On Saturday, May 14, Saint Joseph’s College held its 103rd Commencement on its Standish campus located along the shores of Sebago Lake. The College was proud to confer degrees to members of the Class of 2016, a multigenerational and multicultural group of over 700 campus and online students from 42 states and three countries outside the US.
“While all commencements are special, this year’s is made even more special because it is happening during the Jubilee Year of Mercy as proclaimed last spring by Pope Francis,” President Jim Dlugos said in his opening address. “Over the course of your time with us, each of you has had the opportunity to experience mercy, as exemplified by our core values, in the interactions you have had with our wonderful faculty and staff, with each other, and with the world beyond this campus.”
President Dlugos urged the graduates, “Be for the world a face of mercy.”
Honorary degree recipient and Commencement speaker Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian physician, internationally recognized human rights activist, and three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, echoed the president’s sentiments that graduates should consider it their first duty to carry forwards the compassion and mercy they’ve learned at the College. “We need to defend humanity, and understand that human beings and their freedom are the most important things in this universe,” said Dr. Abuelaish.
Touching upon his family’s own hardships, including the devastation of losing three daughters and a niece to the Gaza War, Dr. Abuelaish emphasized the power of education as a way forward out of conflict. He told the story of his daughter Shada: “She lost her mother in September 2008. Then, in January 2009, her three sisters and a cousin were killed and she was severely wounded. She lost sight in one eye and [her hand was injured]. But she said, ‘If I’ve lost the sight in one eye, I have my other. If I cannot write with my right hand, I have my left.’ Practice and education were her way out. In June 2015, she graduated from the University of Toronto. And that’s the message we want to give: hope, and not to be defeated or broken despite the challenges we all must meet.”
Dr. Abuelaish concluded his moving speech with words of empowerment. “Today, you are the graduates, and you are the next generation of leaders,” he said. “It is you who will have to come up with the ideas and solutions to the world’s challenges. Now it’s your turn.”
Along with Dr. Abuelaish, Anna Gould, a noted philanthropist and the co-founder of Camp Sunshine, and the College’s own Sister Mary Kneeland ’73 all received the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. Other special guests at the event included Bishop Robert P. Deeley, the 12th bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, members of the College’s Board of Trustees, and student speakers Michelle Stansfield, the class valedictorian, and Patricia Kearney Luvin, the online student representative.
As the valedictorian for the campus class, Stansfield, who hails from Berwick, Maine, gave a reflective address to her fellow classmates: “We’ve all had that moment in life when we know everything is about to change. We say goodbye to the old, sometimes tearfully, take a moment to gather ourselves, and then walk through the metaphorical (or literal) doors to the next stage of our lives. One thing that I have learned at Saint Joe’s is that change is not something that should be feared. So, it’s time to walk through those metaphorical doors. The future is bright.”
Luvin of Rockville Centre, New York, the online student representative, also encouraged her classmates to embrace the unknown. “Change often is chaotic. When we breathe, we bring God into the story. We bring love into the story. I learned God does best in chaos. The world was created out of chaos! I no longer pray chaos away.”
Luvin followed up this thought with a message of appreciation: “Today I am grateful to Saint Joseph’s, an example of hope in the love and guidance of our God, the value of the work we are called to do, and the value of family. Together, we can express our gratitude by living with joy and hope in the power of our presence in the world.”