SLU Graduates Recognized at Midyear Commencement Ceremony
The newest group of Saint Louis University graduates walked across the stage inside Chaifetz Arena and joined the ranks of SLU alumni on Saturday morning.Graduates watch the confetti fall at the conclusion of the 2022 Midyear Commencement ceremony at Chaifetz Arena on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022. Photo by Sarah Conroy.
The graduates were recognized in front of family, friends, staff and faculty during the Midyear Commencement Ceremony at Chaifetz Arena.
SLU President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., saluted the graduates for the successful completion of their degrees and for navigating all the challenges along the way. Pestello mentioned the normal challenges like assignments and exams but also having to navigate the changes and difficulties brought on by the pandemic.
“Congratulations — today you join over two centuries of Billiken graduates,” Pestello said. “I am proud of you and all that you have achieved. . . . I am thrilled to be with you to mark this special moment in your lives.”
Pestello reminded the graduates that just because they have a degree from Saint Louis University doesn’t mean the tie between student and University is now severed.
“Remember that you will always have a home at SLU and will forever share in the abundant resources of each other and your alma mater,” he said. “SLU is not just the university you went to. It is the place you go from. Wherever your path takes you, lead with love and mercy, make ‘things the way they ought to be,’ and when asked what a Billiken looks like … show them.”
Mark Edward Ruff, Ph.D., the 2022 recipient of the Nancy McNeir Ring Award, delivered the commencement address. It is a SLU tradition to have the winner of the Nancy McNeir Ring Award, SLU's highest honor for teaching, deliver the Midyear Commencement remarks.
Ruff, a professor of history at SLU since 2004, titled his address “The Power of Radical Generosity in Responding to Crisis.” He opened by telling the story of his chronic illness, a genetic collagen disorder. He compared his illness to his football fandom rooting for the chronically unlucky Buffalo Bills. He said even when things are going well with his illness, he knows “that defeat is going to be snatched from the jaws of victory.”
“I mention this disquieting reality of life with a chronic illness and the absurdity of being a Bills fan in order to draw a parallel with what our graduates have just experienced,” he said. “Staring into the face of absurdity has been our fate as members of the SLU community since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Many of you graduating today — those of you who started your studies at SLU in 2019 — have experienced your own confrontation with the absurd.”
Ruff mentioned the now familiar challenges that were brought on by the pandemic — a quick closure of the campus and an instant switch to virtual classes — and how that impacted the graduates.
“Like with chronic illness, the abnormal became the new normal,” he said. “This wasn’t how our college experience was supposed to be.”
In the early days of COVID, Ruff spoke with a student over Zoom. The student’s father, a doctor, was hospitalized with COVID, and the prognosis wasn’t good. The man was on a ventilator and in a coma.
“These points of crisis can be turning points — but not in the cheap ways the self-help industry promotes,” he said. “The choice is not between optimism and pessimism. There is nothing more infuriating and cynicism-producing than being told that you just have to think happy thoughts to march down that ‘road to recovery.’ Our choice instead is utterly counter-intuitive. It is just as absurd as the absurdity engulfing us. Our choice is to give — to give radically and to give generously. It’s giving with no expectation of anything in return. It’s giving with no strings attached. Call it radical generosity, radical because it uproots any expectations we might place on it.”
Ruff said the entire SLU community took part in radical generosity during the pandemic.
“Radical generosity often first took the form of helping those students struggling to cope,” he said. “I remain astounded by how many faculty, students, administrators —even their pets stepped up to assist.”
Ruff singled out the RAs in resident halls who offered kindness to others while also struggling with the depth of the pandemic. He said radical generosity begins with baby steps and, eventually, becomes a habit.
“The beauty of radical generosity — and the paradox at its core — is that we find ourselves transformed as much as its intended recipients,” he said. “Radical generosity transforms self-pity into empathy.”
Ruff closed his remarks by returning to the story of the sick father of one of his students. The father made a full recovery.
Ruff said the man was transformed by the episode. As a doctor, he expressed tremendous gratitude for the nurses and doctors who saved his life and said his understanding of what it means to practice medicine had been fundamentally transformed.
“All of my examples suggest that it takes a crisis — an existential crisis at that — for radical generosity to bloom,” he said. “But I would like to leave you with an even more radical suggestion: is it not also possible for us to become agents of radical generosity under ordinary circumstances? I urge us to cultivate generosity and compassion not just because ‘tis the season.’ Rather, I would invite us to make it a lifelong pursuit along the lines of the old adage: Tis better to give than to receive.”
Following Ruff’s remarks, the graduates were recognized. Unlike at the May Commencement ceremony, the smaller number of graduates at the Midyear Commencement means all graduates are recognized and walk across the stage. The new graduates received a handshake from Pestello.
After the last name was called, Pestello once again congratulated the graduates and welcomed them to the ranks of Billiken alumni. He declared them members of the SLU family forever.
A recording of the Commencement livestream can be found on slu.edu and on YouTube.