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Being Salt and Light to a Broken World: UD’s Class of 2020 Officially Commences
Last week, more than 230 UD graduates returned to Irving to celebrate their achievements in person at socially distanced events. On Saturday, students and families gathered for the Baccalaureate Mass celebrated by Bishop of the Diocese of Dallas and UD Chancellor Edward Burns, and on Sunday, the official 61st Annual Commencement ceremony was held at the Irving Convention Center.

In a normal year, the majority of UD graduates walk across the stage in May. While UD holds a December commencement ceremony annually, it is usually reserved for business graduate students. However, as we all can attest, 2020 has not been a normal year, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no in-person ceremony was held this past May. 

“On this, a day of new beginnings and anticipation of life beyond the classroom, give all graduates a vigorous faith and a genuine love as they move into the future,” prayed Edward Burns in his invocation. “Continue their journey to become salt and light in our church, in their communities, and as the focus of all of their encounters. Favor these graduates and their families abundantly with wisdom, virtue, grace and health.”

A total of 233 graduates (only counting those who attended in person) were recognized for successfully completing their degrees in August and December 2019 and in May, August and December of this year.

Provost Jonathan J. Sanford, Ph.D., welcomed all to this ceremony honoring the baccalaureate candidates of the Constantin College of Liberal Arts, the Satish and Yasmin Gupta College of Business, and the Ann and Joe O. Neuhoff School of Ministry, as well as the post-baccalaureate candidates of the Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts, the Gupta College of Business and the Neuhoff School of Ministry.

“This is a day set aside to celebrate your rite of passage from degree seekers to degree recipients,” said Sanford. “This is a Commencement like no other, with May graduates, August graduates and soon-to-be December graduates assembled together this morning. You have been through one of the most trying periods in American higher education, a pandemic that stopped much of our country in its tracks for extended periods of time, but you were not stopped. You persevered. You grew in resilience. You earned your degrees by grit and determination, and added depth to what it means to be a University of Dallas graduate.

“The command [to love truth and justice] the University of Dallas issues to all of its sons and daughters is not a diversion from your pursuit of a life well-lived,” he added. “It is rather a guide to the achievement of your life’s quest. … We want you to be happy, and the path to happiness is the love and pursuit of truth and justice. … In living magnanimously, you will love truth and justice well, becoming who you are called to be. We are eager to see you come into your own and to set this world ablaze with your great and good life and works, and in doing so through your efforts and God’s grace, to establish your eternal home in the Kingdom of Heaven.” 

In her own spin on Oxford Languages’ Word of the Year, National Alumni Board President Stephanie Bascon, BA ’88, provided six “Words of 2020” that she felt best described the UD community, especially the Class of 2020: nimble, supportive, resilient, entrepreneurial, adaptive and, most of all, family.

“As we all went into lockdown, and as we experienced quarantine … many of us turned to our family, or our friends who are our family, and while sometimes quarters were tight … we learned to appreciate those who helped us get through all of this craziness — because family … are the ones who we can turn to in difficult times,” she said. “And when I say family, I do not mean just those in your own household — for you, the 2020 graduates, I also mean your University of Dallas family.”

Bascon continued, “While your education teaches you how to survive and thrive even in difficult times, your UD family stands ready to support you in those endeavors. … You take with you from UD two things: You take your UD education, and you take your UD family. … We are committed to being here for you as you meet new challenges and celebrate new successes throughout your life. We, your UD family, will be here for you — because that’s what family does.”

“I know firsthand the benefits that have flowed from my UD education, and I hope that like me, you will come to understand how privileged you have been to have studied at UD,” said Board of Trustees Chair Richard Husseini, BS ’88. “Especially in today’s tumultuous times, UD is a very necessary place. It is critical to producing the future leaders for our society. Please be a proud ambassador of UD as you go out into the world.”

President Thomas S. Hibbs, Ph.D., BA ’82 MA ’83, reflected on the lockdown, how lonely it was without students on campus, and how glad he was when they returned in August and especially now, to be able to finally celebrate the Class of 2020 in person.

“We wanted to have Commencement for you. We didn’t know if people would come back,” said Hibbs. “We’re glad you came back. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to celebrate and applaud everything that you’ve done, and our experience together as teachers and learners here at the University of Dallas.”

Hibbs announced the 2020 Commencement speaker, Robert P. George, and invited Burns to officially bestow George’s honorary degree, the Doctor of Letters and Laws.

George gave his address virtually, speaking of the Russian novelist, philosopher and political prisoner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who gave a commencement address at Harvard when George was a student there in 1978. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the midst of a raging Cold War, Solzhenitsyn spoke of how the West had lost sight of its moral and spiritual ideals and identity, losing itself in materialism, individualism and the wrong conception of liberty — focusing on rights rather than obligations, and most of all, showing a supreme lack of the virtue of courage. George feels that Solzhenitsyn’s words at Harvard 42 years ago are still relevant and applicable today.  

“The virtue we lack, and it is an indispensable virtue, is the virtue of courage,” said George. “And we MUST recover it. You, our young men and women, must regain it, not to defend us from a hostile foreign power armed with nuclear weapons, but to protect us from a far more dangerous foe, a truly deadly enemy: namely, our own worst selves.

“Our own worst selves, our worst enemies, are our unvirtuous selves … our selves when we lack the self-mastery, the possession of the virtues including the virtue of courage,” he continued. “When we are our own worst selves, we fail precisely in our duty to bear faithful witness, because a desire for ephemeral things, and a fear of losing those things, paralyzes us. 

“You graduates of the University of Dallas must remember God, to a nation and to a world that has largely forgotten him — by the example of your lives, as well as by the words of your mouths,” he concluded. “You must be salt and light that repairs what is broken, and points the way to true freedom for those who have fallen into forms of slavery that are all the more abject for masquerading as liberation.”

Finally, Class of 2020 valedictorian Sarah Ana Henriquez, BS ’20, chosen by her peers to speak for them, addressed her class.

“Many of us had plans after graduation that we never saw come to fruition due to restrictions of the pandemic,” said Henriquez. “For those who lost or gave up opportunities, jobs, internships, continued education, big weddings, travel, or any other dreams for this year, our hearts go out to you. … But I think even for those of us who were able to continue our lives more or less as planned, we find ourselves reminiscing on the times before we burst the UD bubble. 

“What a quiet, blessed life it seems now,” she reflected. “Even during the waves of excitement or stress, there was always room for a retreat into the silence of the chapel, a quiet walk around campus, a calming conversation with a professor or a friend, a deep breath before we began again. Yes, life outside of UD is very different … but I’d like to remind everyone here today that we know how to handle the noise. The noise may sound different, but we know how to find that still, small voice of calm, even in the midst of the great storm.

“Whether we are employed or still seeking a job, whether we are studying bacteria or Beowulf … we have essential work to do: the essential work of hope,” she concluded. “Day by day, we hold on to the hope, we pray soon to be realized, that this pandemic will end, that we will see justice and peace in our communities, and that we will be able to gather in joy and thanksgiving.”

For the highest cumulative GPA in UD’s Class of 2020, First Honors went to Thomas Pecha, BS ’20, and Maria Rossini, BA ’20, who both had perfect 4.0 GPAs; the Helen L. Corbitt Awards for Excellence were given to Nicolas Hovde, BA ’20, and Dolores Mihaliak, BA ’20, for their excellence in academic pursuits, student activities and service to the university; the Ann Heller Maberry Award was presented to Sarah Ana Henriquez; finally, Thomas Pecha and William Rackers, BS ’20, were awarded the Cardinal Spellman Award for modeling the highest ideals of the university.

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