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Class of 2023 Commencement Address - Wendy Hoke, President

Posted on May 25, 2023 in Articles

Rebuilding Social Connections

Welcome, Class of 2023, parents, and family members.

On behalf of our Board of Directors, Ursuline Sisters and Faculty and Staff, congratulations to the Class of 2023!

In preparation for my remarks this year, I spent a lot of time thinking about social connections. Why? Because you, ladies, have shown me that we cannot take connection with others for granted. During your four years at Beaumont, you have articulated -- individually and collectively – the importance of community and what it feels like when it is missing.

Your Beaumont experience was interrupted in the spring of your freshman year due to COVID.

It has impacted how you bonded as a class. But while I know it weighed heavy on your minds how you missed those important community building opportunities early on, I also witnessed how you’ve supported each other as your time at Beaumont was winding down.

You have persevered and that is a skill that will follow you through college and beyond.

On behalf of Mrs. Hoelzel, Mrs. Shaeffer and Mrs. Bernot, let me say what a beautiful blessing and example you are to us all.

We stand here before you with an immense sense of pride for who you are as young women and for what you’ve accomplished academically, spiritually and athletically. You stand well prepared to go out and change the world.

Class of 2023, you 74 seniors were accepted to 134 colleges and universities in 30 states, the District of Columbia, and Scotland. You will attend 28 different colleges and universities in 10 states, ranging from California and Washington to Maine and Florida. Collectively, you have earned an eye-popping $12 million in merit-based scholarships.

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

You are pursuing medicine, engineering, accounting, business, education, nursing, digital storytelling, sports medicine, exercise science, film, mathematics, art history, criminal justice, communications, real estate, music business, painting, hospitality management and tourism, marketing and sustainability, graphic design, psychology, fashion, theater, forensic chemistry, and parks and recreation management.

Wow! Talk about changing the world! We join your parents and families in expressing just how proud we are of your accomplishments and the women you are becoming.

I love that word – becoming. To me, it means that we are never quite finished. We are always working toward becoming the best version of ourselves. It also means the path is not fixed. As Mother Theresa said, “Each sunrise is the promise of rewriting your story.” In other words, you don’t need to have it all figured out at age 18.

You have left your mark on Beaumont in so many ways, but here are some that resonate with me:

- Through the eloquence conveyed through your art.

- Through the sheer physical power and teamwork required to win a state championship – twice!

- The way you left it all on the court in your final basketball game.

- The daily afterschool TikTok dance in the hall outside my office.

- Your glee at realizing we now had chewy ice in the new Sister Margaret Ann Kelly Dining Hall.

- Your enthusiastic and spontaneous rendition of the Rattlin’ Bog in the hallways.

- The power, humanity and humor found on the Beaumont Stage through productions big and small.

- The enthusiasm and openness with which you present me ideas and challenges.

- Finally, the way you lead the student body in singing the alma mater.

These are just a fraction of the ways in which you give me hope. Ladies, we build hope together – as a community. We don’t build it alone. That is one of Beaumont’s special gifts.

We talked about the need to rebuild the social fabric of our communities. After all, we have fewer opportunities for spontaneous interactions with strangers. We’re out of practice. We use delivery services for groceries, prescriptions, stamps, books and anything else we can dream of and find on Amazon.

No wonder 1 in 2 people cite a feeling of loneliness. It’s become so pronounced that U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has named it an epidemic. Why does it matter? Because, according to the Surgeon General, social connection can transform our whole health and well-being. It can decrease your risk of heart disease, anxiety, high blood pressure, dementia, depression and diabetes. And it can lead to healthier, more prosperous and resilient communities.

In other words, social connections are as essential to human life as food and water. But it is the quality of those connections that matter, not the quantity.

I recently had the occasion to be reminded of the quality of connections. Most of you know that my husband had a stroke on April 29 while we were at a family wedding in Cincinnati. It was shocking and terrifying and instantly put my whole life into question in the hours and days immediately thereafter.

Fortunately, we were together, which was one of the little blessings. In stroke, time is imperative to recovery. Ladies (and everyone), know the signs -- face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, and call 911. Because of that, he was able to receive life-saving medication to help his body and mind recover.

Beyond the extraordinary emergency responders and medical professionals at the University of Cincinnati stroke center, an army of helpers – family, friends of nearly 40 years, my sons – all jumped in to help. Many more called, texted and sent letters and emails offering prayers of healing and support. Today, Mr. Hoke is doing great, walking on his own, recovering near to himself. And I am filled with gratitude.

He is one of the best people I know at nurturing social connections, much better than I am. I tend to get consumed by work. It’s something I work hard to keep in check, but I’m not always successful. This experience put into sharp relief all that my husband does for me so that I can give as much as I do to Beaumont. But it also highlighted what I’m missing, which are my own social connections. I’m working on that.

I hope that as you go through life, you will nurture your friendships and family and, ultimately, that you find a partner who provides that support and balance for you as well.

In the meantime, here are some lessons I’ve cobbled together and I’m trying hard to work on myself (I’m still becoming, too.):

- Invest time in nurturing your relationships, not just on social media, but in person.

- When you’re with your family or friends, be present, minimize distractions. Put your phone away.

- One of the best ways to build social connections is to serve your community. Service is a hallmark of an Ursuline education, so this should come naturally.

- Practice gratitude. Thomas Merton said: “To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything.”

- Engage with new people, those who think and live and worship differently than you. Start a conversation with a stranger. College is a great place to rebuild your muscle memory of having conversations.

- Be generous with a smile, it’s the first step to peace.

- Get involved with others – find strength and relationship in your faith, a hobby, or community organization that supports a sense of belonging, meaning and purpose.

- Don’t forget to take time for yourself so that you can be fully present for others. Like the flight attendants say, put your oxygen mask on first. If it’s too much, reach out. Don’t cry alone.

There’s a great word – solidarity – that reminds us that we humans 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 2023, think about how you will build your social connections, use your voice in service to others, and how you will create space at the table for all.

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.

Earlier this month, we sent an email out to our 7,000 alumnae as you are about to join their ranks. We asked them to share words of wisdom for the Class of 2023. As I suspected, they picked up on the theme of connections. Here is one I’d like to share with you tonight.

Dear Class of 2023,

Congratulations on your huge accomplishment! Beaumont taught me a lot about building the foundation of who I am. I was scared of what the future would hold. Keep your sisters close even when you’re far away. They helped me out a lot and can do the same for you. Take college as a time to grow the seeds Beaumont planted in you. As a Beaumont girl, you have all the tools to succeed. The world is yours, get the most out of every opportunity college offers and never be afraid to try something new!


Morgan Sims, Class of 2019

St. Angela shows us how to serve freely, joyfully and creatively without being burdened. You are about to join legions of women, like Morgan, who have been formed in that same spirit.

Women of the Class of 2023, 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 over these four years.

Your intellect, work ethic, 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 holy women of Beaumont guide you with our simple prayer:

St. Angela, watch over our days

St. Ursula, protect our future

Sr. Dorothy Kazel, walk with us

St. Angela says:

Do something

Get moving

Be confident

Risk new things

Stick with it

Get on your knees and pray

Then be ready for

Big surprises

Class of 2023, know that we are all so very proud of you. You have been a beacon of hope and light over these past four years. Now go out, let that light shine for the world, build your social connections, and be ready for big surprises!

Congratulations, Class of 2023!

We love you and may God bless you all!