Fairfield University’s 68th Undergraduate Commencement ceremony dawned grey and dreary on May 20, but that didn’t stop the class of 2018 from gathering with their families on the lawn of Bellarmine Hall.
The ceremony opened with an invocation by most reverend Frank J. Caggiano, bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport. In a prayer invoking the Holy Spirit, in honor of May 20 being both commencement and Pentecost, Caggiano called for that same spirit to, “inspire, encourage and protect [the class of 2018]” and called for the spirit to guide the new graduates to be the, “voice for the voiceless, the hope for those who are lost and the face of unity in our divided world.” With these words, the graduation commenced and the 2018 Valedictory speaker was announced.
Representing the entirety of his class, Michael J. Harding was given the task of welcoming his peers and summarizing their time at Fairfield with his Valedictory speech. He did this by giving his class one final lesson — on the African Bantu philosophy of Ubunto.
Ubuntu is the idea that no one can become their true selves without the help of others. Or, as Harding summarized, that “I am me because of who we are… I cannot be me without you and you cannot be you without me.” He elaborated on this by describing some of the many achievements his peers have accomplished throughout their time at Fairfield. From earning nursing degrees to filming and re-filming dozens of projects to enacting social change, Harding pointed out that none of these accomplishments could have been achieved by the actions of only one person. In a dramatic conclusion of Harding’s speech, a hawk soared down over the graduates, eliciting gasps of astonishment, cheers and an extending of the already enthusiastic applause.
“My fellow classmates, we’re all about to receive degrees from Fairfield University,” began honorary degree recipient, Brother Guy Joseph Consolmagno, S.J., director and president of the Vatican Observatory. Also known as the Pope’s Astronomer, Consolmagno brought up a point he and his friend once discussed. What does a degree do? The answer Consolmagno provided was that the education graduates receive provides them with the information they need to engage in conversation about their fields of study and, through these conversations with others, to enact change.
The ceremony concluded with a poem by spiritual director Reverend Thomas A. Fitzpatrick, S.J., and some concluding remarks by President Mark R. Nemec, Ph.D. Fitzpatrick’s poem drew many a chuckle from the crowd as the reverend recounted several popular college experiences such as waking up after an evening of drinking realizing it was too much… only to repeat the same actions the same night. Yet, this poem also gave a message to the graduates, Fitzpatrick advising them to, “burst out, spring out” into their new lives and continue their work.
Drawing the events to a close on what had gradually become a beautiful, sun-filled day, President Nemec thanked the class of 2018 for their help in his transition into the position of president. He also advised the class of 2018, and all other Fairfield graduates, to “never forget that the world needs what you do… Never stop learning. Commit to developing your mind, body and spirit. And third, engage in ever broadening conversation and, as [Brother Consolmagno] said, occasionally change the topic.”