WASHINGTON (CNS) — Speakers at commencement exercises at U.S. Catholic colleges and universities this year ranged from musician and composer Harry Connick Jr. and actor of stage and screen Mahershala Ali to cardinals and bishops and a former college president.
As commencement speaker at Loyola University New Orleans May 20, Connick both regaled crowds and drew upon his multifaceted career and his Catholic upbringing as he shared advice for a meaningful and successful life beyond graduation.
“If you work and pay attention to the smallest details of your work, your relationships, your faith, you’ll find that over time, you will have created a lot of great things — things of worth, things of substance and quality,” he told the graduates.
Connick, a native son of New Orleans, received an honorary doctorate of music from Loyola.
In his commencement address he cited the philosophies of Pope Francis, the Jesuits and St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. With self-deprecating humor, he also drew upon his career as a musician, actor and entertainer, referencing family life, his upbringing in the Crescent City and past work on the film “Dolphin Tale” and TV shows “Will and Grace” and “American Idol.”
His philanthropy work includes his efforts on Musicians’ Village in the city’s Ninth Ward, the hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He founded the village with fellow New Orleans native and musician Branford Marsalis in the aftermath of the storm.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, addressed graduates of Vincentian-run St. John’s University May 22.
He spoke about the immigration issue in the United States. The bishop also received the President’s Medal, the university’s highest honor, during the ceremony on the campus in the borough of Queens.
“I find the topic of immigration to be truly important to the church and to the world,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “This topic is very appropriate here at St. John’s because you have a very high percentage of immigrants and children of immigrants here and you’re in Queens, N.Y., one of the most ethnically diverse counties in the United States.
“The immigrants of our diocese seem to live in harmony much like the situation here on this campus,” he continued. “St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Vincentian (order), has educated you with a special mission to serve the poor and the downcast. You are our educated future leaders and it is our hope that you can make the same choice (as St. Vincent) as you leave St. John’s.”
Across the country at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, graduates heard from alum Mahershala Ali, who currently stars in the award-winning Netflix original series “House of Cards.” His other roles have included playing the head of security in last fall’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2.”
He offered graduates advice about the power of perseverance, patience and prayer in their lives after college. He told them they would need all three to truly pursue their dreams.
“We are simply the culmination of our actions and the seeds of our actions are our thoughts,” Ali said May 21. “We have a responsibility to our spirit and I feed and clothe mine through prayer and meditation, cultivating a relationship with the divine source of guidance, the majestic dance of call and response.”
“You have the capacity to leave a lasting impact and indelible impression upon this world as evidenced by this day, your right of passage,” he told the graduates. “Claim the sacred spaces of your minds; nurture and cultivate a vision of fulfillment; and move toward that destiny with patience, perseverance, and prayer.”
In Atchison, Kansas, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan called on graduates at Benedictine College May 14 to “dream and dare” to make a difference in difficult circumstances.
“Four years ago you made a very significant choice,” he said. “You took a dream and a dare to entrust your future to a college that believes, contrary to the reigning ideology of our country, that faith and reason are hardly foes but allies, that allegiance to Jesus and his church actually liberates one for greatness.”
Cardinal Dolan, who received an honorary degree from the college, said he has seen the possibilities of a Benedictine College education in a student he met in a refugee camp in Iraq.
The camp was filled with “refugees your own age who had lost families and homes and careers and possessions — everything but their faith and that thirst for learning that gives them hope in a terrain blotched by international bullies, by bombs and blood,” he said. “And there is Josh Radick, your fellow alumnus, smack dab in the middle of all that.”
He called all the students to be like Josh, following “the call to greatness he sensed on this campus.”
In Ohio, Laura M. Meeks, the former president of Eastern Gateway Community College in Steubenville, delivered the keynote address at Franciscan University’s science commencement ceremony May 14. She also received an honorary doctorate of educational leadership for her work in higher education and her contributions to the local community.
“I’m going to make a case,” she said, “that this class is the most special class of Franciscan University.”
She noted that the class was graduating during the Year of Mercy and in the same year Blessed Teresa of Kolakata will be canonized (Sept. 4). Meeks referenced Pope Francis’ U.S. trip last September, as the students were in their last year of college.
Meeks also noted the March 27 death of Mother Angelica, foundress of the Eternal Word Television Network, whom she called a model of work and prayer.
“You must pray and put your life in God’s hand,” she said. “Your rock is Jesus. You know what Jesus would do, so I say do it.”
At the university’s arts commencement exercises, Paul M. “Mickey” Pohl, a former member of Franciscan University’s board of trustees, received an honorary doctorate of Christian ethics for his work defending religious freedom.
Pohl spoke at length about how religious freedom in the U.S. in being threatened. He leads a team of attorneys with the Jones Day law firm representing more than 50 Catholic organizations, including Franciscan University, in lawsuits against the federal contraceptive mandate.
“There is a war going on out there in which we are thrust whether we like it or not. There is a war being fought for your soul and there is a war being fought for the soul of our nation,” he said.
A day earlier Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley received an honorary doctorate of sacred theology during Franciscan University’s baccalaureate Mass.
In his homily, he spoke about Christ’s disciples as students, particularly St. Peter. He noted three questions that Christ asked in the Gospels and how it was like a final exam on his teachings: Who do you say that I am? Do you want to leave me, too? Do you love me?
Cardinal O’Malley encouraged graduates to use Peter’s answers: You are the Christ. To whom else should we go. Yes, Lord, you know that I do.
“The correct answers need to be on your heart as well as your lips,” he said. “Here at Franciscan University, you have such an extraordinary opportunity to deepen your life of faith hope and love.”
On May 15, Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl told Marymount University’s graduates that their generation faces great challenges to the idea that we are part of God’s plan and that there is an interaction and interconnectedness to what God asks of us and how we live out our lives.
“Jesus came to announce that he was going to make all things new but he was going to invite all of us to make that happen, that we wouldn’t just be passive bystanders,” he said during undergraduate commencement exercises at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington. The university is located in suburban Arlington, Virginia.
“Never give up the hope, never give up the vision, never give up the dream you can make this a better world,” Cardinal Wuerl said.