Billikens Raise Their Voices to Celebrate Commencement
“Seek out the opportunity to use the voices you have been given … there is no guarantee
that you will have your voice tomorrow.”
New law alumna Sarah Tomlinson shared that message with her fellow graduates, their
families, friends and the SLU community during Saint Louis University’s bicentennial
year commencement on Saturday, May 19, at SLU’s Chaifetz Arena.
Tomlinson entered SLU’s School of Law unable to speak, a complication of the cancer
treatment she was undergoing. She had received her diagnosis shortly before her first
term of law school.
“It was an isolating experience that gave me an unbelievable perspective on what it
means to not be heard,” she explained. “The Jesuit mission at SLU is about helping
those without a voice to be heard, which initially, I didn’t fully understand. Each
person today has the opportunity to use the lessons learned at SLU to give a voice
to a cause.”
As Tomlinson finished her speech, the crowd of 5,997 gave her the event’s first standing
Embracing ‘Holy Boldness’
Ronald Mercier, S.J., provincial of the Jesuits' U.S. Central and Southern Province, echoed Tomlinson’s call to service and asked the new graduates to embrace a “holy
boldness” as he delivered this year’s commencement address.
A former faculty member at SLU, Mercier was also the homilist for the University’s
historic bicentennial Mass under the Gateway Arch in September. After coming to SLU in 2010, Mercier served
as rector of Bellarmine House, a community of Jesuits in formation. He also took part
in sacramental ministry at St. Francis Xavier College Church and at St. Mary’s Assumption
Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church in addition to his teaching duties.
SLU has made that devotion its own, part of its Jesuit mission, and we see it in all
who labor here. In a world too dominated by fear of the other and the divisions that
promotes, a radical openness to others and the world represents a gift we all need.”
Ronald Mercier, S.J.
In current role as provincial, Mercier oversees 400 Jesuits and Jesuit institutions
in the continental United States, Belize and Puerto Rico. He noted SLU’s commitment
to serving others and the Jesuits’ pride in the University’s 200-Years-in-One-Year Service Challenge.
“Especially today given the challenges we face in the world, the cry for justice,
we need to be bold, rather than to ‘play it safe,’ Mercier told the crowd. “So many
systems in our nation and our world, whether in higher ed or economics, increasingly
do not serve the needs of the most vulnerable.”
Billikens, he continued, are uniquely suited to meeting the world’s challenges, due
to their devotion to God, dedication to the Jesuit mission and commitment to being
women and men for others.
“SLU has made that devotion its own, part of its Jesuit mission, and we see it in
all who labor here,” Mercier said. “In a world too dominated by fear of the other
and the divisions that promotes, a radical openness to others and the world represents
a gift we all need.”
Advice from SLU’s President
University President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., welcomed the new graduates and their families on behalf of the SLU community, encouraging
the newest the University’s newest graduates to be mindful of the symbolism of the
Billiken mascot as they prepared to leave for the next stage of their life journeys.
What Does a Billiken Look Like? (Video)
“When we understand that the Billiken is a symbol of ‘the way things ought to be,’
we begin to see that we can and must help make the world the way it ought to be,”
Pestello said. “You are prepared to share joy with those who are low, direction with
those who are lost and hope with those who live in fear.”
“Your pride radiates throughout the arena and will soon reverberate within the communities
in which you will serve,” he continued. “All of us feel your sense of accomplishment.
We share it.”
Pestello asked those gathered to spend a moment remembering those who could not attend
the ceremony, noting the empty chair wreathed in flowers on the stage nearby. He highlighted
members of the SLU community who had passed away during the school year, including
SLU criminologist Norm White, Ph.D., and student ambassador and Richard A. Chaifetz School of Business graduate Timothy Gruensfelder.
Honoring Singular Achievements
During the ceremony, SLU conferred honorary degrees upon Mercier and two SLU alumni,
former U.S. Congressman William “Bill” Lacy Clay Sr. (A&S ’53) and former St. Louis
Mayor Francis G. Slay (Law ’80).
Clay was active in the St. Louis Civil Rights Movement before being elected to Congress
in 1968. He served 16 terms and was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus
and guided initiatives aimed at protecting workers, disadvantaged students and families.
Slay was the longest-serving mayor in the city’s history. His four terms saw billions
of dollars invested in the city, expansion of the region’s MetroLink system, and the
revitalization of downtown. His efforts are also credited with making St. Louis one
of the fastest growing startup cities in the nation.
Mercier received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree for his leadership and work
with young Jesuits in formation.
New Traditions are Born, Old Traditions Reborn
With SLU’s bicentennial in mind, the University began a new tradition Saturday as
members of its Class of 1968 – now Golden Billikens – were recognized and led off
the commencement’s entry procession. Golden Billikens will be honored at University
commencements going forward.
In another nod to the University’s bicentennial, SLU also reintroduced its Varsity Song, which had not been performed at commencement since the 1960s. Aaron Johnson, D.M.A.,
assistant professor of music, adapted the song’s lyrics and arranged the music for
the May 19 ceremony.
The song was written in 1909 by Alfred G. Robyn, a composer who traced his SLU roots
back to his father, a musician and composer who taught at the University for several
years. Paul L. Blakely, S.J., wrote the song’s original lyrics.
Pomp and Circumstance
Commencement began with the traditional procession, with John Waide, University archivist
emeritus and member of the Bicentennial Steering Committee, acting as mace bearer.
The University Mastersingers led the crowd in the national anthem and Christopher
Collins, S.J., assistant to the president for mission and identity, offered the invocation.
After each college and school’s graduates were recognized, Cheryl Archibald, chair
of the board of director of Catholic Charities and pastoral assistant at St. Matthew
the Apostle Catholic Church, gave the ceremony’s closing benediction.
With a blast of music, confetti, and streamers, those gathered in the arena raised
their voices as the newest sons and daughters of SLU celebrated the beginning of their
lives as SLU alumni.
SLU Spring Commencement 2018 (Video)
Class of 2018: By the Numbers
Students who graduated with honors
Foreign countries represented