WASHINGTON (CNS) — A best-selling suspense novelist, a four-time Grammy winner, a Chicago archbishop and a New York cardinal, and lawmakers and corporate leaders were among speakers at undergraduate commencements this spring at the nation’s Catholic universities and colleges.
And at least one family had three children in the class of 2015: the Marbach triplets, Melanie, Megan and John Jr., each graduating from a different university in a different state on a different date.
In Washington at The Catholic University of America’s 126th annual commencement May 16, novelist Mary Higgins Clark told graduates to trust in God as their own life story unfolds.
That day, she said, they would begin writing the prologue of “your own suspense novel, and it’s called, ‘The Rest of My Life.'”
Author of 42 books and a lifelong Catholic, Higgins Clark said the graduates — whether they will be starting a new job, continuing their studies or pursuing a religious vocation — will now be protagonists in their own life story.
Like the protagonist in her own novels, she urged each one to “be a person who combines faith, optimism, intelligence, generosity and a good sense of humor.”
The ability to laugh at oneself and at fate “is a cure for both body and mind,” she said, adding that she always tries to give protagonists a good friend, too. “That buddy may be a parent, a sibling, a lifetime pal, but I want all of you to have that kind of person in your life,” she said, adding that her protagonists often find a love interest, “the person who may share your life with you.”
Any good novel, and a good life, inevitably has challenges and problems that need to be solved, Higgins Clark said. “I pray that you, the protagonist, will face up to your problems with determination and strength,” she said.
In Indiana, Aaron Neville, a four-time Grammy Award-winning singer and musician, received the University of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal May 17. The honor has been given annually since 1883 to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”
Neville delivered brief remarks in accepting the medal and then sang the “Ave Maria” for the crowd.
“I am honored and humbled to be receiving such a prestigious medal. I hope I’m worthy of standing next to the people who have received it before me,” he said. “If it’s for me trying to get my life on the right track the way God wanted me too, then I am worthy, because I know, and God knows, that I’ve tried. I’ve prayed to see the world through God’s eyes and asked that the world see God in me.”
“My early life has been a preview of where I am now. It took who I was and where I came from to make me who I am. For that I have to thank my late parents, Arthur and Amelia Neville,” the singer continued. “They, along with the nuns at St. Monica’s Catholic School, especially Sister Damien, taught me morals and guidance.”
He said his Catholic upbringing “helped me in some dark times. One dark night, I remembered a poem I had to memorize and recite in front of the class in maybe the fifth grade. Later, I put music to it and recorded it. The poem was ‘Lovely Lady, Dressed in Blue, Teach Me How to Pray.'”
Neville said he “was always mesmerized by the Blessed Mother, and was grateful to get the chance to learn the ‘Ave Maria.’ I didn’t know what the words meant, but a lady asked me to sing it at her sister’s wedding, so I learned it and have been singing it ever since. … To close, I’d like to sing it for you.”
For John Marbach and Sherry Pressler of Belle Mead, New Jersey, it was a wild ride as their triplets graduated from college: Melanie from Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore May 16; Megan from Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, May 17; and John Jr. from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, May 18.
“Four nights out, three different hotels, train tickets, car travel and airplane travel, wow,” said Sherry.
The planning of the trip actually got underway in 2010. Even then, Sherry and John worried about the triplets’ college graduations being on the same day. “When they were choosing where to attend college four years ago, I remember checking the graduation calendars,” said Sherry. “I would be heartbroken not to be able to attend all three graduation ceremonies.”
Added John: “All three children felt it was important to attend each other’s graduation.”
“The whole family feels incredibly lucky that the ceremonies fall on different days,” said Megan, who was graduating from Fairfield University’s School of Nursing. “Melanie and John are my best friends for life, so I wouldn’t miss their graduations for anything.”
In his commencement address at Boston College May 18, Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich told the graduates, “You make us all proud and you are, for all of us today, evidence of the givenness of life, the eternal truth that God’s grace is never exhausted.”
“The world needs the hope of those who know and are inspired by the givenness of life, the grace of life. Keeping fresh that sense of givenness will have an impact not only on you but on our world,” the archbishop said. “It will help you become the leaders we need today, in the world of business, our politics and the economy.
“Leaders who, as Pope Francis has urged, promote the common good and measure economic health by how the economy treats the poor, and leaders who advocate for inclusion and economic security for all.”
New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, speaking May17 at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, told students that “knowledge is what’s in your noggin. Wisdom is what’s in your heart and soul. Knowledge teaches us how to get, and wisdom teaches us how to give. Knowledge teaches us how things operate and work, and wisdom teaches us how things are.”
Other speakers at commencements included:
— First lady Nana Lordina Dramani Mahama of Ghana, Fordham University, May 16.
— Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, St. Joseph’s University, May 16.
— Garry Kasparov, world champion chess grandmaster, St. Louis University, May 16.
— Catherine M. Burzik, general partner at Targeted Technologies, Canisius College, May 16.
— Sister Margaret “Peggy” O’Neill, a Sister of Charity, at Marquette University, May 17. An alumna of Marquette, Sister O’Neill is founder of El Centro Arte Para la Paz in El Salvador, an agency dedicated to helping the country’s poor and marginalized.
— Bishop David M. O’Connell of Trenton, New Jersey, at St. John’s University in the New York borough of Queens, May 17.
In graduation ceremonies May 3, the University of Dayton in Ohio gave an honorary degree to Ramon Estevez, better known as Martin Sheen. He was honored for his lifelong commitment to peace, social justice and human rights exemplifying the Marianist university’s mission.
Sheen intentionally failed his University of Dayton entrance exam to overcome his father’s objections and start his acting career.
Contributing to this story was Mark Zimmermann in Washington.