Commencement Address - Dr. Joseph J. McGowan
Earlier in this Senior Week, I made my annual pilgrimage
to and brief audience at the shrine at Shenanigan’s There, in
conversation with one of the owners, I was convinced to buy a
Sheningan’s shirt as a souvenir of my visit. On the back of the shirt
was the saying, “One more and I’m outta here.”
So to you this afternoon, Bellarmine graduates, I say to
you, “Hang on, just one more president’s speech, and you’re outta
Congratulations and Welcome Alumni
At the outset, therefore, allow me first to extend my
personal congratulations to each of you, to each of the 347 students who
have just been granted your Bellarmine University degree, 276
undergraduates and 71 graduates. And on behalf of the Board of
Trustees, faculty, staff, and alumni of Bellarmine, I now officially
welcome you to the distinguished legion of over 16, 000 men and women
across the nation and across the world who also are proud to call
themselves the alumnae and alumni of Bellarmine University!
Be Aware Of and Grateful For Your Support
As you are well aware, today is a very joyful, emotional,
triumphant and historic day in your personal life. But as you also
know, today, like all days of distinguished individual achievement,
takes place within a broader context and network of the loving, caring,
nurturing and supportive community that has made today and this great
accomplishment possible for you.
Just think of everything you have received from others
that made today possible, most obviously from your parents, spouses,
grandparents, and your other family and friends who have supported you
through thick and thin.
After the wonderful Academic Awards Ceremony Thursday
night, I was visiting with two of my faculty colleagues and an
outstanding non-traditional student who graduates today, and we were
wondering aloud about how many people realize and appreciate what it
takes for a married, working mother with a family, for instance, to be a
loving spouse, attentive, nurturing mother, productive and
contributing employee, and a diligent, responsible student all at the
same time. Therefore, as we thank those who have helped you make today
possible, we should recognize and celebrate in particular the great
sacrifice, love, and support provided among others to our
non-traditional, often part-time, and evening students -- by their
husbands, wives, and loved ones. So here’s to you and all family
members today, parents, spouses, and grandparents, for all the love and
support you have provided for our graduates over their degree program,
indeed throughout their lives!
Just a few years ago it seems, I also participated, as
you are doing now, in at my own undergraduate commencement -- as I
prepared to begin graduate studies and a career in higher education.
The main reason I chose this career and vocation was because of the
transformational effect my undergraduate faculty had had upon me, one
faculty mentor in particular. Their brilliance, knowledge, caring and
dedication to me and to my project of trying to become the best and most
authentic me I could be, created the passion within me for dedicating
my life to facilitating the growth and transformation of other students
-- as my faculty had done for me. From my many conversations with
you over the years, I know that the Bellarmine faculty have had this
effect in your life, and so now I know you join me in thanking and
Vision: Personal and Institution
Bellarmine University is approaching almost 60 years of
its life and so we can think of its outstanding history in terms of
nearly four 15-year great periods of growth and development.
As we grow as individuals, as a community, as a
university, indeed as a nation, it is important that we always are able
to imagine a future for ourselves; to believe deeply that we can
realize our future; and then to the best of our ability to create that
future for ourselves. If we are able to imagine, believe, and create a
future for ourselves, then we can have hope for and in that future;
and if we have hope, we can be inspired and motivated to realize that
Bellarmine as a university community is very much like
you and every other individual in that regard. As you know,
Bellarmine now has imagined for itself a bright, promising, and
powerful future for its next 15 years during which time we will become
the premier, independent, Catholic university in the South, and thereby
the leading private university in the Commonwealth and region, and one
of the best in the nation! As we realize this hoped-for vision of
our future, we will grow from 2,500 to 8,000 students, double our
facilities, and develop a campus along the lines of the beautiful hill
towns and monasteries of Tuscany, the home of our patron saint. St.
Robert Bellarmine. We will add five new schools, including a Graduate
School, Graduate School of Management, and School of Communications,
Media & Culture, and in the process, we will become a
doctoral/research university with three or more doctoral programs. For
people in this sports-savvy part of the country, we also may develop
an NCAA Division I program, and then proceed to go about regularly
defeating currently prominent Division I schools in our City, State,
We will realize our new vision by being the most
academically excellent school in the region; the university that best
prepares students for successful, meaningful lives in a globalized,
international world, and one that teaches in the Catholic educational
tradition -- with its commitment to excellent teaching and scholarship
in the liberal arts and professional schools; commitment to ethics,
morality, spirituality, religious faith, social justice and service to
others; and, at the heart of who we are and what we do, a commitment to
the intrinsic value and dignity of each and every individual human
The main reason that I have absolute confidence that we
will realize our vision is because of you, our alumni as well as our
current and future students. Neither of the previous two legendary
men who had the privilege to serve as Bellarmine’s President had the
resource that I now have of over 16,000 graduates; the resource of our
alumni population ranging 22 years of age to 80 years of age; and the
sizeable and growing number of alumni we now have who possess the great
resources, material and otherwise, to help us really make happen the
Bellarmine we now envision.
If you wish to share my confidence in Bellarmine’s
vision, all you have to do is to come to know our students. Each year
at this time, I ask my fellow faculty and staff to bring to my
attention special stories of students in our graduating class, stories
that individually and collectively tell us who Bellarmine is, the great
In response, I am blessed to receive so many amazing
stories that it simply is impossible to mention them all.
