Class of ’24: Commencement Speakers Range From ‘The Chosen’ Actor to Cardinals

Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie, Cardinal Stephen Chow of Hong Kong, Harrison Butker of the Kansas City Chiefs, and Father Mike Schmitz will address the Class of 2024.

Clockwise, from top left: Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie, Cardinal Stephen Chow of Hong Kong, Harrison Butker of the Kansas City Chiefs, and Father Mike Schmitz of Duluth, Minnesota, will address the Class of 2024.
Clockwise, from top left: Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie, Cardinal Stephen Chow of Hong Kong, Harrison Butker of the Kansas City Chiefs, and Father Mike Schmitz of Duluth, Minnesota, will address the Class of 2024. (photo: Shane Anthony Sinclair/Getty Images, Edward Pentin/National Catholic Register; courtesy of Benedictine College and FOCUS)

Commencement ceremonies will soon be underway at the nation’s Catholic colleges and universities, many of which are annually highlighted in the Register’s “Catholic Identity College Guide.”

Notable speakers include Cardinal Stephen Chow at Boston College on May 20 and Father Mike Schmitz, of The Bible in a Year and The Catechism in a Year podcasts, who serves as chaplain at the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Newman Center, who will speak to Ave Maria University’s Class of 2024 on May 4. In an April 10 Instagram video, Father Schmitz greeted the graduates he will soon address: “I will see you at graduation in the beginning of May. God bless till then.”

In the nation’s capital, The Catholic University of America (CUA), the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States, announced that Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie, the star of The Chosen, will deliver the commencement address on May 11.

Catholic University boasts 529 graduates for its spring semester. Roumie was selected to address the graduating class, CUA President Peter Kilpatrick said in a press release, because the actor “exemplifies the importance of struggle and practicing your faith in the workplace. … In his work we see him expressing his own faith, and it’s making an impact. Countless people have had their lives changed for the better by Jonathan through his portrayal of Jesus Christ.”

Elsewhere, at the University of Notre Dame, Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, the university’s outgoing president, will be the principal speaker at the May 19 commencement.

Across the nation, the Class of 2024 is comprised of an impressive group of young men and women, Kevin Murphy of the Cardinal Newman Society told the Register, and their numbers are growing at colleges with strong Catholic identity.

Murphy said, “I love what I’m seeing. Enrollment is growing in colleges where Christ is incorporated into all subjects and there is ready availability of Mass, confessions and spiritual direction.”

Among the colleges experiencing noteworthy growth is Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, which will see 483 seniors graduate on May 11, with Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker, an outspoken pro-life Catholic, delivering the keynote address. Stephen Minnis, Benedictine’s president, will also address the graduating class. Minnis told the Register that he planned to congratulate the graduates for their “perseverance through the crisis” of the 2020 pandemic restrictions. “I’m proud of them,” Minnis said.

“It is truly an honor to be asked to give the commencement address at Benedictine,” Butker told the Register. “When I was reminded by President Minnis that this class missed out on so many important milestones during their senior year of high school, I just couldn’t say No. I’m eager to give a powerful and truth-filled speech that I pray, if it’s God’s will, will be remembered by them for a lifetime.”

Sarah Rodriguez is among Benedictine’s graduates. An architecture major who is going on to a job at an architectural firm in Atlanta, she refers to her time at Benedictine as “transformative: I wouldn’t be the person I am without my time here.”

She said Benedictine offers its students an “authentically Catholic” environment, with staff committed to “shaping truly well-rounded individuals” who will favorably “transform the culture of America.”

Levi Streit is another Benedictine graduate who is a biology major going on to medical school. He appreciates the many opportunities he has had to grow in his faith on campus, with daily Mass and access to the sacraments, and opportunities for service, such as going on mission trips.

Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, will see 127 seniors graduate from its 45th class when it holds its commencement ceremonies May 10-11.

Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, where the college is located, will celebrate a baccalaureate Mass for graduates and families, the second of two annual visits he makes to the campus. Professor Tracey Rowland, the St. John Paul II Chair of Theology for the University of Notre Dame in Australia, will deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters. Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services and president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, will also be on hand to receive the college’s Pro Deo et Patria Award.

Amanda Graf, acting executive vice president at Christendom, also lauded the Class of 2024 for its COVID-19 restriction resiliency and noted that the cohort had “shown a tremendous amount of joy, creativity, intellectual curiosity and academic ability. They have grown into a tight-knit class, finding ways to encourage each other’s growth in the academics, sports, clubs and the spiritual life.”

Zach Smith, Christendom’s director of communications, said the school has offered students an important Catholic formation that will lead them to future success: “Here, students are able to learn the truth, live the faith and thrive as Catholics.”

