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Newest Graduates Celebrated At 2023 Midyear Commencement

by Joe Barker on 12/16/2023


Saint Louis University celebrated graduates at the 2023 Midyear Commencement Ceremony on Saturday morning. 

Graduates and their family members, friends, and loved ones filled the seats at Chaifetz Arena to salute and congratulate the newest group of students who can now call themselves alums of Saint Louis University. 

Graduates watch confetti fall following Midyear Commencement on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. Photo by Sarah Conroy. Launch SlideshowGraduates watch confetti fall following Midyear Commencement on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. Photo by Sarah Conroy.

Saint Louis University President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., congratulated the graduates for their accomplishments. 

“You leave the SLU arches academically gifted, research-oriented, empathetic, and culturally aware,” Pestello said. “You enter a world that is in need of daring leadership and contemplative action. You are prepared to share joy with those who are low, direction with those who are lost, comfort with those who are suffering, and hope with those who feel despair.”

Pestello challenged the newest alumni to embody the spirit of SLU’s mascot — the Billiken. The Billiken, he said, is a symbol of how things ought to be. 

“Graduates, as I describe our mascot, it is clear that the Billiken looks like all of us and acts like all of you,” he said.

Pestello also noted that the graduation ceremony does not sever the connection between the students and the University. 

“Remember, you will always have a home at SLU and will forever share in the abundant resources of each other and your alma mater,” Pestello 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.’”

Associate Professor of Aviation Science Stephen Belt, Ph.D., delivered the commencement address. Belt was selected for the honor after being chosen as the 2023 Nancy McNeir Ring Award recipient — SLU's highest honor for teaching, was initially established in 1966 by SLU's chapter of Alpha Sigma Nu, the national Jesuit honor society, to acknowledge faculty members who display special dedication to students. 

“Receiving this award and giving this address is not something that I anticipated,” Belt said. “If you had told me at the beginning of this semester, I would be standing here before you I would have said that was crazy talk, yet here we are, and that is my first point for you this morning. You just don’t know what is around the corner — do the best you can today. Today is the day. It’s the only day that matters.”

Belt encouraged the students to reflect on their time at SLU and think about both the good times and the bad. He said today, graduation, was a good day, but it can also come with a twinge of sadness that the journey is reaching its end. 

“The best thing about joy instead of happiness, for example, is that joy looms larger,” he said. “In terms of bittersweet, joy can contain all of the sweet and the bitter feelings. And that is a crucial characteristic — the two go together. With joy, you take the happy and the sad, you take the positive and the negative. To do otherwise, to ignore the negative, it would be a fantasy. And that is not what a SLU education is about.”

Belt said the graduates should see the world how it is — faults and all — but they should not focus on those aspects.

“If I have one wish for you today, it would be for you to cultivate joy in your life,” he said. “Seek joy. Find joy in what you do and in who you are. Do not be afraid of difficult things, for joy encompasses the difficult things. Savor success and forgive failings — yours and others.”

Leaving SLU, the new graduates will be faced with a choice, Belt said. 

“Each of us gets up in the morning and decides whether today is a dream or a nightmare,” he said. “Yes, we see and engage the world as it is, but in our dreams, we have the ability to see how the world could be, how it ought to be. If we strive to live our dreams, we will serve the coming of the world that ought to be.”

In closing, the Belt shared a prayer with the graduates. 

“May you savor all that is good on this wonderful day,” Belt said. “As you pursue success and happiness, may you cultivate joy. May you savor your triumphs and be patient in your failings. May you open your heart to your dreams and choose to live them. May you open your heart to the world around you and fall in love every day. And may you see the world as it is and set forth to make the world as it ought to be. Amen.”

Following Belt’s remarks, the graduates were recognized. In the spring, because of the larger number of graduates, students are recognized at precommencement ceremonies. With a smaller group of students, the midyear celebration recognizes each graduate by name as they walk across the stage. 

Once the final name was read, Timothy McMahon, S.J., the rector of the Jesuit Center, a SLU Trustee, and the pastor of St. Francis Xavier College Church, blessed the newest graduates.

The ceremony ended with Pestello reminding the new graduates that they are now members of the SLU family forever. 

For those who missed it, a recording of the livestream can be found on YouTube.