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SLU Celebrates Its Newest Graduates

05/18/2019

As he stood at the commencement podium, Matthew Prest, Saint Louis University’s student speaker, told his fellow graduates to be mindful of a proverb from his native New Zealand: “What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.”

Confetti and cheers mark the end of SLU's 2019 spring commencement ceremony at Chaifetz Arena. Photo by Anne Marie Apollo-NoelConfetti and cheers mark the end of SLU's 2019 spring commencement ceremony at Chaifetz Arena. Photo by Anne Marie Apollo-Noel

For Prest and the University’s 2,546 newest alumni, the call to shape the world for the better for all people has defined their SLU educations and the road they will take following their May 18 commencement at Chaifetz Arena.

“Whether we are from Ferguson or Chesterfield, Cardinals or Cubs fans, citizens of the United States, or like myself, are international students, for four years, we have shared this home,” Prest, a new graduate of Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology, said. “To me, being a Billiken means being part of a Jesuit university community, and all the ways that sets us apart from other schools.”

"We point to a world in need and to the ways we make a difference," Preset told his fellow graduates. "To whom much is given, much is required. The legacy of SLU and of yourselves is in your hands today. What being a Billiken means is up to you but I challenge you to make it matter."

University President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., echoed Prest’s emphasis on the uniqueness of a Jesuit education and on Billikens as change-makers, as did the ceremony’s keynote speaker, Randall L. Stephenson, chairman and CEO of AT&T.

Readying New Graduates for a Lifetime of Seeking Truth

Randall Stephenson

Randall L. Stephenson, chairman and CEO of AT&T, addresses SLU's graduating class on Saturday, May 18. Photo by Steve Dolan

Opening with a recruitment pitch to Prest and thanks to the families gathered in the arena, Stephenson spoke of his respect for both the Jesuit educational philosophy, and SLU's mission to seek truth.

"There are no shortcuts to discovering truth," Stephenson said.

Speaking about his own experience working full-time while raising a young family during his own college years, Stephenson connected the impact of higher education to creating opportunity across experiences.

"My story is fortunately not unique," he said, "and it is repeated again and again, and by many of you in this room."

Stephenson cautioned the graduates about the changing social, political and economic landscapes being shaped by technology and the digital public sphere.

There are no shortcuts to discovering truth."

Randall L. Stephenson, chairman and CEO of AT&T, 2019 commencement speaker

"Very quickly, you can find yourself reading only those things with which you instinctually agree," he said. "And gradually, your world becomes narrower and narrower."

This narrowing can lead to an inability to ask tough questions, Stephenson continued, and to provoke the debates that necessarily define a society's understandings of truth, justice and right.

SLU's mission and its focus of seeking truth, he said, should spur the new graduates to "be the very, very best at what you do," and to pursue truth and a merciful justice.

"'What is truth?' is a courageous question to ask," Stephenson said. "We must never stop pursuing it. There's not a single answer. It requires a collective, varied engagement from all of us.  You're just now approaching the starting line of a lifetime of learning."

Honoring Acclaimed New Alumni

This year’s honorary degree recipients were chosen for their singular achievements in fields ranging from advocacy on behalf of immigrants and refugees to civic leadership to government innovation.

Joseph Conran, chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees, announced the honorary degrees for Stephenson, Robert Cardillo, SLU alumna Marie Kenyon, J.D. (Law’ 86) and Donald Ross.

2019 Honorary Degree Recipients

Randall L. Stephenson

Randall L. Stephenson was named to his current position in 2007. Since then, AT&T has invested billions of dollars to become a worldwide leader in technology, media and telecommunications with hundreds of millions of customers. 

Randall L. Stephenson

Under Stephenson’s leadership, the company has also committed $400 million to its signature philanthropic initiative, AT&T Aspire, which drives innovation in education to promote student success in school and the workplace. 

Stephenson also led AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign – an education and awareness program educating drivers about distracted driving. The program has amassed more than 25 million pledges of support. 

Stephenson began his career with Southwestern Bell Telephone in 1982 in Oklahoma. He served as the company’s senior executive vice president and chief financial officer from 2001 to 2004, and from 2004 to 2007 he served as chief operating officer. He was appointed to AT&T’s board of directors in 2005. 

The national president of the Boy Scouts of America, Stephenson also serves on the boards of directors of Emerson Electric Co. and Boeing. 

Stephenson received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and his master’s degree in accountancy from the University of Oklahoma.

Robert Cardillo

After 35 years of federal service, Robert Cardillo retired in February as the sixth director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which provides geospatial intelligence to policymakers, military leaders, intelligence professionals and first responders. 

Robert Cardillo

Cardillo was the first career NGA employee to rise to director of the agency. During his tenure, he was noted for his collaborative efforts to bring public and private sectors together. As NGA director, he selected North St. Louis as the home of the agency’s planned $1.75 billion campus. 

Before becoming NGA’s director in 2014, Cardillo held senior positions in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Defense Intelligence Agency, where he started as an imagery analyst. He received several honors for distinguished service during his career. 

