Fairfield University awards 902 diplomas at 64th annual commencement for undergraduates


On a gorgeous spring day, Fairfield University awarded diplomas to 902 undergraduate students at the 64th commencement exercise today. Commencement for students in graduate programs will take place this afternoon when 30 doctor of nursing practice degrees, 375 master's degrees, and 14 certificates of advanced study will be awarded. Attended by an estimated 7,000 family members, friends and campus community members, the morning ceremony at the Jesuit institution was an opportunity for Fairfield to continue its tradition of celebrating students and honorary degree recipients who are "men and women for others."

Image: 2014 CommencementIt seemed fitting then that the keynote speaker was an individual who has a profound commitment to her faith and values Ignatian spirituality: Sharon M.K. Kugler, University Chaplain to Yale University, and the first woman, first layperson and first Roman Catholic to hold this position at Yale.

Speaking on the Bellarmine Hall lawn, Kugler encouraged graduates not to worry if they don't feel ready to go out into the world yet. She then employed the words of Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister to convey there is "beauty in becoming' and that "God loves us for the seeking."

"Some of you may already have jobs, some may not, others might be joining the Jesuit Volunteer Corps or heading straight to graduate school," Kugler said. "What you all have in common is that you all have work. Your work to discover what it means to become fully human is now beginning... you are merely in your infancy stages right now, pace yourself, breathe, be open to what God is putting before you. It is okay, for this is sacred work."

She urged the Class of 2014 to allow for surprises in life, to practice the fine art of "generous listening," and to delight in "newness."

As the Long Island Sound glistened in the distance, Kugler advised graduates not to get wrapped up in the fast-paced technological society that surrounds them. "Turn away from the screen of your phone or laptop, take a break from that kind of light to seek real light," she said. "Look for joy beyond a YouTube clip, look for affirmation beyond Twitter followers and look into the face of your neighbor and try to see him or see her without the filter of a selfie."

Image: 2014 Commencement"Trying to find God's voice, God's touch, God's breath in the midst of it all can feel nearly impossible and yet it is there, in the surprises, good and bad, in the delights of newness, in the face of a stranger, in our listening, in our loving, in the sacred work of becoming," Kugler concluded.

Star swimmer Kevin Greener, of Chatham, New Jersey, delivered the valedictory address. He was a physics major and mathematics minor in the College of Arts & Sciences. His professional interests lie in cancer research and treatment, and he envisions possible careers in medical physics, biomedical optics research, or radiation oncology. Greener was a standout member of the Fairfield University men's swimming & diving team. He was a captain of the team in his final campaign as a Stag and has been an important part of the distance freestyle corps throughout his career. 

Greener spoke wholeheartedly of his appreciation for his "wonderful professors " and for the "interdisciplinary" education Fairfield provided him with, one that took place inside and outside the classroom.  

"St. Ignatius would be proud that Fairfield University fully embraces its Jesuit roots," Greener said. "Cura Personalis, meaning, 'Care for the entire person,' is a major tenet of Jesuit philosophy.

"After four years, we emerge from this institution not just as college graduates, but as global citizens prepared to tackle whatever the world throws our way," he continued. "We are intelligent and hard working, but also generous and compassionate. We can take the integral of x-squared as confidently as we can describe just why Norman Rockwell's 'Connoisseur' is such a memorable painting. And we can do it in Spanish too, if you wish."

Brimming with a spirit to help change the world for the good, Greener issued a challenge to his fellow graduates. It was one centered on not living lives of inertia and acceptance. "Roxana Walker-Canton, [assistant professor of visual & performing arts], issued my African American Cinema class a challenge," he said, as a way to convey his message. "She said, 'I challenge you to unsettle yourself.' Today, I'm calling on all of you to unsettle yourselves. I've learned the so-called 'comfort zone' is where nothing gets done. Comfort breeds complacency, and complacency feeds the lazy. Ask the tough questions, explore the cobwebbed corners, and get off the couch!"

Image: 2014 CommencementThis year, two graduates of the Charles F. Dolan School of Business were awarded the Bellarmine Medal, which is given to the student with the highest four-year academic average:  Accounting major Vladimir Ivanov, a Fairfield, Conn. resident who was a double major in accounting and mathematics, and Laura Stakey, of Laurel, N.Y., a double major in accounting and economics. Ivanov will soon start a position with PricewaterhouseCoopers, while Stakey will be working for KPMG. They bothalso received the John and Veronica Gleason Award, for the graduate with the highest academic average.

Fairfield University President Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., presented the St. Ignatius Loyola Medal to Eric Lynch, of Harrison, N.Y. He was a Politics major with a minor in Peace & Justice Studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. The Medal is given to one senior who has demonstrated commitment to the Jesuit ideals of high academic standards, community engagement, and participation in co-curricular activities. Lynch has accepted a paralegal position with a Westchester County, N.Y. law firm, and is pondering a legal career focusing on social justice causes.

In the Class of 2014, Fairfield also counts among its ranks students who took on important causes, such as fostering free trade initiatives, striving for victims' rights, overseeing the Muslim Student Association, and creating a program that assists first-year males with their transition to college. Other notable graduates developed a living and learning community for female students interested in studying science, technology, engineering and math, while others led an initiative that brought to Fairfield the Compass Fellowship - a program developed to help students design and build their own socially conscious businesses. The Class of 2014 also included a large group of graduates from the School of Nursing who have been offered positions at some of the most prestigious hospitals in the nation. The School of Engineering graduates included a group who were awarded a Connecticut NASA Space grant to develop a medical device. 

Image: 2014 CommencementFr. von Arx encouraged graduates to engage with the world in a transformative manner, and to make that world a more just and compassionate place.  "As your teachers and friends we hope that you will continue to shape Fairfield University by keeping in touch with your classmates and professors and by sharing with us the challenges and triumphs you encounter on the road ahead," Fr. von Arx said. "This way, as we continue to evolve and grow as a University, we will do so informed by your experiences."

In total, 393 bachelor of arts and 91 bachelor of science degrees were awarded from the College of Arts & Sciences; 126 bachelor of science in nursing degrees were awarded from the School of Nursing; 259 bachelor of science degrees were awarded from the Charles F. Dolan School of Business; and 33 bachelor of science in engineering degrees were awarded from the School of Engineering.

Kugler received an honorary degree from Fairfield with two other distinguished honorees: The Rev. John W. Padberg, S.J., Director of the Institute of Jesuit Sources; and Fairfield, Connecticut resident John S. Santa, former CEO of Bridgeport, Conn.-based Santa Energy, now an independent director for four private corporations.

Speaking at the graduate ceremony today at 3 p.m. will be Mary Ann Christopher '79, MSN, RN, FAAN, president and chief executive officer of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, a nurse for more than three decades and a nationally recognized healthcare leader. She will be presented with an honorary degree, as will Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J., Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University in New York City.

All photos by Kate Eisemann

Photos:
Star swimmer Kevin Greener, of
Chatham, New Jersey, delivered the valedictory address. 
Sharon M.K. Kugler, University Chaplain to Yale University, was the undergraduate commencement speaker.
Happy graduates at Fairfield University's 64th undergraduate commencement exercise, Sunday, May 18, 2014.

For the latest commencement info, see http://fairfield.edu/commencement/

Media Notice:B Roll from both Commencement exercises will be available for downloads at this location:
https://files.fairfield.edu:8443/xythoswfs/webview/_xy-5760582_1
This is a public link, no password required. News organizations should right click on folder icon to download. B Roll will be available approximately one hour after the end of each ceremony

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

Posted on May 18, 2014

Vol. 46, No. 304