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Best-Selling Author and Motivational Speaker to Deliver May 2023 Commencement Address

New York Times best-selling author and internationally recognized motivational speaker John O’Leary (CSB ’99) will deliver the spring commencement address this year at Saint Louis University.

The ceremony begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 20, in Chaifetz Arena. The event also will be live-streamed on and archived on SLU’s YouTube channel.

Headshot of SLU alumnus and May 2023 commencement speaker John O'Leary
John O'Leary

O’Leary was 9 years old in 1987 when he was so badly burned in an accident that doctors gave him less than a 1% chance of survival. The SLU alumnus detailed his journey to recovery in the 2016 best-seller On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life. His second book, In Awe: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning and Joy, also became a best seller when it was published in 2020.

As a motivational speaker, O’Leary gives more than 100 talks a year throughout the country and world, describing his recovery and the lessons he learned along the way. He speaks before a wide range of organizations, including health care systems, faith communities, prison systems, educational institutions, and sales and business groups. He also hosts an award-winning podcast, Live Inspired, and publishes a weekly Monday Motivation email.

Honorary Degree Recipients

Headshot of former St. Louis alderwoman and 2023 honorary degree recipient Marlene Davis
Marlene Davis

In addition to delivering the commencement address, O’Leary will join former St. Louis Alderwoman Marlene Davis and veteran actress and SLU alumna Marianne Muellerleile in receiving honorary doctoral degrees from Saint Louis University. 

Marlene Davis served as the alderwoman of the City’s 19th Ward for 16 years before her retirement in April. In that role, Davis helped facilitate the transformation of SLU’s Midtown neighborhood, including JeffVanderLou and the Grand Center Arts District. During her tenure on the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, once-vacant buildings have become home to new housing developments, entertainment and shopping venues, and dozens of new restaurants and breweries.

Davis served on the Board of Education of the City of St. Louis from 1997 to 2003. She helped steer St. Louis Public Schools through the aftermath of desegregation lawsuits and secured funding for classroom technology. She also helped facilitate the construction of Vashon High School and the Clyde C. Miller Career Academy. She also has served on the Council of Urban Boards of Education, the National League of American Business Women and the Metropolitan Police Citizens Advisory Board, among others. 

Headshot of actress and 2023 honorary degree recipient Marianne Muellerleile
Marianne Muellerleile

A St. Louis native, Marianne Muellerleile (A&S ’71) is one of Hollywood’s most sought-after character actresses. Over a 50-year career, she has appeared in more than 180 television series, including the NBC daytime soap opera Passions, and more than 100 national television commercials, including Geico’s “Aunt Infestation” ad. Her movie credits include The Terminator, Return to Me, Passion Fish, Memento and Queen Bees.

Muellerleile’s Catholic faith and philanthropy have been constants in her life. She volunteers for and donates to dozens of causes, including raising more than half a million dollars for a non-profit that works to end hunger by investing in local farmers and their communities. In 2012, she was honored with a SLU Alumni Merit Award and gave a master class to the University’s theater students. She also received a distinguished alumni award from the University of Minnesota, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts.

Precommencement Ceremonies

In May, students at SLU may choose to walk in precommencement ceremonies for each college and school. This year’s precommencements kick off Thursday, May 18. A complete schedule of precommencement events can be found at

Baccalaureate Mass

The University’s annual Baccalaureate Mass is an opportunity for the SLU community to give thanks to God for the gifts and opportunities bestowed upon graduates and to pray for their continued protection as they are sent out for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity. This year’s Baccalaureate Mass will be celebrated at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 18, in St. Francis Xavier College Church.

Toast to the Class of 2023

Following the Baccalaureate Mass, graduates from all colleges and schools are invited to the Toast to the Class of 2023 reception. The annual event begins at 7:30 p.m. in Busch Student Center’s Wool Ballrooms. It will feature light hors d’oeuvres and a champagne toast led by University President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.