Class of 2019 Commencement in the Reina Sofia Museum
Friends, family and the SLU-Madrid community gathered at the Reina Sofia Museum on Saturday, May 11, to celebrate the 2019 commencement ceremony. The University conferred degrees to 41 graduates from 15 countries and eight U.S. states.
The day of celebration began with the Baccalaureate Mass in the Royal Monastery of Santa Isabel, an official cultural heritage site in central Madrid encompassing a convent and a Catholic school. Like the Baccalaureate Mass celebrated on the St. Louis campus, it is an opportunity for the community to offer thanks to God for the gifts and opportunities bestowed upon the graduates.
Following Mass, graduates processed into the Nouvel auditorium in the Reina Sofia Museum, accompanied by live bagpipe music performed by modern languages professor Hamish Binns. Assistant dean Jaime Ortiz, who served as master of ceremonies, opened with greetings in both English and Spanish before calling upon Eleonora Colzani to give the introductory remarks. Nominated to speak by SLU-Madrid faculty, Colzani offered a warm welcome in seven languages to this “day of celebrations and smiles, with some tears as a side.” After Rev. James O’Leary, S.J., led the invocation, director and academic dean Paul Vita, Ph.D., reflected on the importance of the day and introduced the student speakers, Destiny Vernon and Benjamin Grooters.
Vernon mentioned the tremendous personal growth she underwent in her time at SLU-Madrid, before naming each member of her immediate and extended family who traveled from New York to see her walk across the graduation stage. She closed with a heartfelt dedication to her mother.
The second speaker, Grooters, shared with the audience the personal journey that led him to SLU-Madrid. He then spoke of the two elements of the SLU-Madrid experience that most profoundly affected him: the close attention of the business faculty who drove his desire to further his education and the importance of culture as reflected in the diversity of the student body, the University and the city of Madrid.
This year's commencement speaker was SLU President Fred Pestello, Ph.D. Pestello became the University’s 33rd president – and first, permanent lay president – in 2014. Under Pestello’s leadership, SLU has developed and advanced a University-wide strategic plan with the Jesuit mission and values at its core, centered on promoting student success, patient health and community engagement.
Before delving into his formal remarks, Pestello opened with a simple reminder to graduates to savor the moment. “Think of where we are at,” he said. “You are now seated in one of the greatest cities in the world. More specifically, we are seated in one of the greatest art museums in the world. We are surrounded by treasures. People come from across the world to be here in Madrid, to see this museum, to see these amazing works of art. Further, you are surrounded – in front of you, behind you and on the side – by the community of scholars who have invested so much in you for the past four years. This is your moment.”
A major theme of Pestello’s address was the importance of stories. Two of the most important guideposts for overcoming obstacles in life, he claimed, are knowing that profound knowledge is acquired through understanding the power of the story and, secondly, knowing that no story is more important that one’s own. He pointed out that SLU-Madrid students are part of SLU’s unique story, one with 200 years of history since its founding. The Class of 2019 is SLU’s very first graduating class in the University’s third century. “You are part of this long and noble history,” he told them.
After sharing information about his own journey, including his own shifting academic focus from chemistry to sociology as well as a foray into radio broadcasting, Pestello charged students to take the Jesuit mission to heart and to task. “Our world needs people who are rooted in their story of worthiness, strengthened by higher purpose, serving the greater good and empowered by the Jesuit spirit of seeing God in all things. Now is not the time to harbor our gifts,” he said. “When you hear stories of suffering, you have an obligation to act. When incorrect stories are told to rationalize morally unjust decisions, you have an obligation to correct the narrative. When the stories of those who are most at risk are silenced, you have an obligation to elevate those stories.”
“Billikens, you are our present, and that is a gift the world cannot do without,” he concluded.
After the conferral of degrees, Pestello declared the graduates sons and daughters of Saint Louis University forever.
Congratulations to the graduates, their families and friends!