SLU's Newest Graduates Celebrate at Midyear Commencement
When Annesley Clark came to Saint Louis University in the fall of 2016, she wasn’t sure that she had found a place she would belong when she walked under the University’s archways onto campus.
Graduating seniors get ready to become SLU alumni.
“As an institution of higher learning, I fully expected that SLU would push my mind to grow,” Clark told the crowd. “What I didn’t expect was how powerfully and beautifully my mind would grow.” Standing before a crowd of friends, family, faculty members, University leaders, and her fellow 2018 Midyear graduates, Clark said that she was “no longer an outsider, no longer scared and no longer alone.” The SLU community, she said, had become her family and the University a beloved home where she would be encouraged to reach her full potential.
Clark, a women’s and gender studies major with a minor in health care ethics, was the student speaker at SLU’s Midyear commencement on Dec. 14, at Chaifetz Arena. A member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, Clark had also been active in a number of University organizations including D-Talk, Actio, the Equality Squad, Una and the League of Laughter.
Ceremony and Celebration
John Ammann, J.D., McDonnell Professor of Justice in American Society and supervisor of the litigation clinic at the School of Law, carried the University Mace. Faculty members and University leaders lead the graduation procession to open the commencement ceremony. The University’s Mastersingers sang the national anthem as well as the University’s newly revised Varsity Song.
After an opening prayer by Justin Daffron, S.J., special assistant to the president for growth, University President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., welcomed the new graduates and their loved ones.
Pestello asked the crowd to join him in a moment of silence to honor those who could not be present at the commencement, including Annie Rues Neidel, Ph.D. Neidel, a member of the University’s Honors Program staff, recently passed away after a struggle with breast cancer and was well-known for her mentorship and commitment to students. A white-draped chair next to Pestello’s held a bouquet of flowers as a tribute to Neidel and other SLU community members who had passed away this year.
In beginning his speech to the new graduates, Pestello congratulated them for joining the ranks of SLU’s first graduating class of the University’s third century. SLU recently concluded its bicentennial year celebrations. As SLU’s newest alumni, Pestello reminded the graduates that “SLU is not just the university you went to, it is the place you go from.”
“We choose courage over comfort, justice over indifference,” Pestello said. “The Billiken looks like all of us and acts like all of you.”
Growing and Finding Community
During her remarks, the student speaker Clark talked about her SLU journey and the ways that her fellow Billikens had welcomed and encouraged her.
“Over my years here, the entire community lifted me up – they have encouraged my spirit and they have helped me grow my confidence,” Clark said. “I have learned that I, too, am worthy of confidence. I am worthy of the education I’ve been given. I am worthy of the confidence I now possess. I know that the spirit I have developed at SLU will help me to keep giving back to others. I started here alone. I graduate from here united.”
Echoing Clark’s story of finding community, Anne McCabe, Ph.D., this year’s Nancy McNeir Ring Award winner, told the graduates to be open to journeys they did not expect, and to finding family in unexpected places. The SLU-Madrid professor, who has held numerous teaching and administrative roles at SLU’s Spanish campus, spoke of finding a home in Spain and in higher education, despite dreaming of being a high school Spanish teacher in the Midwest as a teenager.
“Whatever that next step may be, keep your eyes and hearts open to an appreciation of your uniqueness, to what your very own experiences lead you to have to offer in your future life even – or maybe better especially – when it means following that road that no one else has traveled,” McCabe said. “At the same time, your road will be crisscrossed by roads traveled by others; do take the time to stop and walk along for a while with them, exchanging stories; those conversations will also help open up new pathways before you.”
A Triumphant End, and Beginning
Following the speeches, Pestello shook hands and offered congratulations as the new graduates walked across the stage at Chaifetz Arena to receive their diplomas. Cheers and happy screams from family members and friends provided a triumphant soundtrack.
Christopher Collins, S.J., assistant to the president for mission and identity, led the crowd in a final prayer before Pestello asked the graduates to rise once more. He asked students for help in conferring their degrees, asking them to call out, “Forever!” on his mark.
“I now pronounce you sons and daughters of Saint Louis University,” Pestello said, giving the signal.
“Forever!” roared the graduates as confetti and streamers burst out and covered the new graduates’ mortarboards.
Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.
Story and photos by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications