Fairfield University's 65th Annual Commencement
Two Jesuit priests, best selling author Rev. James Martin, S.J., and Rev. Greg Boyle, S.J., founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, California, deliver addresses. The Jesuit institution awards 884 bachelor's degrees, 367 master's degrees, 18 certificates of advanced study, and 21 doctorates.
Fairfield University held its 65th annual commencement exercises today at two ceremonies that celebrated individuals who have embraced Ignatian values and featured addresses from New York Times best selling author Rev. James Martin, S.J., and Rev. Greg Boyle, S.J., founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, California.
The total number of degrees awarded by the University included 884 bachelor's degrees, 367 master's degrees, 18 certificates of advanced study, and 21 doctorates on a sunny day that gave a preview for the summer temperatures that will soon arrive for good. The graduates earned degrees from the College of Arts & Sciences, Dolan School of Business, School of Engineering, School of Nursing, and Graduate School of Education & Allied Professions.
Before his undergraduate commencement address, Fr. Martin received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. He is the author of the critically acclaimed books “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” and “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.” He is also editor at large for America, the national Catholic magazine. For six years, he worked for General Electric but he contemplated becoming a priest. He was encouraged to talk to the Jesuits at Fairfield. “If it weren’t for Fairfield, I wouldn’t be a Jesuit,” Fr. Martin noted. A frequent guest on “The Colbert Report,” “Morning Joe,” and other television shows, Fr. Martin offered graduates ten tips he wished he had known at their age. Many of his suggestions centered on being the person you are meant to be and who God is calling you to be.
“Your deepest desires are God’s desires,” insisted Martin. “You have to figure out what gets you up in the morning… what would you do if you could do anything you wanted to do?” After encouraging the Class of 2015 to not listen to the negative voices that will surely arise, Fr. Martin implored all to be comfortable in their own skin. “Be yourself. 'God does not make crap', as Jesus said.”
Also at the undergraduate ceremony, honorary degrees were given to alumnus and longtime trustee John C. Meditz ’70. A familiar face at Fairfield, he is known for his dedication to Fairfield University and for his embodiment of the Jesuit ideals; and to Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, for her dedication to medicine and education. Dr. Robinson, who grew up in North Stamford, Conn., worked as a nurse, midwife and educator, teaching at Yale and Georgetown, among other universities. She is vice chairman of the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
Graduating senior Margaret Siu delivered the valedictory address. A biochemistry major in the College of Arts and Sciences, Siu plans to attend medical school. Siu recalled how the campus community inspired her to be of service to others, to live the Jesuit mission of “being men and women for others.”
“If there is anything we learn from this institution, it is kindness,” Siu told her classmates. “Through classes, peers, and actions, we have emphasized service to those around us. While the academic program here helped me get into medical school, the ideals here helped me do it for the right reasons. The Jesuit identity taught us to put humanity first. The world we live in may be scary, but the life lessons we learned at Fairfield will always be our beacon of hope.”
The undergraduate ceremony ended with a flurry of caps thrown by the newly minted graduates who soon went off to meet up with proud family members and friends.
Fr. Boyle delivered the commencement address for the graduate students. Fr. Boyle is the founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries, a nationally recognized agency that provides job training, education and mental health services to former gang members. He told a moving story about the friendship formed by two rival gang members. “They used to shoot bullets at each other. Now they shoot text messages. There’s a word for that, it’s called ‘kinship.’”
He encouraged graduates to look not at the margins of society, but rather use their education and experience to move past them, saying, “You go from here to express clearly that we belong to each other.”
Additionally, an honorary degree was bestowed upon Clea Newman Soderlund. A dedicated philanthropist, she received a Doctor of Humanities honorary degree. She is the founder and senior director of external affairs at the SeriousFun Children’s Network, a global community of independently managed camps and programs that serve serious ill children free of charge. She is also on the board of trustees for Newman’s Own, a non-profit her father started, of which all of the profits go to charity.
University president, Rev. Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., thanked the graduates for their dedication to their education and for putting their faith in Fairfield. “Fairfield is your community. You are and always will be a part of that community. You students, now graduates, are the reason this place exists.”
And as the ceremony ended, and the 65th commencement ceremonies officially came to a close, cheers erupted from graduates and families. The day personified Fr. Boyle’s sentiments of Stag pride.
“Fairfield University is not the place you come to. It will always be the place you come from.”