By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — St. Ambrose University Class of 2020, whose graduation ceremonies were postponed because of COVID-19, finally celebrated — in person — Sept. 18 in Galvin Fine Arts Center. Following tradition, the 115 or so graduates processed in by college departments to a Pomp and Circumstance march. They had the option to wear cap and gown, and most did.
“Welcome to today’s ceremony, and as I am sure you all agree, what a journey it has been getting here,” said Paul Koch, provost and vice president for academic and student affairs.
“Two years ago, it was no small feat — as you all know very well — to muster the energy to attend class. It took no small amount of courage when you had to adapt to new and different ways of learning. And you showed no shortage of grace and understanding when best-laid plans simply went awry,” said Larry Skillin, chair of the faculty assembly.
He introduced the speaker, Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, president emerita of St. Ambrose, saying that she “provided leadership through one of the toughest times in the university’s history.” While that snapshot from her presidency “is still amazing,” he said, her 14 years leading St. Ambrose “created an even stronger university and allowed us to weather the storm of the pandemic. While it has taken longer than any of us ever anticipated to get to this point, we are blessed that the Class of 2020 and Sister Joan can celebrate together in person this year.”
“What a joy to see so many of you here today with family and friends,” Sister Lescinski said. “It was such a sad day for us all when the COVID pandemic forced us to cancel both the spring 2020 and winter 2020 commencements. Since that day, you, the class of 2020, have been in my heart in a special way as I shared your disappointment.”
She was thrilled to have been chosen to speak at the ceremony and thanked her successor, SAU President Amy Novak, for the privilege. “I want to look with you not so much back into the past, but forward toward the future,” Sister Lescinski told the graduates. “You have been changed these past two years, not just by a pandemic, but also by your relationships, by your successes and challenges that have been a part of your time at St. Ambrose and since then. And so, you are uniquely poised, I think, to ‘pay it forward,’ as the old cliché says.”
Sister Lescinski told the graduates she believes they have been ready for a long time to bring hope to the world. “Why hope? Because, frankly, I can’t think of anything our world needs more. The earth itself cries out; our systems are broken; poverty is on the increase; bigotry challenges peace; wars ravage parts of our world. There are calls all around us for despair, for cynicism and for giving up.”
She identified ways that graduates can bring hope to the world and asked them to reflect on “Which one calls to me?”
• Affirming the work of another.
• Becoming politically involved.
• Learning more about the issues making life so difficult for so many in the world.
• Joining others in volunteer work or in prayer.
• Writing a letter to the editor praising good works witnessed in the letter writer’s community.
• Helping others appreciate the beauty in the world: art, music, breathtaking scenery.
• Playing with children.
• Walking gently with the frail elderly.
• Using one’s God-given gifts and skills.
She referred to two points Pope has made about hope. “He says, ‘All it takes is one good person to restore hope’ and … ‘The future does have a name … and its name is HOPE.’”
“So, to you, dear members of the class of 2020, I say: Wherever life takes us, let us hold this thought close to our hearts: your connection with St. Ambrose does not end with having received a degree from St. Ambrose University. Being an Ambrosian will always be a part of who you are. And you will always be a part of St. Ambrose …”
President Novak shook the hand of graduates as they crossed the stage and then told them it was an awe-inspiring moment to honor their accomplishments in person. “You were a class for whom history will remember and recall your year, your experience, your tenacity amid chaos, your acceptance of difficult decisions and different endings. But hopefully in reflecting, that experience doesn’t overshadow the transformation you experience as an Ambrosian. And, we collectively, as a community celebrate you today for all you have accomplished. We also invite you to continue to go forth, with a spirit that is unapologetically Ambrosian.”
“We charge you to continue to use your education, an education anchored in the Gospel values of justice and mercy to always put others before yourself. To offer grace. To extend kindness. To listen authentically. To appreciate difference. To find common ground.” She encouraged them to embrace change. “Goodness knows, you all are experts at that.” Finally, “May your actions be unapologetically Ambrose committed to nourishing one another, healing one another, and being the light of Christ to all whom you encounter for the transformation of our world.”
The crowd cheered as the graduates processed to a reception outside the Rogalski Center. Graduate Logan Stevenson said of the graduation ceremony, “I felt like yes, it’s finally here.” Graduate Sarah Gallichio said, “It feels like an ending and closure that we were waiting for.”
“This was a big moment for everyone,” said graduate Hillary Winkel. “It was nice to be in person and not have any limits on the number of guests we could bring.” She admits she contemplated not attending since it had been 2 ½ years since she received her diploma. “But I am glad I came.”