Class of 2022 Sendoff

Catholic colleges and universities resume in-person graduation ceremonies

Clockwise from left: Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa addresses the Class of 2022 at Ave Maria University on May 7 during a prayerful commencement. Graduate Dawson Drummond received his Bachelor of Arts in marketing from Walsh University. He was also a tennis player in college.
Clockwise from left: Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa addresses the Class of 2022 at Ave Maria University on May 7 during a prayerful commencement. Graduate Dawson Drummond received his Bachelor of Arts in marketing from Walsh University. He was also a tennis player in college. (photo: Courtesy of Ave Maria University and Walsh University)

Catherine Schwenk is looking forward to receiving her politics degree when she graduates from the University of Dallas on May 15, but not to ending her undergraduate experience at the Irving, Texas, school. 

“I’m really excited to use my degree both in the professional world and to take the lessons I’ve learned here, the moral virtues I’ve built up here, and go use that to make things better,” said Schwenk, who is from Croton-on-Hudson, New York, ahead of commencement. “At the same time, I’m quite sad to leave.”

As her class’ valedictorian, Schwenk, who is 22, has the chance in a speech at commencement to say goodbye to her classmates and all who supported her during good times and through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It has just been so great to have people to uplift me in my faith: professors and students.”

Schwenk is among 540 University of Dallas students who are graduating this spring, along with thousands of others at U.S. Catholic colleges and universities whose college careers were disrupted by the pandemic. For some, it has been harder, but many have hope for a bright future.

Commencement ceremonies this year will be mostly in person and at campus locations, as pandemic restrictions have eased. Attending virtually will be an option, but not the only option, as in the recent past. 

A few schools that had to cancel 2020 graduation because of the coronavirus are inviting those graduates to attend special in-person commencement ceremonies and celebrations. 

Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, scheduled its 74th commencement exercises May 13-14, with more than 760 students. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco will preside at the Baccalaureate Mass and receive an honorary doctorate of Christian ethics. 

In a press release, the university referred to the archbishop as “a vigilant defender of the sacredness of human life,” noting that he “advocates for Eucharistic reverence to counter the culture of death.” Philosophy professor Peter Kreeft is to receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters and deliver the commencement address at both the science and arts ceremonies.

The Catholic University of America’s commencement on May 14 is the first on campus since 2019, according to Susan Gibbs, the university’s interim executive director of communications. While last year’s commencement was in person but off campus due to the pandemic, in 2020 graduates had a virtual commencement and were invited to an in-person event last fall at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, she said. 

Boško Bojovic is happy to graduate in person from Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina, on May 14, along with 254 other students, because he had to do a significant amount of his coursework online away from campus. 

Bojovic, 24, receiving a degree in marketing with a minor in business, had to return to his home in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, during the virus outbreak in 2020 and again in 2021. Not only did he miss in-person classes, but he couldn’t play basketball on the college’s team, for which he had been recruited.

The challenges have helped him grow in his faith, he told the Register. “Every time I’m going through some hard time, through some tough periods, I come back stronger, and I feel like I wouldn’t be able to do that by myself if it wasn’t for God,” said Bojovic, who has one more year of eligibility to play basketball and plans to pursue an MBA.

Commencement speakers who will offer inspiration to graduates this year range from cardinals, bishops and religious figures to national and international politicians, professors and a Grammy Award-winning soprano. 

Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, slated Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles as its commencement speaker on May 14.

“Bishop Barron’s work is exactly what we want to put in front of our students,” Benedictine President Stephen Minnis told the Register ahead of commencement. “We are asking our students to ‘Transform Culture in America,’ and this group of students is ready to do it, with God’s help. Bishop Barron’s ministry of telling the truth to the culture is a magnificent example, and we are so honored to have him.”

Minnis added, “We are also excited to honor the great work of Patrick Reilly, the founder of the Cardinal Newman Society, which has transformed Catholic higher education.” Reilly is set to receive an honorary degree.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is set to address graduates at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, on May 14, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to speak the following week at Georgetown University. 

The University of Notre Dame is welcoming as its May 15 commencement speaker Ukrainian Archbishop Borys Gudziak, the highest-ranking Ukrainian Catholic prelate in the United States and organizer and president of Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. On May 23 at Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, First Things editor R.R. “Rusty” Reno will take the podium. 

Commencement was planned for consecutive weekends in May for both campuses of Thomas Aquinas College. Carl Anderson, former Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, is to address graduates at the Santa Paula, California, campus. 

“Congratulations to the Class of 2022,” said Anderson in a press release. “I’m honored and excited to be joining you for this year’s commencement and celebrating with you your remarkable accomplishments.”

On May 7 at Ave Maria University in Florida, Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa received an honorary doctorate of humane letters. He also addressed the Class of 2022: “Ave Maria continues to be committed to teaching truth and a reasoned approach to finding it.”

Freedom of thought is present here, he added. “This is essential,” he continued. “You want to know things. People have an instinct to desire truth,” despite a culture that denies truth exists or says one can’t know it. 

“What do we do?” asked the EWTN Live host. Pursue truth throughout life, he advised.

“Also understand the moral task that you have to make yourself a better person in your relationship with God; having a sense of commitment to morality and the truth of right and wrong will serve you well.”

In conclusion, he spoke of hope. “Have hope that is in God, rooted in him, in his promise of eternal life. … That hope will not merely sustain you. As St. Paul said, in Romans 8, that hope will save us.”

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