Benedictine College Alumnae, Writer and Engineer, Applaud Butker Graduation Speech

Two young women, including one who works in the STEM field part time from home, weigh in.

Motherhood is a blessing and the gift of the vocation of marriage.
Motherhood is a blessing and the gift of the vocation of marriage. (photo: Shutterstock)

During a catch-up with a friend, another female graduate of Benedictine College, my fellow alumna expressed her shock at my decision, when I was expecting my first child, that I would not be returning to work after his birth. 

“I just never would have thought you wouldn’t work, since you’re so ambitious,” she said.

Her response caught me off guard. True, I had many career and education aspirations up to the time I got married and became pregnant. I challenged myself intellectually and attained skills and aptitudes that would have benefited my potential employers and brought about financial benefits, including interning at the Register. But those goals had certainly shifted alongside my vocation. I can still be ambitious as a mother, but the goalposts have completely changed. 

While my ambitions seem to have narrowed to the outside eye, in reality, they grew exponentially. Instead of seeing myself through the perspective of what I will accomplish by society’s standards, I see my impact through what my children will attain and realize: not in the eyes of the world, but in the eyes of Our Lord — how deeply they will love, how they can reflect his wisdom, and how they can call others into a deeper relationship with him through the examples they set. The demands on my life are so much stronger and more important because they will result in eternal realities, not temporary ones.

A life lived in sacrifice and service to others will be the most joyful, as well as the most fulfilling, I believe.

Harrison Butker’s recent commencement address celebrated a large, overlooked and essential group of women, many of whom got college degrees and worked in the public sector — women whose purpose, desire and vocation put those degrees and accomplishments in the service of their families. 

Wives, mothers and homemakers should not be ridiculed for placing their focus and aim on their family’s needs rather than society’s demands. Is our worth attached solely to the dollars we can put in our bank account? Not all rewards are visible, and women who have made the decision (often a difficult one) to stay home appreciate the seeds they are sowing and have great hope they will bear great fruit. 

Child adoration
Catholic moms teach their children the faith through witness and prayer, including bringing them to adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.(Photo: Unsplash)

I agree wholeheartedly with Butker’s invitation to the graduating Class of 2024 to use their talents and treasures to the benefit of Christ’s kingdom. “Each of you has the potential to leave a legacy that transcends yourselves and this era of human existence. In small ways, by living out your vocation, you will ensure that God’s Church continues and the world is enlightened by your example,” he said

Each of the graduates, as well as each of us, have unique and singular vocations, but all can be used to glorify God and reveal our Catholic identities. Before our educations, marriages, babies and careers, we are each a daughter of God, and that is where our worth lies. We can honor that gift by embracing his individual calls for us. 

As Butker said in his address, “Our Catholic faith has always been countercultural.” 

Butker, while celebrating his own wife’s decision and sacrifices, credits her for their shared success and recognizes how she made sacrifices to stay home with their children and be a homemaker; he thanks her for her gifts. However, internet trolls are not alone in their scathing reviews of his comments. He celebrates his wife’s decision in order to encourage the female graduates, not to overlook the merits of wifehood and homemaking, and he is vilified for it, not only by the media but by many people in the Church as well. He encouraged us not to be afraid to celebrate and embrace our desire to put our family before our career. We don’t accept the lie that we need a career to be fulfilled. It’s a beautiful gift to embrace our calling to uphold our family in whatever way we can. But it’s treated as an egregious wrong to celebrate and encourage those women in that pursuit, instead of telling them they need to use their degrees and have impressive careers to justify the time and funds spent on attaining their education.

Many people, publications and organizations will applaud a woman for attaining professional success and financial wealth, but one man’s celebration of women who forego those advantages to follow their vocations in the home causes public outcry.

As a Benedictine graduate who was more excited about my marriage and the children I would bring into the world than the professional career I had prepared for, it was incredibly refreshing to have a commencement speaker acknowledge that reality and validate those desires rather than disparage them. My experience at Benedictine, while fully preparing me to succeed in the workforce with the skills and knowledge necessary, also helped prepare me to become a better person, a more faithful person, and a more discerning person. Many professors were incredibly supportive and encouraging of all vocations and in a way that did not at all diminish them. Unlike many in today’s mainstream collective, they saw our futures as more than just careers, but as full and happy lives. 

