WORCESTER – Claudia Palencia, of Framingham, was one of 653 graduates to receive a degree during Assumption College’s 100th Commencement exercises on Sunday, May 14, held at the DCU Center in downtown Worcester, in which speaker John L. Allen, Jr., editor of Crux, a publication that focuses on news of the Vatican and Catholic Church, delivered the Commencement address. Palencia received a Bachelor of Arts degree.
“What is perhaps most appealing about Allen […] is his accessibility in presenting a refreshing take on Catholicism today,” said Sonia Nunes ’17, this year’s salutatorian, in her introduction if the speaker. “His innovative style of religious reporting is one that we can all appreciate, as it strives to ‘Light the way’ for both Catholics and non-Catholics to understand and appreciate the role of the Church in the modern world.”
Allen–who is a senior Vatican analyst for CNN and served as correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter for 16 years–has written nine books on the Holy See and Catholic affairs, and is a popular speaker on Catholicism both in the United States and internationally. According to the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, his reporting is “possibly the best source of information on the Vatican published in the United States.” The London Tablet has called Allen “the most authoritative writer on Vatican affairs in the English language,” and renowned papal biographer George Weigel has called him “the best Anglophone Vatican reporter ever.”
“Not all of us have great life wisdom to impart,” began Allen in his Commencement Address. “But here is the good news: I have been privileged to know some people you could do well to emulate. People who are in fact living role models of what the good life looks like. And those are the three popes that I have been privileged to cover: John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.”
Allen went on to share stories of each of the three Popes, and one core life lesson to infer from each example. From John Paul II, the importance of courage, which was firmly rooted in his faith; from Pope Benedict XVI, that faith and reason belong together and that only truth can save the world; and from Pope Francis, choosing to live life through the eyes of mercy, and to make the Catholic Church a genuine community of mercy.
“The three papal life lessons I wanted to bring for you today: the courage of John Paul II, the passion for the truth of Benedict the XVI, and the profound mercy of Pope Francis,” he said. “Graduates of the Class of 2017, if you can be people of courage, if you can be people of truth and if you can be people of mercy, I promise you, that is a prescription of a life well-lived every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
In addition to delivering the Commencement address, Allen received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. An honorary Doctor of Humane Letters was also conferred upon Mary Lou Jennings, executive director of the Sister Thea Bowman Black Catholic Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization that empowers African-Americans to pursue their dream of a college degree. The mission of the foundation is to “establish the means by which to rekindle and enliven the hope and the opportunities that Catholic schools can offer to black children.” Under Jennings’ stewardship, the Foundation has provided scholarship assistance to approximately 200 African-American students to attend a Catholic college or university, including some who have attended Assumption College. The Foundation also supports single mothers who are managing the demands of motherhood and college classes.
Also during the ceremony, Roberta Schaefer, Ph.D., founder and former president of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, received an honorary Doctor of Law. Under her direction, The Research Bureau grew from one-person who studied city and town matters to a five-person operation that examined pressing public policy issues throughout Central Massachusetts. During her three decades at The Research Bureau, the organization dedicated itself to keeping the community informed, writing hundreds of reports, hosting programs and forums, and ultimately, in 2000 under Schaefer’s leadership, creating a “citizen-informed government performance measurement program, which received widespread recognition for its citizen engagement and collaboration with the public sector leading to measurable improvements in government performance.”
During the ceremony-in which 410 Bachelor of Arts degrees; 195 graduate studies degrees (Master of Arts and Master of Business Administration) and certificates; and 48 Continuing and Career Education degrees (Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Business Administration, Bachelor of Science, and associates) were awarded-Francesco C. Cesareo, Ph.D., president of Assumption College, congratulated the graduates and reminded them to continue serving others after they leave campus.
“As you prepare to go forth from Assumption I challenge you to take what you have learned to lead a life beyond the self by contributing your time and talent in service to the community so as to create a better world for future generations,” said President Cesareo.
Rachel Avard, Class of 2017 valedictorian, shared that during the Class of 2017’s time at Assumption, they worked together to make a difference over the last four years through a variety of community service projects and campaigns, and although they were going their separate ways after the ceremony, she urged them to hold fast to their Assumption education.
“As you venture into the wider world beyond the gates of Assumption College, choose to not get lost amidst the crowd or go unnoticed like a single grain of sand on the beach. Instead, invoke what you have learned from your liberal arts education following the Catholic tradition and become a force that cannot be ignored or overlooked,” she said. “We are each only one person, but if we are persistent and dedicated each of us can accomplish great things No matter how small we might sometimes feel, we can all make a difference. Today I am standing before America’s next ophthalmologists, elementary school teachers, CEOs, social workers, journalists, graphic designers; the list goes on and on. No matter which career path you choose, you have the power to shape how others see and experience the world.”
Founded in 1904 by the Augustinians of the Assumption in Worcester, Mass., Assumption College is a Catholic liberal arts institution that offers undergraduate students 42 majors and 48 minors in the liberal arts, sciences, business, and professional studies; as well as master’s and continuing education degrees and professional certificate programs-each through an educational experience that is grounded in the rich Catholic intellectual tradition.