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SLU-Madrid Celebrates Commencement for the Class of 2020 and Class of 2021

by Katie Gortz on 05/14/2021

Friends, family and the SLU-Madrid community celebrated commencement for the Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 at an open-air ceremony on Padre Arrupe Hall Patio. The University conferred degrees to 116 graduates from 24 countries and 20 U.S. states. After a year of hybrid classes and Zoom events, the in-person celebration, which followed strict health and safety protocols, marked a joyous completion to a challenging yet rewarding academic year.

Commencement 2021

Congratulations to the SLU-Madrid Class of 2020 and Class of 2021. As declared by SLU President Fred Pestello, Ph.D., you are now sons and daughters of Saint Louis University forever!

Graduates processed into the Padre Arrupe Hall Patio, accompanied by live bagpipe music performed by modern languages professor Hamish Binns. Assistant Dean Jaime Ortiz, who served as master of ceremonies, offered a warm welcome before calling upon Rev. James O'Leary, S.J., to lead the invocation. Director and Academic Dean Paul Vita, Ph.D., then reflected on the importance of the day and introduced the student speakers, Carmen Rodríguez Parra (Class of '20) and Khadidja Djebairia (Class of '21), both nominated by SLU-Madrid faculty.

For Rodríguez Parra, a native madrileña who addressed the audience in Spanish, the greatest gift bestowed on her by SLU-Madrid, alongside her education, was the people who accompanied and inspired her along the journey. She extended them a heartfelt thanks and ensured them that she will never forget all that they have done for her.

The second student speaker, Djebairia, also recognized the exceptional people who she met as a SLU-Madrid student. "Even though I want to thank the faculty, all the staff members, family, friends and guests, my most special thank you goes to the graduates for never giving up despite the uncertainties and for achieving what many others could not achieve."

Djebairia commented that instead of dwelling on the disappointment of not having their extended friends and family be able to attend graduation, members of the Class of 2020 and 2021 remained positive and made the best out of the situation. "I know this reaction might seem trivial to so many people, but after four years of hard work and more than a year of facing this pandemic, this reaction shows how the Classes of 2020 and 2021 are outstanding and unbreakable."

This year's commencement speaker was Ms. Jane Strei, who works in Special Consular Services in the American Citizen Services section of the U.S. Embassy in Madrid. Her academic background is in cross-cultural communication and she has worked extensively in higher education, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses for more than 20 years before changing to a career at the embassy. 

After a year and a half of teleworking, Strei was delighted to address a live audience. Instead of offering advice for the future as per a typical graduation address, she chose to speak about how the graduating students are "truly heroes." After counseling hundreds of U.S. citizens, many of whom were students, on issues related to pandemic travel and safety, she was universally impressed with their strength, resilience and courage. She shared several anecdotes about U.S. travelers who showed exceptional bravery, including a student who arranged to self-quarantine before returning to her family home in St. Louis, and a young man, only 17 years old, who faced countless difficulties with flight and travel logistics. 

According to Strei, many of the students who chose to stay in Spain at the start of the pandemic encountered incredible kindness and generosity on the part of Spaniards, who opened their homes and their hearts to international students. "There were so many stories," she said. "And every one demonstrated to me the beauty of humanity, the compassion between cultures, and how incredible these students are."

"Getting a university degree is a huge achievement, but getting an international university degree? That is incredible. Some of you had to study in languages that are not your own… Some of you had to live in cultures that are not your own… To make it through that, your classes, your exams, your papers, your assignments, all the worries of day-to-day life, and finish here today successfully goes to show how courageous and amazing you are."

To conclude, Strei offered one piece of advice to the graduating students: "Whatever you choose to do in your lives, my recommendation is just make sure it is something you believe in. If what you do is something you feel strongly about, if it lets you sleep at night, if it lets you have a clear conscience, that’s what it’s all about."

Laura Tedesco, Ph.D. (Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences), Taieb Gasmi, Ph.D. (Associate Dean of Science and Engineering), and Dave Howden, Ph.D. (Chair of Business and Economics) presented all the degree candidates for their respective departments before SLU President Fred Pestello, Ph.D., conferred degrees upon the students in a specially recorded video message.

The ceremony came to a close as Pestello declared the graduates to be sons and daughters of Saint Louis University forever.

Congratulations to the graduates, their families and friends!