Juliana Martin, Class of 2020, had a similar experience.

“Math and science classes were always my favorite classes, so when it came time to pick a college, I kept an eye on engineering programs. I immediately fell in love with Benedictine.” 

As a female engineering student, Martin was never discouraged, by family or faculty, in her pursuit of a career in the STEM field. “The small class sizes [in Benedictine’s engineering department] allowed me to really connect with the professors and stop by their offices. I never felt like I was treated any differently than any man in the department.”

Martin made her transition into the workforce in 2020. She began working as an engineer in the public sector. During the chaos of COVID, she worked from home for a year and a half, before transitioning back to working in the office. “I loved my job, I liked working for the state, and when I got pregnant, things changed quickly.” Over an hour a day was spent commuting, so her family moved closer to her office to maximize their time together, she shared. After about three years of working in her field, Martin had her second daughter in the late summer. Her office had reinstated a policy allowing infants to stay with their mothers up to 6 months old. “That was time I never got with my firstborn. I am so grateful for that policy.” This benefit was an enormous relief to Martin, whose daycare drop-offs with her firstborn had left both mother and child in tears. 

After working alongside her young daughter for six months, Martin reassessed.

“During the work week, I was not my best self. I was tired and grumpy after being at work. It was so hard to do both. I do think you can do both things, but I didn’t want to. I told my work that I couldn’t keep doing it, expecting to quit, only for them to tell me that they would be okay with me switching to part-time remote work and being at home full time. I get to be a full-time mom while doing engineering on the side, so I’m really living the dream. Hopefully, our world is starting to want women to have it all. This way, I get to keep helping support my family and raise my children without daycare.”

While Martin is thankful for her work and professional career, she says that her identity does not rely on it. “I love and enjoy it, but at the end of the day, I’m living for God and family.” 

And she’s able to bring her faith into her work by praying for those who will use the roads and bridges she helps to design. “There’s a whole world outside of my computer that I’m affecting,” she said. In addition, her department receives a daily email record of all accidents in the state, and Martin makes sure to say a prayer for everyone on the list.

Martin finds joy in using her skills to glorify God, while acknowledging it’s a completely different experience teaching her children how to glorify and love God. “Being a mom is way harder than being an engineer. Way harder. It is also infinitely more beautiful in my eyes,” she shared.

Martin thanks God even for the thankless days because she sees God working in her life more clearly through her vocation. “As moms, we truly have the power to shape the world because it all begins in the home.”

The controversy revolving around Butker’s commencement address has prompted Martin to reflect more on the gift of her vocation as a wife and mother and her duty as a homemaker. 

“Butker is getting a lot of backlash, but I think it could be solved if people understood and appreciated the dignity of motherhood and the importance of being a homemaker. Break it down: Make your home. You are the one to bring truth, beauty and goodness into your home, to make a wonderful place for your children to grow up. It’s so much more than the aesthetic. The kind of environment you foster is going to dictate who your children grow up to be and the dreams they aspire to.”

Unlike many of Butker’s critics, Martin believes that he understands and appreciates the importance of following this domestic vocation. “The respect and admiration he has for his wife moves him to tears. He is in awe of her, and it’s so beautiful. It’s a beautiful example of how he does appreciate the dignity of motherhood and the dignity of being a homemaker. It shows the women that even if that’s not what they desire, there is so much good in being a wife and mom and homemaker. To be noticed in that way and called out is really moving.”

In defense of Butker, Martin continued, “I feel like it’s noteworthy that he says many [female graduates] will go on to successful careers. We need all kinds of saints, but we shouldn’t overlook that — even if you are called to work, your highest call is in service to your family.”

This post was updated after posting to clarify: Women made up almost 25% of the engineering graduation class at Benedictine College in 2020, at about the national average for the percentage of female engineering degrees granted that year, according to Scott Blonigen, Ph.D., P.E., associate professor of engineering.