A product of Jesuit education, Cardillo earned a master’s degree in national security studies from Georgetown University in 1988. He earned a bachelor’s degree in government from Cornell University in 1983.

Marie Kenyon, J.D. (Law '86)

Kenyon is the director of the Peace and Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and a lawyer whose career has focused on representing victims of domestic violence, homeless veterans, foster children, abused children and immigrants. 

Marie Kenyon

Kenyon was asked to lead the commission 2015 by St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. One of several archdiocesan initiatives that followed shooting death of Michael Brown, the commission addresses societal issues such as race, poverty, education and meaningful employment from a Catholic perspective.  

After earning a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Bradley University, Kenyon served in the Peace Corps in West Africa for two years, educating women and children on nutrition. She returned to St. Louis to attend law school and work in the public defender’s office. 

A year after earning her law degree at SLU, Catholic Charities asked Kenyon to establish and direct the Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry, which provides free legal representation to low-income clients and handles approximately 1,400 civil law cases annually. 

Kenyon is a past president of the St. Louis Bar Foundation and Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis and has served on the Missouri Bar’s Gender and Justice Task Force, the Women’s Place board and the Economic Justice Task Force of the Missouri Catholic Conference. In 2019, she received the Dudley C. Dunlop Distinguished Service Award from the St. Louis County Bar Association.

Donald L. Ross

Donald L. Ross is the vice chairman of Enterprise Holdings Inc.  As a senior executive who worked his way up through the Enterprise Rent-A-Car ranks, Ross has been in the car rental industry for more than 50 years. Ross joined Enterprise Rent-A-Car in 1964, only seven years after the company’s founding. He has been instrumental in the company’s growth and played a key role in the development of its Car Sales and Truck Rental business divisions.  

Donald Ross

A member of Enterprise’s Board of Directors, Ross is also active in business, civic and community organizations throughout St. Louis. He currently is a member of the Drury Development Corporation Board and serves on the Missouri Bar’s Judicial Performance Review Committee. 

He serves as vice chairman for the Missouri Baptist Hospital Board; is a member of the National Council of the Institute for Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis. He also served as the chair of the board of BJC Health Care and is a former board member of the St. Louis Muny Opera and DeSmet Jesuit High School. 

Ross serves as the chairman of the Board of the Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri. He has received the Order of St. Louis King Award, the highest award given by the Archdiocese of St. Louis, for providing consistent and outstanding service to the work of the Church. 

Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees Patrick J. Sly, and University Trustees Marian V. "Bo" Mehan, W. Winston Chan and Jackie Drury Pollvogt assisted with the presentations of the degrees.

Cardillo received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. Kenyon was awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree. Ross and Stephenson each were awarded honorary Doctor of Commerce degrees.

Celebrating Traditions, New and Old

New graduates

New graduates grab a selfie together before commencement on Saturday, May 18. Photo by Anne Marie Apollo-Noel

The May 18 commencement kicked off with the traditional entrance processional of University leaders and faculty members. Gregory Smith, M.D., professor of surgery and University co-marshal, served as this year’s mace bearer.

The University Mastersingers, directed by David Kowalcyzk, performed the National Anthem and the Honor Guard from Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology posted the colors before the packed arena.

Interim Provost Chet Gillis, Ph.D., greeted graduates, Billiken families and well-wishers before David Suwalsky, S.J., director of academic initiatives in the Office of Mission and Identity, offered a blessing highlighting how the students had “shared their talents and ingenuity with us.”

While the ceremony began with many time-honored University traditions, the Mastersingers led the crowd in a rendition of the University’s updated “Varsity Song.” The song, composed more than 100 years ago, was revived as part of the University’s bicentennial celebrations in 2018.

Yes, we take unique classes and there are Jesuits around us, but beyond these facialities is the Jesuit mission that says we serve a higher purpose, we seek a greater good.”

Matthew Prest, commencement student speaker

In a nod to those members of the University community who had passed away over the course of the academic year, Pestello led the crowd in observing a moment of silence.

Then, asking the graduates to stand, he thanked the families and well-wishers gathered, along with the University's faculty and staff.

"I am proud of you," Pestello told the graduates. "We are proud of you and all that you have achieved."

"The Billiken's appearance may be difficult to describe, but you know one when you see one," Pestello continued. "Graduates, as I describe our mascot, it is clear that the Billiken looks like all of us, and acts like all of you."

Following speeches by Pestello, Prest and Stephenson, the deans of each of the University’s schools and colleges presented their graduates to Pestello and the crowd.

Reverend Rodrick K. Burton, pastor of the New Northside Missionary Baptist Church and father of a 2019 graduate, gave the ceremony’s closing blessing.

“While this day marks the end of your time as a student,” Gillis said, “it’s the beginning of your lifelong connection as an alumna or alumnus of Saint Louis University. And wherever your journey takes you, there will be opportunities to remain connected to your Saint Louis University family.

“We hope that here you have met the people who will dance at your wedding,” he continued. “SLU is still your home, and you will always be welcome on campus.”

As the arena erupted in cheers, confetti streamed down on SLU’s newest alumni.

Story by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications