More than 1,900 Sacred Heart University students began a new journey after receiving diplomas and words of advice and encouragement at SHU’s 50th commencement ceremony.
President John J. Petillo reflected on the students’ past four years, which transformed them in substance and in spirit. “Continue to chase your dreams unfettered by the naysayers,” Petillo said. “May the knowledge and experiences you gained here enable you to be women and men for others.”
Petillo also thanked the students for their dedication to SHU. “Class of 2016, you have made your mark upon this University,” he said. “I thank you for that gift. Through your learning, your community service and your student participation in athletics, performing arts and clubs, you have enriched our culture for future classes to build upon.”
Before the eager undergraduates were called upon to receive their diplomas, Petillo bestowed a posthumous diploma to the family of Kaitlyn Doorhy, a student who died in 2014 just before the start of her junior year.
“Almost two years ago, while on her way to campus to help freshmen move in, Kaitlyn Doorhy was tragically struck by a car,” Petillo said. “In those few days following, I witnessed a community gathering in prayer and support. Even in her death, she enabled four transplant recipients to live.”
Petillo told the crowd that he was overwhelmed to learn on Christmas Eve that Doorhy’s sister, Carly, will be attending SHU this fall. Petillo said he called the family. “I shared my gratitude for now trusting Sacred Heart with Carly.
“So today, with the class of 2016, we would like to honor Kaitlyn,” Petillo said. Doorhy’s parents and her sister approached the podium to accept the honorary degree.
Two other honorary degrees were bestowed at the ceremony. Victoria Sweet, former award-winning historian and associate professor of medicine at the University of California, received an honorary Doctor of Science degree, and Brad Evans, senior adviser at Morgan Stanley, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
Advice from undergraduate commencement speaker
Sweet also delivered the keynote address at SHU’s undergraduate commencement, talking about how fast-paced life has become. She advised students to “take back your time. And if you’re rushed and harassed, if your day is filled with things you have to get through, then no matter how much you want to be mindful and present, caring and compassionate, you will not be able to do that. You just won’t.
“So my challenge to you, to your generation as a group, but also to each of you individually, is to be mindful of what you spend your time doing,” Sweet said. “And make sure that every day you take some time to do nothing—vacant time, vacation time—they both come from the same root.”
Class President Brianna Grills reminisced about her classmates’ past at SHU before she led them in the ceremonial turning of the tassel.
“About four years ago, each of us came to Fairfield as individual puzzle pieces, not exactly sure how or where we fit into the big picture we now see as the Sacred Heart University class of 2016,” Grills said. “Remember freshman move-in? When we first entered our new living quarters and the upperclassmen carried all our belongings up to our rooms? And remember the amazement when we collected so much by May that it no longer fit into one car?”
Grills touched on the many other experiences the class of 2016 encountered, from major blizzards, to athletic events, to concerts, internships and service work.
“Today, as we graduate, we feel a sense of satisfaction that the puzzle we began working on about four years ago is now complete,” Grills said. “But we also feel a sense of loss that our time at SHU is over, and we are ready to move on and begin working on a new puzzle.”
Graduate students ponder, ‘What’s next?’
During the graduate commencement, keynote speaker Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, explained the importance of receiving an education at a Catholic university.
“For me, one of the most important aspects of Catholic university education is that it empowers you with an expanded capacity for ethical and moral perspectives to make good decisions and act compassionately in the dynamic, modern world,” Maradiaga said.
He also posed the tough question that was likely on many graduates’ minds, “What do you want to do with the rest of your life? I will not tell you what kind of job to get or where to work; instead I urge you to strenuously consider your roles as global citizens in the 21st century,” Maradiaga said. “In this respect, your challenges and duties are much greater than that of your parents and previous generations. And I know that this Catholic university has prepared you for it.”
The bishop said students aren’t educated just for their own well-being or egoism, but also to improve the world.
Maradiaga received an honorary Doctor of Theology degree at the ceremony. Sacred Heart also conferred an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree on Leo Melamed, chairman emeritus of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group.
Robin Cautin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, awarded a posthumous diploma to Jose Labrador, a graduate student who was pursuing a master’s degree before he and his wife were killed in a traffic collision in Florida. Paul Broadie, president of Housatonic Community College, where Labrador was acting director of education technology, participated in the procession in Labrador’s memory.
Graduate student Derek Moore, assistant wrestling coach at SHU, represented his class and gave an inspirational speech to the crowd.
“I want to touch on two themes that have shaped my life–embracing discomfort and surrounding myself with great people,” said Moore.
A California native who earned his master’s in business administration, Moore said the lessons he learned derived from his years involved in wrestling. He talked about the discomfort of getting into a spandex uniform and how, while he never felt good in it, he knew he was not alone because he always had the support of his teammates and coaches.
Moore had plenty of uplifting words for his classmates. “My encouragement to all my fellow graduates here today is to continue to seek out both uncomfortable situations and amazing people that inspire personal growth,” he said. “As I look back on my life, any of my past failures or successes can be easily connected to the people in my life at that time. My hope for all of us is that we align ourselves with people who bring out our best, for it is from these individuals that we will learn the most. Most importantly, continue to find the people who embody the values and morals on which this institution is built.”