With drenching rains, high winds and cold temperatures in the forecast, the decision was made—about 48 hours in advance of CHC’s 90th Commencement ceremony on May 13—to move the event into Sorgenti Arena. The College community pulled together and reorganized the day into something truly special for the students, their families and friends.
“Our priorities were the safety and experience of our graduates,” remembers Krista Murphy, Ph.D., dean of student life. “As the week went on and the forecasts continued to get worse, there seemed no prudent (or enjoyable) way to hold the ceremony under the tent. At that point, our focus shifted to ways to make this the best possible experience indoors, so that even if it wasn’t what graduates imagined, it would be a great memory for them to look back on as alums, and maybe even be above and beyond what they envisioned.”
Graduates lined up and marched down the Rotunda staircase, as always, however, this year instead of continuing outdoors, the procession snaked down the Hall of Philanthropy and into the Arena. Because of limited space there, fewer numbers could attend the ceremony in person, however, video cameras enabled family and friends to witness their graduates’ special day in the Redmond Room, Logue Library, and several classrooms. The event also was live-streamed to CHC’s website.
Another first this year was the "as-it's-happening" social media campaign led by CHC’s Communication team and picked up by students and others on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Such immediacy helped provide an additional sense of being there for those who could not attend in person.
In the spirit of the day—and of the weather—and determined to remain upbeat, small rubber ducks complete with mortar board, diploma and “2017” became the class’s de facto mascot. Lynn Ortale, Ph.D., vice president for student life and her husband, Brian, an adjunct professor in religious studies and global studies, gathered all the rubber ducks they could find at local dollar stores.
“SUS students received the ducks at the senior BBQ and those in SGS and SCPS received the ducks with their diplomas,” says Ortale. “Brian came up with the hashtag #CHCGriffinsReign as an obvious play on words that kept a positive perspective to moving graduation inside.”
Graduates—and speaker Chris Lowney—included their ducks in post-graduation selfies and they showed up all over social media.
Approximately 390 new graduates from all three schools, including 16 new doctors from the Psy.D. Program, listened as their classmate, Joshua Tull, welcomed them to their graduation day. “Congratulations on reaching this milestone,” he began. “You are all accomplished and should be proud.”
Sister Carol, CHC's President, mentioned author JK Rowling in her address: “As she said, we don’t need magic. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves.”
And outgoing Chair of CHC’s Board, Margaret McCaffery ’77 said that it was hard to believe her own commencement had taken place 40 years ago. She urged the graduates to “be fully present today and enjoy it. Then you can relax because you are done—for now. What is next is close, so savor this day.”
Honorary Doctor of Laws degrees were then conferred on Elisa Costantini, author and philanthropist, Thomas J. Lynch, vice president and portfolio manager at Haverford Trust Company, Brighid Blake, board member of the African Sisters Education Collaborative and former executive director of the southeastern Pennsylvania Consortium for Higher Education, and Christopher Lowney, author, leadership consultant and public speaker.
Lowney gave the Commencement address, in which he urged the graduates to begin to think of themselves as leaders, with all the qualities, characteristics and attributes of a leader. “Our culture teaches us to be modest, but that is misplaced when it comes to leadership,” he said. “Think of your own name first when it comes to leadership from this day forward, with all the courage, integrity, passion and dedication required of leaders.”
Throughout his presentation, Lowney wove a story from his new book, “Everyone Leads: How to Revitalize the Catholic Church” into his address. It was about a dedicated leader who addresses the issue of homelessness in Philadelphia by giving homeless individuals new socks and other items as a way to build community with the dear neighbor. She exemplifies his four commandments of leadership: 1. Point out the way; 2. See a problem and immediately consider what you can do; 3. Innovate. Take risks. Make creative use of your gifts; and 4. Be people who live for a purpose greater than yourself.
He then introduced the subject of his speech: Sister Rita Michael Scully, SSJ, associate professor of English, who recognized a problem and has done what she can to rectify it.
After conferring the degrees, Sister Carol briefly addressed the students: “This is the end of your CHC career. Your degree changes you and your possibilities for the future. Yours was an education of uncommon excellence and CHC has fueled you to welcome all people, populating your heart with every kind of dear neighbor. Live the CHC mission.”
In an email after the Commencement, Sister Carol thanked the College community for its generosity in doing whatever was needed to make the day special through the first indoor graduation in Sorgenti Arena. She said, “There were so many comments about how intimate and warm the setting was and how nice it was to see the students’ faces. The community [that was] created mirrored the experience of students during their years at the College, where names are known and faces recognized, in a setting that is welcoming and inclusive.”
A full album of photos from Commencement and the Baccalaureate Mass can be found on the Chestnut Hill College Facebook page.