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Chestnut Hill College Celebrates 94th Annual Commencement

Chestnut Hill College Celebrates 94th Annual Commencement

The Reverend James Martin, SJ, an award-winning author, an internationally renowned speaker and columnist, and editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America will deliver the 94th Commencement address at the College’s virtual ceremony on Saturday, May 8.

This year, the College will award 271 bachelor degrees, 126 master’s degrees as well as 16 doctoral degrees in clinical psychology during the ceremony. Honorary Doctor of Laws degrees will be awarded to Dr. Irene Gaskins and to Nydia Han.  The Reverend James Martin, SJ, also receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the College.  

The Reverend James Martin, SJ, is an award-winning author, an internationally renowned speaker and columnist, and editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America.  In addition to his work at America, he has written or edited more than 20 books, all of which reference his personal experiences and life journey with Jesus, as he encourages his readers to find God by finding themselves, and to find themselves in finding God. This firm conviction that God desires a personal encounter and relationship with each of us grounds his newest book, Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone. As a faithful Jesuit and follower of Ignatius, Father Martin is adept at finding God in all things and bringing God into every place he goes, even virtually.  

Father Martin is widely seen as a progressive voice on Catholic issues, including the Church’s inclusion of LGBTQ persons. One of his recent books, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity has been endorsed by cardinals, bishops and church leaders including Cardinals Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, Wilton Gregory of Washington, DC and Blaise Cupich of Chicago, who in appreciation of all Father Martin is doing wrote: “He really is one of, if not the foremost evangelizer in the Church today, especially for young people.” In the midst of so much opposition from far-right Catholics, Father Martin’s desire to build bridges of relationship, rather than walls of division, to go to the margins with Jesus to welcome all to the table, is one of the most compelling signs of the hope he holds high for all of us in our fractured world and church today. 

Dr. Irene Gaskins, founder of the Benchmark School, has been a pioneer par excellence. Not only is she the founder of the illustrious Benchmark School where she devised an innovative approach to help struggling readers, but she led the way for all teachers to recognize that children with learning differences could, in fact, become successful readers and writers. Her dedication to reading instruction gave hope, often for the first time, to generations of children and their families.

In the 1960s, Irene worked as a research assistant at the Reading Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania while she was working on her doctorate. She tracked the characteristics of struggling readers in Penn’s study on dyslexia, leading her to become intrigued as to why some children have difficulty learning how to read despite their high intelligence. As a result of her research, Irene founded the Benchmark School in Media, Pennsylvania, in 1970. She was truly a woman ahead of her time.

The impressive, ground-breaking work being done at Benchmark School did not go unnoticed by those in the education field. Under Irene’s leadership, Benchmark School was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a School of Excellence in 1986.  Irene has been the recipient of many prestigious awards including the William S. Gray Citation of Merit for Lifetime Achievement from the International Reading Association, Distinguished Educator by The Reading Teacher journal, and the Janet L. Hoops Award from the Pennsylvania branch of the International Dyslexia Association. She was also cited by the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education as one of the "Twelve Women Pioneers" in its history. 

Nydia Han is 6ABC’s Consumer Investigative Reporter and co-anchor of Action News Sunday mornings. She is dedicated to exposing scams, protecting consumers, and encouraging businesses to do the right thing. She teaches us by her good works to use our voices to create change. 

An Emmy award-winning journalist, Nydia is also the creator of the documentary series,  #ThisIsAmerica, a provocative look at who we are as Americans. As the world turned in 2020, America found itself in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic and, sadly, unprovoked backlash against the Asian American community. In response, Nydia moderated a panel of community leaders that resulted in a call to action to stop hate.

With her documentary series, #ThisIsAmerica, Nydia hopes to inspire us to celebrate our differences. To pause on self-righteousness to consider what else might be learned about another. To get to know each other’s unique American stories, check our own biases, and be brave enough to stand for humanity. 

Always ready to speak up where it counts, Nydia is dedicated to helping our communities in a myriad of ways. She is a mom of two, a wife and volunteers her time for causes she is passionate about such as raising funds for lung cancer research, after the passing of her mother. She also serves on the Asian American Women’s Coalition Advisory Board and mentors aspiring journalists.

For more information on this year’s virtual commencement, please visit 2021 Commencement | Chestnut Hill College (

Click here to view this year's virtual ceremony, live at 10AM.

Posted In: Around Campus