Over the past week, for example, we have had the
privilege and pleasure to recognize and celebrate many of our most
distinguished students, and that recognition and celebration continues
today: Alan Montgomery Hall (our Valedictorian); Joan [NEM-SHEF-SKI];
Christopher Schaeffer; Megan Edwards, Stephanie Pieper; Richard Cox;
Andrea Hunt (our Salutatorian); Dustin Humphrey; Eric Scott; Lacinda
Wininger, and many, many others. I am and we are as a community very
proud of each of you and grateful to you for all that you are and all
that you have done for Bellarmine.
But I do wish to mention three other students in
particular who are international students, one man and two women, who
have come to Bellarmine from other lands, and who have made Bellarmine
not only their second home but have enhanced, enriched, and improved it
by their presence and contributions to our life and work.
First, I’ll mention [KNOCK-WHEN-WHEN].
She came to the United States as a refugee from Viet Nam
and became at Bellarmine a double major, a Bellarmine scholar, and the
winner of her department’s academic excellence award.
- She has studied French and Japanese at Bellarmine.
- With her French, she has studied abroad at the
University of Montpellier in Louisville’s sister city in southern
- She will use her Japanese to teach in Japan next
- And this summer before she goes to Japan for a year,
she will study Arabic in Tunisia.
- Finally, we will patiently await KNOCK-WHEN’s eventual
return to the United States in July 2007 to begin law school and, no
doubt become one of the greatest immigration lawyers in the nation.
Next, I want to mention a student I have come to know as a
friend, especially as I make my way back and forth from my office in
the library. Her name is Mariya Ivanova and she’s a Bellarmine
Scholar who came to Bellarmine from Romania. Of course, we have many
students at Bellarmine who work hard. But, in the opinion of many
faculty and staff, as well as myself, Mariya have proven herself to be
the hardest working student at Bellarmine – both in her academic life,
and in her employment in countless and often concurrent jobs, to say
nothing of her passion for salsa dancing. Not only is she graduating
today, but she also is working to persuade her younger brother to join
us upon his graduation from high school; and to all of our great
delight, her graduation celebration and joy is deepened today by the
presence of her Dad who has come to us today from Bulgaria.
Congratulations, Mariya, and congratulations to you -- Poppa Ivanova!
Last but not least among the examples of our students who
are responsible for my hope and confidence in Bellarmine’s vision for
the future is a young man from Nigeria who is well known for his
regular response to life and its phenomena with his the phrase, “That
is SO good!” Well, Bellarmine University and I think that Dennis Ogbe
is “SO good!”
As I have told Dennis many times, one of the many reasons
that I am glad he is here is that at least I know that there is one
other guy on campus with a build as powerful as my own – I feel like we
could be twins!
Seriously, Dennis Ogbe has almost single-handedly created
within the Bellarmine University community a comprehensive and
profound sense of an internationalized world, and its immense hope and
He has been a scholar who will now continue his studies
at the Masters level; he has distinguished himself in his internship at
Brown-Forman Corporation, Ina, and plans to join that great company as
a full-time member of their team.
Speaking of teams, Dennis also is a world-class athlete
who has won many gold medals in Para-Olympics during his student days
at Bellarmine. Dennis and I are both grateful to Coach Jim Vargo for
bringing Dennis to Bellarmine as well as Vitalis Lanshima.
Dennis Ogbe, today in your spectacular speech, you spoke
to us of “light.” Well, my brother, you light up our lives at
Bellarmine, and we are grateful to you and for you for teaching us so
much as we have worked to teach you!
Prayer and Blessing
Finally from your President to you, a closing prayer and a
blessing. In a recent article in Commonwealth magazine, the author,
William McDonough, referenced the great German Reformed theologian
Jurgen Moltmann who has pointed out that some languages (German and
Latin, for example) have two words for the English word “future:” In
Latin, “futurus” -- is that which develops in a predictable way out of
the present. Moltmann said that to think of the future only in this
way is a failure of hope; by itself, the author goes on to mention,
futurus is “the planners future, a way of trying to control life and
thus a way of posing as God.”
The other Latin word for future, “adventus,” indicates
the future as coming toward us from God, as breaking into our plans and
making a claim on our lives (ad + venio – coming to or toward us).
McDonough goes on to remind us that we are not in charge of this
future, but that we must seek to embrace it as part of God’s
providential care for us. To truly practice the virtue of hope,
therefore, means always opening ourselves to the future’s claim on us.
It is my hope and prayer, therefore, that your Bellarmine
education has prepared you -- both for your future as futurus for
sure, for being able to develop the plans and future that may develop
in a predictable way for you out of the present, but even more so --
for your future as adventus, the root word of “advent” and “adventure,”
among others. In other words, I hope and pray that we have helped to
educate not only your mind, but your heart and soul as well, so that
you also are well prepared to truly, confidently, courageously, and
faithfully open yourselves to life and to God and to embrace life and
God as they break into you plans (as they are gloriously wont to do)
and make a claim on your lives.
My closing blessing, therefore, is this:
May you go forth now and plan and live your life to the
best of your ability, with intelligence, imagination, creativity,
responsibility, and authenticity -- but most of all and above all, may
you always be welcoming and embracing of God and the future that will
come to you from Him as you go forward and as He seeks to break into
your plans and make a claim on your lives.
Thank you and Godspeed.