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307 Students Graduate from Bellarmine at December Commencement

Dec 19, 2012

Video: 77-year-old graduate Carl Jankowski discusses his decision to complete his undergraduate degree.

Bellarmine University awarded 307 degrees during its December commencement ceremony tonight. Nine students received doctoral degrees in nursing practice, the first group to complete this new degree at Bellarmine.

The ceremony featured a commencement address by David L. Armstrong, chair of the Kentucky Public Service Commission and former Louisville mayor, who encouraged the graduates to consider working in public service or pursuing other civic activity. "Get involved," he said. "Be a part of your community. Volunteer your time."

Armstrong received an honorary doctor of law degree during the ceremony, while Bradford T. Ray -- recently retired chairman and chief executive officer of Steel Technologies and a Bellarmine alumnus -- received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. [Read more about both men]

Bellarmine's president, Dr. Joseph J. McGowan, thanked Dr. Robert Cooter, dean of the Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education, for suggesting that tonight's participants wear green to honor the victims of last Friday's tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Green was the favorite color of murdered Sandy Hook teacher Victoria Soto, who heroically saved several of her first grade students. McGowan noted that the color green is also a Catholic symbol of hope.

Formidable Challenges
Addressing the 91 undergraduate and 216 graduate degree candidates before they crossed the Knights Hall stage to collect their diplomas, McGowan said, "to get to this great moment, many of you have faced some formidible challenges in your life." To illustrate that point, he celebrated the stories of three graduates, who received extended applause from the audience. [Read Dr. McGowan's full remarks]

Sarah Dudley suffered a spinal cord injury during her freshman year, confining her to a wheelchair. Medical setbacks during college had her in the hospital at one point for 10 weeks, and left her so weak that McGowan said Dudley sometimes relied on classmates to take class notes, as she couldn't hold a pen.

Thanks to physical therapy and support from her professors and classmates, Dudley walked across the stage to collect her bachelor's degree in biology.

Noting that "even pursuing your Bellarmine degree can involve lifelong learning," McGowan recognized Carl Jankowski, age 77. Jankowski started at Bellarmine in 1966, but moved away from Louisville before completing his bachelor's degree in business administration. This past summer, at the urging of his wife, he contacted Bellarmine in hopes of completing an item on his "bucket list" -- earning a college degree. He completed nine credit hours this fall to earn his diploma. [Video: interview with Jankowski]

Jankowski's experience is timely, given Louisville's 55,000 Degrees initiative, which is working to increase the number of Louisvillians holding college degrees, partly by targeting adults who have previously earned some college credit. "My advice to those who are close to being able to graduate, but just haven't re-enrolled -- do it!" he said. "You'll never regret it. Don't let the time span discourage you. Be aware that the faculty are there to help... and they do. They go out of their way to help."

Kathleen Gallagher began her work on a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and molecular biology seven years ago. She joined the National Guard at the end of her sophomore year, and later served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. She completed her degree in eight semesters, between deployments, and hopes to attend medical school.

Bellarmine Medal
During commencement, Dr. John Oppelt received the Horrigan Medal. Oppelt served as a professor, dean, vice president, provost and acting president over a 23 year career with Bellarmine before his 2003 retirement.