May 22, 2018 // Schools

Graduates commissioned to be advocates for the voiceless, vulnerable

The date of the 173rd commencement exercises at the University of Notre Dame providentially fell on the liturgical feast of Pentecost, May 20. Father John Jenkins, president of the university, noted the fittingness of the simultaneous celebration of Pentecost and commencement exercises in his homily during a baccalaureate Mass on Saturday, May 19.

“We talk a lot about spirit here at Notre Dame, and we experience it regularly,” said Father Jenkins, recalling hall competitions, dances and sporting events. “But we also see it in less noisy, perhaps more profound ways,” such as significant and difficult events, private prayer, study and genuine friendships.

“There is of course a spirit, which is simply an expression of human emotion and enthusiasm, but I hope you have found here at Notre Dame something more — the presence of God in the other person and in your heart. I hope that you have found a Spirit that is not your own but the mystery of God working in you … it is an encounter with God through the Holy Spirit that can truly transform us.”

After expressing pride at all of the graduating class’ accomplishments, he noted that the true accomplishment and surest sign of the Spirit in one’s life is the capacity to live a life that is truly loving and open to all. Here, Father Jenkins stated specifically the need to be open, generous and compassionate to those who are most vulnerable — the poor, the immigrant, the refugee — a theme that was echoed by several speakers during the various commencement events.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades offers a blessing during commencement exercises for the University of Notre Dame Sunday, May 20. — Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades concluded the celebration of the Mass with a brief address to the graduates, in which he urged them to take time to reflect on all that they had been given during their time at Notre Dame, and to realize that what they have received is meant to be shared with others as a gift. Echoing a pertinent theme from Father Jenkins’ homily, Bishop Rhoades movingly stated: “… knowledge is for service … (and) love directs our knowledge, love of God and love of others, in particular the weak, the sick, the unborn, the immigrant and the refugee, the most vulnerable in our society. What you have been given here at Notre Dame, the formation you have received, necessarily enables you to make such a gift of yourself, to pay forward what you were given here.”

Despite an initial rain delay, commencement exercises on Sunday, May 20 were celebratory and poignant. The invocation was led by salutatorian Harisa Spahić of Granger, who prayed for unity, an appreciation for diversity and the grace to be ever cognizant of the “crucial, unifying premise” that we are all created equal and are made in God’s image — continuing the theme of true charity and mutual responsibility among the family of all peoples that Father Jenkins and the bishop had voiced at the baccalaureate Mass.

Valedictorian Andrew Grose of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a dedicated member of the Notre Dame marching band and liturgical choir, charged his classmates, “We must not be afraid to stumble if we hope to continue singing Notre Dame’s lyrics and playing its rhythm. … Graduates, it is time for us to march fearlessly to this wonderful beat!”

Brazilian judge Sergio Moro, University of Notre Dame commencement speaker and an honorary degree recipient, speaks with Bishop Rhoades following commencement activities. Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Following the conferral of honorary degrees, of which he was one of five recipients, Judge Sérgio Fernando Moro gave the commencement address. Moro, a federal judge, has played a crucial role in the anti-corruption movement of his home country of Brazil. He stressed the importance of the responsibility everyone has to protect the dignity of others.

Sharing from his experience of opposing corruption and fighting for justice, Moro gave the graduates four suggestions: “Never give up on a fight for a good cause; remember that you will never be alone if you are fighting for justice; your behavior can inspire others; never surrender to corruption or despair.”

Sister Norma Seni Pimentel, MJ, the 2018 recipient of the prestigious Laetare Medal, radically exemplifies the ideals of giving oneself as a gift in service to others, fighting tirelessly for justice and protecting the dignity of all members of the human family, especially the vulnerable and voiceless. Sister Pimentel is the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and has dedicated her life to welcoming, caring for, and advocating for immigrants and refugees. Her love and concern for the men, women and children she serves were palpable throughout her acceptance speech. She urged the graduates to ask the Holy Spirit to give them the grace to really see the face of Christ in their neighbor, that the world may become more human and at the same time more divine.

The 3,100 students who received degrees have been given much more than four memorable years under the golden dome and a hard-earned degree. They have been formed and transformed in the Catholic educational tradition of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, nurtured under Mary’s mantle, and have now been sent out into the world to recognize and love Christ in everyone they encounter.

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