Robert Gillis, a bagpiper from Old Orchard Beach, led 305 graduates at Saint Joseph's College as they marched across campus to enter the Harold Alfond Center, where Commencement was held at the Standish campus today at 10 a.m. As each graduate's name was called and each came to the stage, President Joe Lee shook their hand and gave them their diploma.
Honorary Degree recipients were author Janet Wallach of New York City - founding Board member and president emeritus at Seeds of Peace - and Cynthia Murray-Beliveau of Hallowell, Maine - activist and volunteer for her church, community, state and country. Wallach and Murray-Beliveau received honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees, and Wallach was the commencement speaker. Allison Zellers of Concord, N.H., valedictorian of the Class of 2010 also spoke, as did Pamela Thompson of Industry, Maine, on behalf of graduates of the online Graduate & Professional Studies program.
Wallach, the author of eight books, including five on the Middle East, spoke about her experiences with Seeds of Peace starting in 1993, when it was founded by her late husband, John. The organization sponsors year-round educational and leadership training program that bring outstanding teenagers from countries in conflict to a summer camp in Maine; it continues with follow-up workshops and seminars in the region. More than 4,000 teenagers have graduated from Seeds of Peace. The program focuses on Israelis and Arabs, and also brings together Indians and Pakistanis, and Afghans, as well as residents of the United States, including Maine.
The organization's former vice president, president and, currently, president emeritus, Wallach explained that when her husband started Seeds of Peace, he wanted people in conflict to know their enemy has a face. He believed that the cycle of violence could be stopped if both sides got to know one another, she said. During dialogue sessions at the summer camp in Otisfield, the teenagers (called Seeds) share a great deal about their lives and the hatred they've experienced.
Wallach quoted one Jordanian girl who walked out of a dialogue session one day at the summer camp and said, "What I've learned is that you've got to go to war with yourself before you can make peace with your enemy."
Wallach encouraged the Saint Joseph's graduates to "reach deep inside you, find your emotions, face your fears and reach out to people from all sides. Like our Seeds, you can build a better life for yourself and a stronger community to live in."
A former Trustee and capital campaign chair at Saint Joseph's, Murray-Believeau has volunteered with United Way of Kennebec Valley, Diocese of Portland, Bread of Life Ministries, Kennebec County Family Violence Project, and Food for the Poor. She is also a founder of the Maine Women's Lobby and will soon volunteer in Zambia on an educational project.
Murray-Beliveau told the graduates and their families, "You have the tools to go forward. You know what dedication means and you have the resources, most of them are right around you ... your friends, your teammates, your family. Because of what you learned here, you can now do anything. Go ahead. Create, dream, live, and most importantly, trust who you really are."
At an outdoor reception in the tent under rainy skies, the Bellamy Jazz Band played in the background while graduates and their families enjoyed many locally grown and hand-crafted menu items. And, in the spirit of a "green graduation," most paper and plastic goods were composted or recycled.
May 8, 2010 Contact: Charmaine Daniels at (207) 893-7723 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org