“What can stop you if a global pandemic could not?” commencement speaker John McConnell asked the Neumann University students assembled before him.
“Nothing!” shouted one of the graduates, a response that elicited thunderous applause from the 2,000 people in the audience.
The exchange captured the excitement of the day as Neumann University awarded doctoral, master’s, and bachelor’s degrees to 364 students at two ceremonies in the Mirenda Center on Saturday, May 14.
Families of graduates packed the athletic facility at both the 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. events, clapping and cheering as President Chris Domes presented diplomas to enthusiastic students.
Dr. Domes reminded the students that they were graduating “in historic times,” having persevered and achieved through the last two years. He inspired them with a passage from the Gospel of Luke: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be expected.”
He urged the graduates to be compassionate and understanding. “As Franciscan leaders, you should raise your voice always on behalf of those who have no voice,” he said. “Reach out to those who live and exist on the margins of society, and always show care and respect to each person that you encounter in life.”
At the afternoon commencement, Neumann awarded honorary doctor of humane letters degrees to McConnell, founder and president emeritus of Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School, and Sr. Marguerite O’Beirne, OSF, the university’s recently retired vice president for mission and ministry, who served for 25 years in that post.
“In the crazy world we live in today, ‘privilege’ has become a polarizing word,” McConnell told the graduates. “As Neumann grads, you have been given special privileges because you have learned that knowledge is a gift to be shared in the service of others.”
“Use your privilege to change the world,” he advised. “The rest of us need you to. Don't be timid, don’t conform to what others expect of you, and don’t allow bashfulness or humility to be excuses for not doing it.”
McConnell retired from Deloitte Consulting in 2008, after 27 years with the firm, to launch Cristo Rey, a college-prep school that is designed and operated exclusively for students who could not otherwise afford a private education.
A 1970 graduate of Neumann, O’Beirne seized the speaking opportunity to wish the students well in the years ahead: “As you take this step across the threshold of graduation that beckons you forward, may a rich and rewarding life await you. As you have been a blessing for all of us on this campus, may each of you go forth from here as a blessing for our world.”
A native of Ireland, she closed with a traditional Irish blessing. “May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
Jake Loburak, valedictorian of the class of 2022, also addressed the crowd. “We’ve been blessed with the opportunity to learn and grow at an incredible institution that has shaped our academic and professional careers, while offering important values to live by,” the communication and digital media major told his classmates.
“As today marks the start of the next chapter, continue to live out the Franciscan values that Neumann has instilled in each of us.”