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Class of 2021 Commencement Address by Wendy Hoke, President

Posted on May 26, 2021 in Articles

Class of 2021 Commencement Address by Wendy Hoke, President

Good evening, everyone. Never doubt the powerful prayers of the Ursuline Sisters. We have been blessed with a break in the rain to celebrate the Class of 2021 outdoors in this beautiful place we call Beaumont. [prayer hands to heaven]

On behalf of our Board of Directors, Ursuline Sisters and Faculty and Staff, congratulations to the Class of 2021. You did it. We made it. After an unprecedented 15 months, we are here together as a community to celebrate all of you. And that is essential.

This is a special class for me, Mr. Beyer and Mrs. Bernot. We all started as freshmen together four years ago. Through a variety of events, challenges and celebrations that none of us could have predicted, we stand here today in solidarity and strength.

During your four years at Beaumont, you ladies have found your voice – individually and collectively. You are empowered to be advocates for justice and change. Indeed, your impact will be felt on future Beaumont students for years to come. You stand well prepared to go out and change the world.

You have been accepted to more than 147 colleges and universities from Hawaii, California and Oregon to Maine, New York and Virginia, and from Houston to the southeastern tip of Florida. Together, you 86 graduates have earned an eye-popping $15.2 million in merit-based scholarships and awards. [PAUSE for applause]

You are Phi Beta Kappa, IB Diploma Candidates, Blue Streaks forever. 13 of you are going to continue as scholar athletes at the university level.

You are pursuing medicine, engineering, environmental sciences, urban planning, business, education, nursing, journalism, film, psychology, fashion, and “eequine” therapy.

We join your parents and families in expressing just how proud we are of your accomplishments and the women you are becoming.

See the Light

God works in mysterious ways, ladies. I was reflecting this morning on Father Tom’s homily from baccalaureate the other night. He talked about how he has witnessed you being salt and light for the world. And I agree. As I reflected over the past few months on what this class represents, it came to me that this is a class of action. So I wanted to take a moment to tie together Fr. Tom’s homily with what I see for the Class of 2021.

Matthew’s Gospel says,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.

Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

What does it mean to let your light shine? Think of it as your purpose, the calling that God has just for you. It takes courage to accept God’s purpose for our lives. But when we do, we are lit inside and that light shines through so that others see and recognize the work that God is doing through you.

Ladies, you have let your light shine is so many ways, big and small. Whether it’s being there for each other through a late-night text, cheering for each other at a basketball game, or vocalizing your support for racial justice and equity. When you shine your light on others, it becomes contagious.

Pope Francis says: Good works “do not keep well in the fridge. They need to be shared the minute there is a need.”

We have a shared responsibility as Catholics and Christians, but also as human beings to bring our light and our voice to the public square. To join in the conversation about what it takes to strengthen the common good.

You, ladies, have already done so. You took actions every day to ensure that we kept each other safe from harm. You raised your voices last summer to build understanding through important conversations about what it means to be a person of color at Beaumont and how to be an ally.

Now I want you to imagine the transformation that can happen in the world if we could let our light shine in all our daily actions. There is not a space or place in which the light would not touch. When those spaces and places are illuminated, we can see clearly, choose a path, and act with confidence and conviction.

You will encounter naysayers and cynics who seek to extinguish your light. Do not let them. Their negativity will not snuff out your light. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Nothing has ever been achieved by a person who says, ‘It can’t be done.’”

You have a great example in St. Angela Merici. Her call from God was to prepare a way for women to be in the world. She believed women needed to be educated. Remember this was the 16th century, not exactly a time of enlightened attitudes toward women. While Angela was not blind to the evils of the world, she stands as a woman of hope.

She reminds us always that we are meant to be in the world – not secluded from it.

St. Angela was light for others. Her work is characterized by love of God, confidence, joy, simplicity, love, freedom, directness and creativity. Does this sound like you, ladies? I think it does.

Choose your path

I’ve been reading, thinking and praying quite a bit over the past few months, particularly as we look toward a time after COVID. Pope Francis in his new book, “Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future,” writes: “You don’t come out of a crisis the same. You are either better or worse, but not the same.”

In normal times, he writes, we can safely hide our light and not reveal ourselves. We smile, say the right things, but never actually reveal who we are. “In a crisis, it’s the opposite,” says Pope Francis. “You have to choose — and in making your choice, you reveal your heart.”

There’s a famous quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that is found on greeting cards, posters, coffee mugs and all manner of merchandise that says, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” But there’s more context to that quote that I think is important for you today. The broader quote says:

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Ladies, 5 years ago I faced down Stage 3 breast cancer and all the horrors that go along with it. Trust me, you can face your worst fears and emerge stronger. As an aside: When the time comes, please get your mammograms. A Beaumont alum named Ellen Proctor is on the patent for the compression system for mammography. A Beaumont alum literally saved my life and she can save yours, too.

Ladies you – and we – have lived through a global pandemic in which so many have suffered, in particular women and especially women of color.

But we must not be afraid to lead in times of crisis. Indeed, multiple studies show the positive impact women leaders have had during the pandemic:

  • One study shows outcomes related to COVID-19 including cases and deaths were systemically better in countries led by women
  • Another study looked at governors in the US and found that states with female leaders had lower fatality rates
  • Yet another study found that women leaders as ranked by their employees rated statistically higher than male leaders in initiative, relationships, integrity, motivation, communication, collaboration, innovation, decision-making, problem-solving and diversity.

Pope Francis, too, sees signs of hope in the COVID crisis through the leading role of women. He sees that strength reflected by the women in the Gospels. “They were not paralyzed by tragedy. The Lord first announced new life to women because they were present, attentive and open to new possibilities.”

Act with Confidence and Conviction

Father Tom said during his homily on Monday night that the Catholic Church needs women’s voices and actions. And that is SO true.

There’s a great word – solidarity – that reminds us we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. Pope Francis says, “solidarity is not the sharing of crumbs, rather it is making space at the table for all.”

As you step toward your future, Class of 2021, think about how you will use your voice in service to others, how you will create space at the table for all, how you will be light for others.

You don’t need to have all the answers today. And even when you do, those answers may change over time. Life is never a straight path forward. But I know you will lead. And when you do, you will come to learn what is essential. Love for others is essential.

Women of the Class of 2021, you have been researchers, engineers, artists, athletes, social justice advocates and global scholars. You challenged, pushed, reconciled and grew as leaders and women of faith.

Your intellect, drive, creativity and fierceness had us cheering you all along the way. You, ladies, are well prepared.

There will be times ahead that will test you and maybe even bring you to your knees. Lean on your faith and let the faithful women of Beaumont guide you with our simple prayer:

St. Angela, watch over our days

St. Ursula, protect our future

Sr. Doroth Kazel, walk with us

Know that we all are so very proud of you—Mr. Beyer, Mrs. Bernot, your guidance counselors, teachers, parents, siblings, grandparents, the Ursuline Sisters and our board of directors.

When I was first hired as President of Beaumont four years ago, one of the Ursuline Sisters sent me a St. Angela prayer card and handwritten on the back were Angela’s words that have inspired me every day these past four years. I feel are just right for all of you. St. Angela says:

Do something

Get moving

Be confident

Risk new things

Stick with it

Get on your knees

Then be ready for

Big surprises

Class of 2021, you have shared your light with us over these past four years. Now go out, let it shine for the world and be ready for big surprises!

Congratulations, Class of 2021!

We love you and may God bless you all!