Hillsborough, New Jersey resident chosen to deliver Fairfield University's undergraduate valedictory address


Image: Colleen GibsonSelected to deliver the valedictory address at Fairfield University's commencement, Colleen Gibson of Hillsborough, N.J., talked about a life-changing service trip to a small village in the Philippines and how it changed the way she saw herself in the world.

Poverty was rampant there, Gibson said, but so was hope. "These people, despite all of their hardships, had an unspeakable joy in their lives, a joy that shone through in their love for others," she told the 940 graduating seniors. "The spirit of these people spoke to my heart, reminding me that life is meant to be cherished with joy, love, and unity no matter where you are."

Gibson, a Hillsborough, New Jersey resident who double majored in American Studies and Religious Studies, urged her fellow graduates to find such fulfillment in their lives. "By allowing the flame of your passions to come through in the person that you are, others will be compelled to do the same," she said. "Whatever it is that brings you joy, embrace it and share it. For if my time at Fairfield has taught me anything, it is that passion is contagious."

Service trips to Australia and New Orleans, like so many other formative experiences and classroom lessons at Fairfield, gave shape to Gibson's realization that her life's calling is rooted in social justice. "Once you know something, once you've opened your life to the possibility of learning, there is no going back," she said in her address. "You cannot forget injustice; once you have come face-to-face with it, you must bear the burden of an education. We must live with our knowledge of the realities of this world and, even more, we must handle the burden of the knowledge that we have the ability to do something about it."

Service was a major part of Gibson's undergraduate years, and she was awarded for it with the William J. Kramer '60 Humanitarian Award. It recognizes one senior and is based solely on the senior's commitment to volunteerism and service to an external community activity that best exemplifies the Ignatian tradition of being men and women for others.

Gibson participated in international service trips through the University's Magis Program. A volunteer at the Thomas Merton Family Center in Bridgeport, she was very active with Fairfield's Campus Ministry and was a KAIROS retreat leader. She was a member of Ignatian Solidarity Corps, a student leader for the University's "Amazing Break" trip to Washington, D.C., and a participant on spring break service trips to Bridgeport and New Orleans. Her Fairfield years were also busy serving as a First Year Experience facilitator, an Ignatian Residential College mentor, a Hunger Clean-Up board member and as a captain of the women's rugby team.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on June 11, 2009

Vol. 41, No. 359

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