Personal Growth

Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) will graduate 108 students: 78 at its Santa Paula, California, campus May 11; and 30 at its relatively new Northfield, Massachusetts, campus May 18.

O. Carter Snead, a University of Notre Dame professor of law, will serve as keynote speaker, and Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Slawomir Szkredka will celebrate the baccalaureate Mass in California; Cardinal Raymond Burke will offer the baccalaureate Mass and serve as keynote speaker in Massachusetts.

Stephen Shivone, assistant dean for student affairs on the New England campus, praised TAC’s Class of 2024, noting that “they have been marked by the extraordinary dedication and lively seriousness with which they have pursued the intellectual life laid out by our program. I don’t think they’ve ever had a dull discussion or quiet class. Like this campus’ first two graduating classes, they have courageously pioneered the founding of this campus and have worthily perpetuated the life and traditions they have inherited.” Senior Andrew Grumbine, student speaker for the California class, observed, “I’m leaving TAC more confident, more selfless, more charitable and more understanding — in short, happier — than I was before. That’s not a coincidence; rather, I’d say that being so surrounded by truth, goodness and beauty in the academic program and the people here is a major reason for that change. How could it not be?”

Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee, is among the smaller Catholic colleges, graduating 10 as it holds its baccalaureate Mass, celebrated by Nashville Bishop Mark Spalding, and commencement on May 2. Five are undergraduates and five are master’s students; five are Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, and five are lay students.

All five sisters and three of the lay students will use their degrees to teach. Additionally, eight seminarians from the Diocese of Nashville have completed the school’s one-year Certificate in Propaedeutic Studies program. Dominican Sister Cecilia Anne Wanner, Aquinas’ president, referred to the graduates as “exemplars of dedication and excellence” and celebrated their “commitment to teacher education, spending countless hours in classrooms, developing their professional skills and inspiring both educators and students alike. Their strong sense of community, characterized by shared prayer, fellowship and mutual support, serves as a testament to the transformative bonds forged during these past few years of study.”

Among the graduates is Dominican Sister Laura Immaculata Clarke, who is looking forward to teaching.

“The subject we teach, our successes, and even our students’ successes are not the goal,” she said. “Relationship with Christ is our goal, and so we are prepared to teach Christ, formed to witness to Christ and brought to deep encounter with Christ during our time at Aquinas.”

Record Graduation Class

Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio will graduate its largest-ever class of 896. Its commencement ceremonies will be May 10-11, with Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, celebrating a baccalaureate Mass and being honored for his work as an evangelist and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito serving as the keynote speaker.

Ann Dulany, Franciscan’s dean of academic advising, praised the Class of 2024 as one of diverse talents, comprised of graduates who “love the Lord, seek to grow in their faith and want to make a difference in the world and the Church.”

Among those in the student body are religious; she specifically pointed to a relationship with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which brought many of their young sisters to campus to study for teaching careers, and highlighted upcoming projects, which will include facilities for training in evangelization, a renovation of the chapel to increase its size, and the launching of a Ph.D. program in theology and a master’s program in criminal justice.

Stefan Fiandeiro of San Jose, California, has “loved” his time at Franciscan, “where everyone not only knows you but actually wants to see you succeed. I’ve developed a unique relationship with many of the professors I’ve had over the years because of their availability and their desire to mentor.”

The spiritual formation offered “has built me into the man that I am today,” he reported, citing the ready availability of Mass and confession, perpetual adoration and being surrounded by a group of like-minded “brothers,” adding, “I also cannot understate how important it is to be surrounded by a few thousand other young people completely in love with their faith and desiring to succeed in life not just in a worldly sense, but in an eternal sense, as well.” He plans to attend the Pennsylvania Police Academy and pursue a career in law enforcement.

Mary Therese Druffner is graduating from Franciscan with a major in theology and plans to work in the Minneapolis area, where she is from, in youth ministry; she is eager to work with teens “to introduce them to who Christ is and what true Christianity is.”

“I’ve particularly enjoyed my study of Scripture and its relationship with Church Tradition,” she said of her college years.

She, too, is grateful for the opportunity she had to nourish her spiritual life with regular Mass and confession, as well as participation in perpetual adoration.

At Wyoming Catholic College, commencement Mass and exercises will be held May 12-13, with Bishop Robert Pipta of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma as commencement speaker. In addition, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts will host Carl Anderson, former Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, as the commencement speaker on May 18.

Many of the students expressed their gratitude for their time in college.

Catherine Schmidt, a Christendom College graduate, noted that her years in college were life-changing: “I have cultivated friendships that are founded upon a relationship with Christ, developed a love for the truth and the ability to articulate it well, and received mentorship in how to apply abstract truths into practical, everyday life. Learning at Christendom College has equipped me well to bring Christ to the world.”