed a plan to buy the Times Square Hotel and transform it," she said. The building, she said, contained many small apartments housing low-income residents of the area, but it was in disrepair and in danger of being condemned. Her plan was to not only renovate the building but to tackle the problem of chronic homelessness by including onsite management, social workers and healthcare professionals, job training and other supports.
The plan worked. "With stable housing, our tenants built lives that were stable and they didn't become homeless again," Haggerty reported. "Their health and mental health improved, and we were able to do all this at a fraction of the cost of allowing people to remain homeless, going in and out of hospitals and shelters." She said that the model began to influence policy locally and nationally and led to her organization buying more buildings and helping more people.
At the same time her group was gaining attention for its success, Haggerty said that overall homeless rates were actually rising. Confronted with this challenge, she and her colleagues turned "our way of working on its head" and "made it our job to assist the people living on the street to move into a home-cutting the bureaucracies and barriers." With this new focus, her organization reduced street homelessness in the middle of Manhattan by over 80% in four years. And, with insights learned from their new approach, Haggerty and her colleagues successfully trained workers at related organizations around the country and around the world. "In the last seven years," she reports, "communities in this movement have matched more than 175,000 chronically homeless people and homeless veterans with homes. Eight communities have ended chronic or veteran homelessness all together with many more getting close to that milestone."
According to Haggerty, the concept of "ownership" is central her group's success. With this in mind, she called on Emmanuel's Class of 2017 to simply "take ownership of what happens here." She explained that "to 'take ownership of what happens here' means you see things that are broken and urgently need fixing; that you move toward the problem even if you don't know what to do and trust that you will discover what you need to do."
Haggerty expressed confidence that Emmanuel's graduates would be up to the task: "Through your coursework, your activities, and perhaps most of all, your commitment to service rooted deeply in the social teaching of the Catholic Church and the values of Emmanuel, you have been prepared to be ownership kind of people...You will be the ones in your workplaces and communities who will see things that can be better, who will notice people who need help, who will be the problem solvers. You will model what taking ownership looks like and inspire others to be ownership kind of people themselves."